Carson Elementary Outdoor Classroom

Carson Kids Care

Carson Elementary School
  • Entire School
Photo Essay (3–10 images)

Community Coach(es): 

Growing North Cariboo, Northern Health, Carson PAC, Baker Creek Enhancement Society

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Carson Elementary School’s environmental project is our outdoor classroom and school garden. In BC, the focus on place-based learning, where learning experiences are adapted to the local environment, is an important part of the redesigned curriculum. Aboriginal perspectives and knowledge are integrated throughout all areas of learning. Learning environments are flexible, relevant, and engaging. Revisions to the Science curriculum include environmental learning, needs of plants, making observations, questioning, and predicting, demonstrating curiosity about the natural world. Applied Skills have students use materials and tools in a safe manner in the physical environment.

We started our project in 2016 with the purchase of four raised garden boxes. In the spring of 2017 we had a School-Wide Spruce-Up, where we tidied up our school yard, pulled up the landscape fabric from an old, overgrown flower bed, pruned bushes, planted flowers and vegetables.

In Fall 2017, we added three large compost bins to our outdoor classroom, stumps for sitting on, small compost bins in every classroom, and in spring 2018, we added a storage shed for hoses, garden tools, a smaller garden shed for watering cans, garden gloves, and small tools, as well as a water barrel.

The goal of our Outdoor Classroom and School Garden project is to provide year-round enjoyment of the outdoors. The outdoor classroom is an on-going project. It will be a place where teachers and students can gather together to do a lesson or to debrief on what was learned or observed. The garden is currently a place-based learning opportunity during the growing months. Students have the chance to feel soil as they till the ground and plant seeds, taste microgreens and root vegetables, smell the aromas of fresh herbs like lemonmint and oregano, and be active and aware of the outdoors. The project provides natural opportunities for children to run, jump, climb, and explore the outdoors. The project provides the opportunity for children to explore through all their senses. We would like to provide students with opportunities to play in nature, as well as on equipment. This teaches them how to explore natural features like stumps, logs, or rocks, and play in the outdoors when they are not at school.

Teachers have ongoing outdoor classroom activities, and use the garden beds for planting. We focus on the health benefits of gardening and being outdoors, including physicals and mental wellness. Our resources included garden boxes, garden sheds, watering cans, seeds, perennial bulbs. Teachers bring their classes outside to explore the trails alongside our school, and last year we planted annuals, perennials, squash, pumpkin and strawberries. Parents were also involved in this project. They helped with a School Yard Spruce Up on a Friday afternoon and a Garden Workbee on a Sunday. Approximately 20 students participated in our garden club, and all participated in our School Yard Spruce Up and Garden Workbee. Students volunteered to water the plants, weed the flower beds, and learn how to prune shrub at recess and lunch.

This project was continually connected to the curricular competencies. Our curriculum provides greater flexibility in creating learning environments that are relevant and engaging. The opportunity to be outside on a regular basis is more relevant and engaging than a classroom. Our activities also allow students to experience and interpret the local environment, provide opportunities for local contexts and place-based learning, and contribute to care for the community through personal or collaborative approaches. This provides students with a healthy perspective both physically, emotionally, and mentally. They are connected to the environment and are able to reflect and respond to what they were seeing and doing.

We are still in the process of getting the natural elements added to our playground and outdoor classroom. Quesnel Tree Removal has delivered stumps and mulch. The other challenge is finding people to construct the structures. We had a workbee on a Sunday in May, so that working parents could come help out and construct the storage sheds.

Teachers reported that children’s experiences in an outdoor classroom have been positive and students are ready to work. Students have positive feelings about the outdoor classroom. Students were found to have a calmer, more regulated mood after spending time outdoors doing purposeful work in the outdoor classroom, school garden or environment. One of our grade 1 students who participated in the garden club said that he really liked being outside because it made him feel calm. Students are able to work hands-on with plants rather than learn about the plant cycle through pictures in a book or a video on-line. Students also learned basic needs of plants, learned names of local plants, learned living things make changes to accommodate daily and seasonal cycles, and local First Peoples Knowledge of the local landscape and plants. As a result, when students returned from working out in the garden, they were more regulated and ready to learn. Through our outdoor classroom, students realize that time outdoors is not only fun, but has purpose. They plant seeds and watch them grow into plants that will provide food. This also gives them a sense of accomplishment and empower them to initiate a garden at home. The project is still in its beginning stages, but it is extremely successful and has received great reviews from the students. We look forward to continuing this worthwhile project.