A Place to Play, Explore, and Learn Together

(from left) Kristina Marcotte, Nora Heslop, Charlotte Bumbeck, Guy Maguire, Alex Frank and Rogan Poquette FreeToUse.JPG

Making Learning Accessible and Real

“I like to take students outside to find math everywhere they look, to find their consonant blends or spelling words, or to see physics and kinetic energy in action.” Michael Moretti, who prefers to be called Moretti, has been working with teachers and students at Folsom Community and Education Center for the past year, helping teachers find ways to incorporate movement, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other healthy choices into their classroom activities. (Moretti is an advocate with RiseVT, and is embedded in two Grand Isle County schools.)

sawing lumber

“Some adults argue that it will be too distracting to be outside…” says Moretti, “but being in the world they live in gives them the opportunity to apply what they learn to their world, to help make it more accessible and real, and see how what they learn matters in their life instead of just in a classroom.”

Helping students engage with the world outside of the classroom is one of the central goals of the work that South Hero Land Trust is doing at Folsom right now. With funding from the Lake Champlain Basin Program, RiseVT, and Outdoor Gear Exchange, we are partnering with the South Hero Recreation Commission and teachers at Folsom School to expand the South Hero Recreation Park (which abuts the school playground) into an outdoor classroom for students at the school as well as for families across our community.

A Non-Traditional Space

This will not be a traditional classroom space, with benches and white boards. Rather, we are attempting to support teachers and parents in exploring the natural world outdoors through learning stations, exploration tools (like binoculars, magnifying glasses, and tracking kits), and activities for learning outdoors.

“I am really excited about our work with Folsom to develop an outdoor classroom because for me, the outdoors was where I felt comfortable, and where I opened up to learning,” says South Hero Land Trust Programs Director Guy Maguire. “I think for a some kids the classroom can be a challenging environment, and so if we can provide a safe, welcoming outdoor space where kids can learn AND have fun, while encouraging healthy lifestyles, that is huge.”

bench repair

This summer we installed the first learning stations. A pollinator garden and learning station have been built near the school playground. And a poetry station has been built in the park. Further learning stations will be built this fall. When complete, there will several activities to go along with each station, along with Outdoor Exploration toolkits for the classroom. Plus, this summer we provided special Explorer Backpacks filled with books, science tools, and art supplies to the South Hero Library, which anyone can borrow to explore the classroom or any outdoor space year-round.

Students Build their Own Classroom

And we are working with students at the school to build the learning stations too! As part of the annual Middle School Day of Service, three teams of middle school students headed outside to work on the outdoor classroom space. One group cleared brush and branches along the Water Wigglers trail so that students will be able to explore the woods. A second group cleared cattails from the edges of the pond and repaired picnic tables so that students can learn about pond ecology this fall and skate in the winter. And the third group built four new benches in the Folsom School & Community Garden. We can’t wait to take the kids outside again to learn in this great space they helped build.

photos by Rob Swanson

Emily Alger