Outdoor lessons grow

Posted by Riverdale Grade School on 2/6/2017

teacher and student discuss lesson in outdoor classroom garden  teacher leads lesson with kindergartners in the outdoor classroom garden

With our partnership with the Green Schoolhouse (thanks to last year’s auction donations), the number of lessons taking place in Riverdale’s Outdoor Classroom and Garden is growing right along with the plants and vegetables. 

In an effort to encourage tangible and experiential learning, Green Schoolhouse director Lauren Rosenstein works closely with teachers to understand their instructional needs and help create a curriculum or activity plan that brings classes outside. So far this year, most grades have made it out to study a variety of subjects, she says, “all with natural systems, ecology and the garden as our lens. This autumn provided us with the opportunity to harvest, taste, pull out the dying plants, study decomposition, find out what will grow in the winter, investigate bugs and more.” 

Here are some lesson highlights by grade: 

Preschoolers used their senses to discover the space by tasting what was growing, touching the soil, smelling the plants, listening to the birds, and observing where everything is growing. They also watched their carved pumpkin decompose into soil for the plants. 

Kindergarteners incorporated books, games, planting and tasting to better understand the garden’s dynamic cycles. They planted overwintering garlic that will take all year to grow (waiting can be hard), participated in a scavenger hunt to build vocabulary and cleared root beds to discover all of the creatures who live in them. 

For 1st graders, Ms. Rosenstein says, “The garden has represented the unique and individual existence in each of us.” Students noted that radish seeds all look the same and hypothesized the size, shape and color they would grow to be. Yet after a month in the soil, the students found that their radishes all grew differently. “Some were pink, red, purple or white, some were round and some were long. They were all different, just like us.” 

4th graders learned without healthy soil, there is no life. They tested samples for acidity and alkalinity, finding the liveliest soil was more acidic. Then they split into groups to study how much life exists in one tiny space. 

5th grade science students prepared for their time at Mt. St. Helens by layering pots with alkaline materials such as lime, charcoal and sand to simulate the volcanic soil. They placed seeds in the layers and noticed the growth time was much longer than traditional soil growing. 

6th grade science students learned about natural resources, including the importance of waste. After “sheet mulching” part of the garden by layering compost, leaves, cardboard and straw, they’ll check the temperature throughout the winter and plant a pollinator garden in the spring with the newly reinvigorated soil. 

7th grade leadership students have tackled multiple garden challenges, from building a fence to protecting winter crops. To install hoop houses on garden beds so that lettuce, spinach and kale can grow all winter long, students researched building techniques, measured the beds and supplies, created a blueprint and used power tools to install the hoops themselves. 

Once the weather warms, there is much to plant and more tie-ins to curriculum from math and science to art. “One of the best parts of the Outdoor Classroom, for me, is that there are so many different grades that spend time in the garden. It connects the 7th grade to the preschoolers and everyone in between,” Ms. Rosenstein says.

young students dig up weeds in the garden  young boy holds up weed to look at it

three girls conduct a science experiment with water and containers in the outdoor classroom  two boys examine a spider web in the outdoor classroom

five students with clipboards sit and stand in the outdoor classroom  young girl raises hand while young boy claps during an outdoor classroom lesson

students gather pumpkins  students use shovels to dig in the garden