Campsite classroom allows children to learn in and from nature – School News Network
Rockford – Emerging from the trees like brightly colored woodland creatures, 30 grade five students enter a clearing and quickly claim their place: tree stump stools, tent, five girls in canoes. Professor Megan McCall gives them the signal and they fall silent, absorbed in their books in the calm calm of a spring afternoon.
Will Glover, dressed in an MSU T-shirt, reads an adventure story about a child who finds himself in the woods with only an ax to survive – a story appropriate for the surroundings.
“I love the birdsong as you read and the nature all around you,” Will says calmly.
McCall looks at his students and sees a blessing at work.
“For such a difficult year, all of our challenges that we faced, that’s such a bright point,” she whispers. “We are very grateful. It’s a gift.”
The gift is Camp Valley View, a small circle of tranquility carved out of thick wood behind Valley View Elementary School by an energetic parent volunteer. With a guided nature exploration in a nearby hollow and a school-wide reading about industrious squirrels, it added to a memorable outdoor experience for students long locked in with masks and computers. .
Books lead to trees
Camp Valley View was born out of the school A school, a book activity, in which parents are encouraged to read aloud to their children, and teachers coordinate lesson plans around the book. This year’s book was “Nuts for you” by Newbery Medal winner Lynne Rae Perkins, a story of two squirrels looking in the woods for a friend torn off by a hawk. Adventure and humor ensue, along with felled trees for power lines and the nut squirrel.
Meanwhile, Jason Hiscock, a parent-of-two and president of PTO, was looking for something parents could do amid the restrictions of a pandemic. It was then that he looked at a 3.5 acre patch of woodland belonging to the district behind the school and started to think about camping, reading and, yes, squirrels.
“I wanted it to look like a trip to a nature center.
– Jason Hiscock, PTO President
“We haven’t been able to organize assemblies or field trips,” says Hiscock, who also volunteers as a crossing guard. “We thought, what special experience can we offer this year’s kids? It’s just a snowball from there.
He got to work shortly before spring break to create the campsite, which is accessed by a paved path leading to a neighboring subdivision. Armed with a chainsaw and plenty of energy, he cleared brush, dug a pond, fashioned seats from logs, and erected a tent with a canvas purchased by the PTO.
A chalkboard provided by a family, a canoe donated by AAA Canoe Rental, and a birding station helped create a sort of camping classroom.
“I wanted it to look like a trip to a nature center,” says Hiscock.
Mission accomplished, says Megan McCall, who, like other teachers, booked the camp for reading, math and other activities. “We’re so in love with it,” she says. “He’s our hero.”
Hiscock even made promotional videos to get students interested in the project, including this hype video starring principal Jeremy Karel as a squirrel of impressive resources.
Salamanders and leeks
A little further down the cobbled path to Camp Valley View, children’s voices float in a deep hollow in the woods. This is where Tahlia Miller guides students in her nature explorations called Woods and wetlands, a small business offering educational experiences in nature. In this case, the former Rockford teacher linked the outdoor learning of Valley View students to the book ‘Nuts to You’.
Each class was able to spend an hour in the woods with them, discovering acorns and oaks, hunting salamanders and tasting leeks. “A lot of kids don’t have the experience of playing in nature,” she says.
That’s exactly what Kendra Austin’s third-graders do on a recent outing: climb a half-fallen tree, swing over vines, and dig in leaf-strewn earth. Miller tells them about the life of tree roots and the dangers of erosion, and has them write their experience of the day in their journals.
“I think it’s cool that I got to see a bunch of stuff I’ve never seen before,” says Ilah DeVries, carefully tracing a leaf. “I learned new things.”
“Explore with a purpose”
Camping and exploring the woods were wonderful ways to take students away from screens and into the classroom, says teacher Kristin Hubner, who coordinated the One School, One Book project.
“They discover and explore for a specific purpose,” says Hubner. “It connects children to nature and to the book.”
This is exactly what Claire Kranzo does back at the campsite, intently reading a book on a log bench, a laptop in her lap.
“I like it because it’s nice and quiet,” she says of Camp Valley View. “You can be in nature.”