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Outdoor Classroom at E I McCulley

Apr 21, 2016 12:00 AM

Spring is blossoming — and so are young minds.

At E.I. McCulley Public school, classrooms can now be conducted outdoors.

On Wednesday, the grades 5 and 6 and kindergarten classes were prepping these classrooms by doing some landscaping.

“It was really a group of teachers who were recognizing a need for shade, during regular playtime,” said teacher-librarian Sonja Upton. “And the kindergarten staff in particular, they’ve been really gung-ho because across the board there’s been a focus to have natural inquiry and to bring nature into kindergarten and we’ve haven’t had the space to do that.

“So where some schools could walk to an outdoor area, or have it at the back of their field, we haven’t,” Upton said.

“So, we just felt like our kids were really missing out and a large part of our (student) population comes from either apartments or townhouses, so they don’t have much in terms of outdoors places themselves. We just wanted to create that opportunity for them and it’s hilarious to watch them, especially the Grade 5/6 class, some of them have no experience in getting their hands dirty and some of them have even made the trees.”

Upton said some of the students have taken “a personal interest” for landscaping.

The school applied in the summer for a grant from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and worked with Greening Niagara to get the project going.

“Everything that we’re planting, they’re native species and hopefully bringing some new wildlife,” Upton said.

“We’re also really interested in following up with some community science programs, like Nature Watch.”

Upton hopes that the outdoor classroom, which is located at the front of the school, will be a “great instructional space for students to do hands-on science classes” and that every classroom will have a chance to sign out the space to use it.

“Every class will participate in another workshop with Greening Niagara in that space, and they will all have a workshop with Mad Science of Niagara. We’re really trying to encourage that hands-on science. We’ll also be having an Earth Day bookswap, and kids will be reading in that space. We’re hoping it becomes another space to go and learn,” Upton said.

“The biggest motivator is that our one kindergarten classroom has no windows. Our school used to be open concept,” Upton said. “When they closed it in, it meant that a classroom was left with no windows.

“For them, hopefully, it will be a space where they can explore and learn.” 

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