The Great Outdoors in Our Own Backyard
The Great Outdoors in Our Own Backyard
by Gerri Faivre, Onward3@verizon.net, Westbury Friends School
Westbury Friends School (WFS) is definitely an outdoor school and proud of it. Our campus lends itself to joy-filled moments on the fields and under the trees during all seasons. Our faculty does not hesitate to take the time to ‘bundle up’ their students and walk and play on our beautiful campus. The students benefit from this one-thousand-fold, and Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods would indeed approve of WFS’s commitment to daily outdoor activity. He would most definitely love what the Outdoor Classroom Committee achieved during the summer of 2009 and into the spring/summer of 2010 and how the children have responded to using the Outdoor Classroom each and every day. It all began like this:
During the spring of 2009, Nursery Assistant Lydia Parrish and Kindergarten Assistant Barbara Caccamo attended a Friends Council on Education/FEEN two-day conference at Friends School Haverford. They visited several schools that had outdoor classrooms. Excited, they returned to WFS and shared many thoughts and ideas with their colleagues and administration. The seed was indeed planted, and WFS wasted no time cultivating the prospect of its own outdoor classroom focused on the needs of early childhood for Phase I.
Barbara Zaccaria, Pre-K teacher, immediately volunteered to clerk the Outdoor Classroom Committee. All members of the Early Childhood faculty jumped on board; Linda Wilmot, Lydia Parrish, Pam Wells, Joanne Arias, Jane Berliner, Barbara Caccamo, and Barbara Hershman.
A formal two-year effort on the part of the Parents Teachers Council (PTC) provided the seed money, some $7500, to begin the project. The committee, working with the Building and Grounds Committee of the Westbury Monthly Meeting, whose care we are under (clerked by Peter Kingsley, Clerk of the Board of Managers of WFS, Martha Smith, PTC Clerk, Glenn Thurber, Maintenance and Safety Supervisor Nick Belle and Head of School Gerri Faivre) began collaborative and comprehensive conversations on what would eventually become a three-phase project for the construction of an outdoor classroom at WFS. Faculty members were surveyed to obtain a sense of what they might like to see included in this outdoor classroom for students of all ages.
The Arbor Day Foundation and Long Island Nature Collaborative for Kids (LINCK) were contacted, and meetings and tours of campus were held to hear their expert opinions as to how to proceed. Members of the Outdoor Classroom Committee visited outdoor classrooms at the Long Island Children’s Museum and Bailey’s Arboretum for more thoughts and ideas, all on their own time and all in the best interest of providing a wonderful outdoor learning experience for the students of WFS.
And so, with all the support behind them—educationally, monetarily, and emotionally—the Outdoor Classroom Committee began the work of planning and constructing Phase I. Martha Smith, Clerk of the Board of Managers is, by profession, an architect. Martha offered to do a rendering of our thoughts on what the Outdoor Classroom should include, and this was presented to the Board of Managers at a spring meeting for approval. It included:
- Performing Arts Center, which includes a stage and a bench
- Messy Zone for children to dig in
- Artists Studio with easels and paper and Plexiglas for their imagination to grow
- Construction Site for students to build skyscrapers with all kinds of materials
The faculty committee took on the responsibility of locating and purchasing safe, child-friendly, and environmentally-safe materials with the approval of the Maintenance and Safety Supervisor and the Head of School. At times, some differences of opinion arose, but nothing that could not be worked through by conversation and an open-minded approach to the changes in the original project. In truth, the work, although slower at times than we had hoped, went very smoothly as the goal was to provide for the children in our care…and that helped to guide the project every step of the way.
The new patio, directly outside the Nursery and Pre-K classrooms, designed as part of the outdoor classroom, was put in by the Meeting landscaper Dan Bulletti and his crew, thanks to the generosity of the Westbury Monthly Meeting. This was a true gift for it saved tremendous time and energy on the part of the faculty and their spouses and children, all of whom volunteered many hours over the summer to have the project completed by the opening of school in September 2009.
A photographic journal of the work done by the faculty, displayed on the bulletin board in the front hallway of WFS in September, documented the time, effort, commitment and love of children and sound educational practice that is the foundation for the outdoor classroom at Westbury Friends School. A photo album, with additional pictures, can be found in the front office.
We all know that great learning occurs for young children on their own when they carefully watch an unexpected outcome and draw new conclusions from it. What children observe most closely, explore most intensely, and imagine most vividly are the people and things around them. There are no perfect toys; there is no magic formula. We all teach children by paying attention and interacting with them naturally and most of all, by just allowing them to play. Play is, after all, the work of children. And the new outdoor classroom at WFS has proved to be the perfect place for everyone to learn, work, and play together!
