Fields for Friends
Fields for Friends
by Sharon Livingston, Friends School Haverford
Friends School Haverford has made a commitment to the stewardship of our world. We believe that providing children with a sense of place grounds them and gives them wings. The Quaker Testimonies are our call to action. Our shared vision for a peaceful world for children guides our work. When we embrace stewardship, we create a fertile ground for learning to live simply, cultivate peace, grow in integrity, create community, and stand for equality. As a sunflower seed holds the promise of petals, scent, color and nourishment, a child who experiences connections to earth, sky, and water may generate hope for future generations.
When we reviewed our Campus Master Plan in 2006 (now known as Fields for Friends) we felt it needed to nurture the natural habitat, under and above the ground. Insufficient drainage of our fields had been an ongoing problem, causing sodden playgrounds, flooding and frequently unusable play spaces. Nancy’s House, an important play structure, was built in the 1970s in memory of a student. It had deteriorated and no longer met code, but we wanted to continue Nancy’s legacy. A group of meeting members, school committee, faculty, administration, maintenance and students worked together to craft our goals. Students built, wrote and drew designs of what they wanted in our outdoor spaces. Our goals for the plan were to provide garden spaces, composting facilities, play spaces, meeting/performance areas, and nature study areas and to attract and nurture native wildlife. We also needed to meet and exceed our township’s code requirements.
The outdoor spaces created from our campus master plan are an extension of the classroom and are integrated into our program. Gardening is an important piece of our curriculum and children’s gardens abound. A potting shed and greenhouse allow us to extend the garden season. Teachers grow plants as part of their curriculum. Raised beds are available for gardening and fresh peas are a treat to eat in the spring; and our Salsa garden is very popular.
One day in September, kindergarten students used ingredients from their garden plot to become KinderCooks. The children were excited to identify ripe vegetables as tomatoes, onions, and peppers. As a few children industriously pulled tomatoes from the vines and sorted them into two piles, one for eating, one for composting, others quickly filled a stainless steel bowl with colorful sweet banana and bell peppers. Out of the rich brown earth came two aromatic onions. While bees hummed in the sunflowers nearby, children excitedly exchanged ideas about what to do with the harvest. Students made “Tomato, Onion, and Sweet Banana Pepper Salsa” and corn chips. Bowls of salsa were prepared individually, every kindergartner making choices of ingredients for him/herself. Using corn chips as scoops, they enjoyed salsa from washable, re-usable snack bowls. At the end of the cooking day, leftover cores, seeds, and uneaten pieces of vegetables were added to the classroom compost bucket and delivered to the outdoor compost bin.
In our Spanish class, unit, “The Garden,” students learned key vocabulary relating to this topic in Spanish: dirt, plants, seeds, water, sun, harvest. Then they read A Circle of Pumpkins, in which they learned about the cycle of growing pumpkins. Students planted a pumpkin patch and then watched a companion DVD, narrated in Spanish. Their experience planting and talking about the garden in Spanish gave them a good understanding of the DVD. Compost bins allow us to collect food scraps and grass clippings and teach children the connection between food and soil. Our Prekindergarten students became authors when they wrote a book about how to compost and shared it with the rest of the school. Students in each classroom have a classroom job of delivering the compost by bringing the food scraps to the compost bin every day. Beside the compost bin is a leaf bin so the compost bin can have the necessary mixture of green and brown materials. Students add their bucket of food scraps and then add a bucket of leaves. The rich soil from our compost helps our gardens thrive and shows our students how the cycle is completed.
All plantings on the grounds are native to attract local flora and fauna, and were chosen for interesting characteristics such as use, food source, bark, smell, or leaf shape. Deciduous trees were planted outside of our main building to provide shade in the warmer months to cool the building.
Plants and Trees at FSH
We are a certified National Wildlife Habitat and a certified Monarch Waystation. This work has contributed to a healthier environment and we have seen an increase in the number and variety of animals and birds that call our campus home. A few years ago our campus was barren, but now hosts a family of foxes, frogs and a groundhog. Birds nest in the trees and can be seen and heard around campus. Our curriculum includes the study of our birds, animals, trees and plants. We created a bird garden with native plants such as monarda, black-eyed susans, butterfly bush and cone flowers to attract birds and give them food and shelter. A rainwater collection area called the Puddle has a solar pump and hosts frogs and salamanders. Birds and butterflies flit through the tall grasses.
Outdoor Garden Circle
An outdoor seating area gives a class space to discuss the children’s work. As students understand the importance of the space in their backyard, they can develop a sense of the importance of other spaces. Our curriculum includes the study of neighboring areas such as the Pinelands in New Jersey, the coal mining area north of us and the farmland of Lancaster County. We have a sister school in Costa Rica, and when our students travel there their sense of place is enlarged again. Nel Noddings in Educating Citizens for Global Awareness writes: “When children learn to study and care for their own back yards and neighborhoods, they are preparing to study global ecology.”
Friends School Haverford believes that play is the work of children and has created outdoor spaces that provide opportunities for spontaneous play, teacher-organized activities and sports. In our outdoor space there are areas that promote creative play, and nooks to read, write, sketch, or simply to chat with a friend. We have a large tricycle/jogging track, play structures and equipment, swings, climbing structures, and sandboxes.
All students participate in age-appropriate physical education activities. We recognized the need to provide all-weather playing surfaces and installed a synthetic turf field. The new field is accessible year-round even after rainy days, adding countless more outdoor play days to our school year.
The subsurface improvements, including an underground water retention basin, have been carefully engineered to meet or exceed stringent township requirements. A bioswale addresses storm water runoff from the entrance driveway and fields. A new Nancy’s House, designed for children ages 3 to 12, sits on the site of the old one. Our students enjoy its nooks and crannies.
Rachael Carson writes, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” These are the gifts we give the children of Friends School Haverford, and we believe that these gifts last a lifetime.
More Information about Monarch Waystations and Gardens for Wildlife
Monarch Waystations are places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. Without milkweeds throughout their spring and summer breeding areas in North America, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration each fall. Similarly, without nectar from flowers these fall migratory monarch butterflies would be unable to make their long journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico. The need for host plants for larvae and energy sources for adults applies to all monarch and butterfly populations around the world.
The National Wildlife Foundation—encourages schools and gardeners to create a certified wildlife habitat. By providing the following in their gardens:
Food Sources - For example: Native plants, seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, nectar
Water Sources - For example: Birdbath, pond, water garden, stream
Places for Cover - For example: Thicket, rock pile, birdhouse
Places to Raise Young - For example: Dense shrubs, vegetation, nesting box, pond
Sustainable Gardening - For example: Mulch, compost, rain garden, chemical-free fertilizer