What’s fun and educational? A day in the school forest at Park Elementary School in Cross Plains.
On Thursday, May 18, Park hosted a Forestry and Field Day to celebrate the culmination of a Wisconsin Environmental Education Board (WEEB) grant to purchase resources, materials and create curriculum for the educational plan for the school forest.
Seven stations were set up that students rotated to during a 2-hour program. The stations included: outdoor safety; identification of insects; prairie plants; trees and birds; a measurement hunt and soil; and animal tracks. Young students were paired with older, student buddies who helped them with the activities. Students were acting as young scientists as they examined nature on their schoolyard. One young boy, with both knees covered in soil proudly held out his hand displaying a centipede he had found under a log. He clearly was excited about school and studying in nature out of the four walls.
The School Forest has provided hands-on, relevant, site-based learning opportunities for Park students for 40 years.
“These opportunities in an outdoor setting create environmentally literate students by raising their awareness, knowledge and shifting their individual attitudes toward the environment and its challenges,” said Amy Callies, kindergarten teacher and school forest coordinator.
Park uses a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching in the outdoors. Students were using a measuring tape to use both English and metric systems. Fourth-grade teacher Luke Kramer used photos from their DNR Snapshot WI camera of creatures that frequented the forest. He had the students graph the information to determine the different levels of seasonal activities of white tail deer. While students can learn to graph information given to them indoors on a handout, it generally is not fun and not engaging to the student to want to learn more. Outdoor education can be used to teach a myriad of skills that hook the students and achieve high levels of learning.
WEEB has been awarding grants for environmental projects since 1990. The City of Middleton and the MCPASD have been awarded $67,573 in grant monies over the years. During the last state budget cycle, funding for WEEB was slated for elimination by July 2017. Park was fortunate to be able to receive one of the final WEEB grants to fund their forestry education program.