Older Outdoor Learning Project Info

The Outdoor Learning Project, a PTA-affiliated effort to design and build outdoor classrooms, is a great opportunity to use Drew’s two courtyards to teach students important lessons using the natural environment that surrounds them.
Children who have access to green and natural play and learning spaces are less stressed, concentrate and learn better, perform better on standardized tests, and get along better with their peers. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder,” in which kids have lost a connection to their natural surroundings (for more info, see www.childrenandnature.org). Increased urbanization, shrinking green spaces, safety concerns, and packed activity schedules prevent children from exploring their neighborhoods on foot or bikes like many of us did growing up. Building outdoor classrooms will give teachers engaging spaces to visit, allowing them to bring class outside while still meeting curriculum requirements. By connecting to nature in their own schoolyards while they read, write, listen to and tell stories, create art, or perform plays or science experiments, students will become stewards for the environment. Other schools have had success with similar projects and report that these outdoor spaces are favorites with students and teachers.

How Will it Work?

We are working to transform Drew’s two interior courtyards with the help of teacher-turned-landscape designer Nancy Striniste (check out her web site at www.earlyspace.com).  In February 2012, approximately 30 teachers, parents, and administrators met for a brainstorming session known as a “charrette.”  Nancy had us think back to what it felt like to be a child and recall our strongest memories of time spent outside – what the wind in the trees sounded like, what the grass and flowers smelled like, what the forts we built and mud pies we made looked like.  She showed us a series of photos of outdoor learning spaces at other schools to inspire us to come up with our own vision for the courtyards.  We brainstormed together in small groups, sketched out our ideas on big maps of the courtyards, and presented our ideas.  Nancy created the preliminary designs from that charrette.  The upper courtyard will be a Reading Garden, featuring storytelling spaces, a “word walk,” a “river of words” water feature, shaded bench swings, a project area, and magnetic whiteboard or chalkboard “word walls.”  The lower courtyard will be a DaVinci Art Garden with outdoor easels and looms, a textile garden, a Leonardo DaVinci dragon painted on an amphitheater floor with risers for seating, shaded project tables, an outdoor sink, and plenty of storage for art supplies.  Both spaces will offer shade, storage, work surfaces for all kinds of lessons, and seating among native trees and plants for small and large groups.

Who Will Pay for It? 

We have raised the money for the preliminary designs, which were completed in late April 2012.  We need to raise additional design funds for planting plans and construction drawings.  For building funds, the plan is to tap into a variety of sources, such as local businesses or national corporations doing business in Arlington; foundations that support education, arts, reading/literacy, and the environment; and individual donors.  We will organize PTA fundraisers such as a flower bulb sale and a restaurant night with a raffle.

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.  Or donate on-line via PayPal on this web page.
  • 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.

For more information, questions, or to submit ideas and fundraising leads, please email parent volunteer Julie Gantz at julie.gantz@gmail.com.







Subpages (1): Davinci Art Garden
Webmaster Drew PTA,
Sep 5, 2012, 7:06 AM
Webmaster Drew PTA,
Sep 5, 2012, 7:19 AM