One of the more interesting features of Greenwood Elementary is our “outdoor classroom.” The outdoor classroom was devised in 1971 as a joint effort of the school administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a place to repurpose a couple of acres of land on the property for student use. The outdoor classroom contains a small orchard with pear and apple trees, a pond, and a forest with several types of trees. The pond is home to ducks, turtles, frogs, tadpoles, and bullhead catfish. We have seen herons, geese, and a kingfisher stopping by the pond for snacks. The woods are home to rabbits, a variety of birds, and for a short time, a small bear. I say “a short time” because as soon as it was spotted, the DNR was called and the bear is now happily living elsewhere.
The kids survey the woods for science class, identifying animals and plants. In the winter, our gym teacher heads outdoors to lead snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating.
My personal favorite activity, however, is during the after school-kids club: A few times a year we take grades K-6 fishing in the pond for bullhead catfish. For the teachers out there, you can probably understand the logistical undertaking of a fishing trip. Children bring in their fishing rods, which must be labeled and stored in a secure location. Barbless hooks have to be tied to the lines, minimizing the damage they can do to the fish and to the children. Hooks have to be baited with pieces of hot dog (affordable, clean, and humane bait) at the pond. Then 50 or so children whip these lines about nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with a shockingly low level of injury. If they manage to catch a fish-which happens a lot since the fish will eat anything and there seem to be a lot of them-the fish has to be removed by a teacher or older child wearing gloves because the fish can sting you badly if you are not careful.
The whole thing is a lesson to the children in following very serious directions and respecting your neighbors. They manage to do it very well, with at most a pricked finger.
One one trip, a student had forgotten his rod. I gave him the job of taking pictures with a digital camera, since the children are not allowed to keep their catch. I will talk more during the year about how I love cameras as a way to inject fun into projects and document learning. But in this case, I think they are great for just capturing memories and showing people some of the great things that these kids get to do in school. Cameras can be a great tool of self-promotion in this way. You don’t need a sheet of test data or statistical information to know that these kids had a great time and enjoy being at school. A picture always says a thousand words.