Outdoor Learning Project

Drew Model School's Outdoor Learning Project

The Reading Garden & Da Vinci Gardens are open for learning!


The Reading Garden was dreamed up through a collaborative brainstorming session led by Nancy Striniste of Early Space. Striniste created an amazing reading-themed design based on input from teachers, parents, and school administrators. Our school is located in an urban environment, and many students do not have ready access to green spaces. Research has demonstrated that:
  • Children who have contact with the outdoors and nature focus better when inside and perform better on standardized tests; 
  • Spending time outside in nature decreases children’s anxiety and improves their ability to learn new tasks;
  • Children with ADHD who regularly spend time in green settings have milder symptoms than children who do not; and 
  • Exposure to nature improves creative reasoning. 

The Project

In 2013, we broke ground on Drew’s first outdoor learning space. The Reading Garden is located in a protected courtyard at Drew Model Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia. The goal of the garden is to bring students outside regularly to engage in active learning while meeting curriculum requirements.  Many classes and individual students are using the garden each day.

Key Features

  • Wooden foot bridge over “River of Words” recirculating stream 
  • Storyteller chair and reading circle
  • Engraved word walk pathway
  • Sheltered outdoor classroom with moveable work tables 
  • Trees and native shrubs
  • Dragon fountain and pergolas
  • Alphabet plant garden 
  • Magnetic poetry wall

Our Progress

The total estimate for developing the space is $70,000. We have raised more than $40K through PTA fundraisers, in-kind donations, individual contributors, and grocery store programs. Arlington Public Schools Facilities has re-graded the space and installed all of the electric and plumbing elements.

We still need to raise funds 

We still need to raise additional funds to pay for shade and upkeep. We are working on implementing a way to shade the picnic table area and the area over the water circle and storyteller chair/benches. The most likely solution is expected to be four umbrellas over the tables and scaled down wooden pergolas over the water circle. We also need continued funding for upkeep, such as: mulching and plant replacement every Fall and Spring. The storage cabinet will also need to be restocked periodically with school supplies.

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About Drew 

  • 700 students, pre-K to 5th grade 
  • Located in vibrant Nauck community 
  • Offers county-wide programs, including one of the oldest public Montessori programs in the nation 
  • Title I school w/ > 50% of students receiving free and reduced-cost lunch

How Can I Help?

  • Make a tax-deductible donation to the Drew PTA via check with “Outdoor Learning Project” specified in the subject line.  Checks can be mailed to Drew, dropped off in the PTA box in the office, or sent via backpack mail.   (Drew Model School PTA, 3500 South 23rd Street, Arlington, VA 22206)
  • Visit our donations website to donate a specific item: http://www.drewreadinggarden.com/donate/
  • If you work for a company or government agency that might be interested in supporting this project by donating money, labor, or materials, let us know. Many companies target charitable giving to education and the environment and give to schools in the geographic areas where they do business or where their employees have children enrolled.
  • If you belong to a gardening club, scouting group, or other service organization interested in donating expertise and/or labor, let us know.
  • Make a tax-deductible donation with PayPal...