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new outdoor classroom took place at the Welcome Back Picnic in September 2009 on the Sunday after school began. At the same time, conversations were beginning as to how to configure a tricycle/riding toys path for the children. Ultimately, the bike path was marked off by the PE teacher to begin at the ‘parking garage’, (or shed that houses the vehicles) following a course around the basketball court and a large tree at the far end of the Early Childhood Field, then back down the other side, arriving back at the garage. A construction group, friends of our PE teacher, came and dug out the roadbed for the trike path, again saving the faculty time and energy. Aggregate materials were donated by a friend of our PTC Clerk, and the roadbed was laid. The mound of dirt removed to shape the trike path was finally contoured and seeded during the summer of 2010 and now serves the younger children as a placed for climbing up and rolling down. We can’t wait for the first snowfall to see what happens when it becomes white!
Arnold, a non-stop volunteer and the husband of the Kindergarten assistant, is forever on campus giving of self to keep things within the outdoor classroom maintained. This past summer, he built several storage boxes for digging toys, musical instruments used on the stage, and other things that should be put away at the end of each day. Money for this came, once again, from the PTC’s ongoing commitment to this project.
Finally, a highly-requested sandbox and cover was secured just before school opened in September 2010 and has provided many hours of fun for the early childhood students, as this is designated for them only.
While all this was going on in the north side of campus, things were happening in the southeast corner, the west side, and the middle!
Our very own dwarf apple orchard was planted in the fall of 2009. Administrative Assistant, Chris Maloney, requested that her family be allowed to donate five apple trees in honor of the passing of her father in July. The faculty then added to this endeavor by contributing another apple tree in honor of this fine gentleman, as did two other families, thus creating “Grandpa’s Orchard.” Westbury Monthly Meeting, which has oversight of the buildings and grounds, approved the planting of these dwarf apple trees on campus directly in front of the early childhood classrooms. We actually had our own apples on these eight trees this fall!
Parents Visiting Morning on Friday, October 30, 2009, brought yet another opportunity to enhance our campus and provide beautiful tranquil spots for students and adults alike. Parents and students, guided by Maura Brush of Old Westbury Gardens and her interns, planted close to 1000 daffodil bulbs donated by Hicks Nurseries, which is owned by one of the founding Quaker families on Long Island. This fall, again on Parents Visiting Morning, an additional 250 bulbs were planted. This Simplicity Field brings joy and beauty to all who pass along the main road to the north of campus in the springtime when the bulbs are blooming.
Last but not least, Phase II of the outdoor classroom began this summer. Again, with the support of the PTC, ‘seed money’ was given to the school to begin its Children’s Community Garden. The PTC and faculty/spouse volunteers constructed six raised beds for the garden. Grassroots, a group connected to our Meeting, offered to supply us with seeds and organic compost, and Hicks Nurseries provided the organic, nutrient-rich topsoil for the beds. Patti Wood, founder of Grassroots, explained to the faculty the idea of a four-season garden and the care it would need. She and an assistant arrived on campus at the end of September with seeds for spinach, parsley, arugula, radishes, kale, lettuce, etc. and spent the morning with each individual class planting and sharing information for our young gardeners. The harvest has been incredible, and salad has become a wonderful snack this fall. We will pick the last of it before our Feast among Friends just prior to leaving for Thanksgiving and then plant garlic for the winter crop in early December. The students, nursery through fifth grade, have been wonderful caretakers and have learned so much about the miracle of life while watching their gardens grow.
We are now thinking about the next part of Phase II as we consider possibilities to enhance the outdoor experience for our older students. Their ideas include a gazebo for reading and writing or just quiet times, a greenhouse, and space for shuffleboard, hopscotch, and four-square. Social studies and science will use the compass rose and outline of the continents painted on the basketball court. Thanks to a generous parent, the construction of bat houses and a full educational unit on bats will occur in January at all grade levels.
At WFS we frequently talk about teamwork, process, and consensus with our students. We have lived this as a faculty and parent body, starting with an idea and bringing it along over a two-year time frame. The children have seen it all come to be, one solid step at a time. We have miles to go before we rest and a million more ideas. We have seen the students enjoy the outdoor classroom in ways that we did not even envision when we began. We know that their creative minds and extraordinary imaginations will lead us further down the outdoor path as each new phase is completed. What a joy it has been to see our campus take on a whole new life thanks to the support of the community at large and the infinite possibilities afforded us by the great outdoors being right in our own backyard.
Raising salad veggies in the raised beds
Planting hundreds of bulbs
The fantastic result!
The Outdoor Art Studio and Performing Arts Center
Building the area for the Outdoor Art Studio
Constructing the Outdoor Performing Arts Center
Constructing raised garden beds