Gone are the days when learning at Maple Lawn Elementary School meant virtually all students sat in classrooms dreaming about going outside for recess. Today, many of the school’s 500-plus students spend part of their school day learning in an outdoor classroom equipped with plants, murals, structures for shade and wildlife habitats, water features, a compost station, and barrels that collect rainwater. The installation of its year-old school garden has transformed the learning landscape at Maple Lawn.
Outside is no longer just a place for recess. Thanks to to REAL School Gardens, at Maple Lawn and more than 20 other district schools, outside is also a place for hands-on learning.
The nonprofit defines its mission as “helping children in low-income schools succeed academically” by increasing student engagement. Garden lessons range from science assignments where students draw diagrams showing the different types of energy at work in the garden to writing exercises that challenge students to describe plants and leaves. With the help of the Real School Gardens staff, teachers learn that outside is a great place for learning.
Maple Lawn Principal Adela Cox says teachers are delighted with the new learning space, which she describes as a place “to seed knowledge and sow adventure. All core subjects – math, reading, science, art and social studies – can be captured in the garden. And if you listen closely,” she says, “you will even capture the music in nature.”
With the financial backing of corporate supporters, REAL School Gardens partners with schools where educators see the value of taking learning outside the walls of the classroom. Under the leadership of a landscape architect, each garden is designed to meet the school’s unique needs. Design competitions let students recommend features they’d like included in their gardens, such as rock-climbing walls and petting zoos. Once a design is selected, the garden is created in a one-day build called a Big Dig where upwards of 100 corporate volunteers, school staff, parents and students join forces to bring the design to life.
Long after the gardens are built, REAL School Gardens provides ongoing support, including new plants, learning experiences and training for teachers to ensure educators are skilled at using the garden as a place for learning.
Photos courtesy of REAL School Gardens