Sunday, November 4, 2012

Outdoor Learning Center Continues to Grow!


If you should take a walk in the backyard of North Shore Elementary School, you will be greeted with tree identification signs and bird houses, thanks to Tyler, our Eagle Scout hero!  He and his family and friends have done an amazing job creating a nature trail and outdoor learning environment.

We are looking forward to our Backyard Bird Count (February 15th -- 18th) with Russ Schipper in conjunction with Cornell University and thousands of bird lovers across North America.  We will be identifying and counting the birds we see in our backyard and sending that information on to the bird experts and researchers at Cornell. 

Cameron, another Eagle Scout, will be developing an outdoor classroom area.  He will be installing benches to seat thirty students in the opened area of the path.  We are looking forward to a time when we can sit outside and write, read and research in our own outdoor classroom!

"Man listens in the forest.  He pauses in the forest.  He finds himself. . . I have asked person after person if he knew the song of the chipping-sparrow, and most of them are unaware that it has any song.  We do not hear it in the blare of the city street. . . We hear it in the still places and when our ears are ready to catch the smaller sounds.  There is no music like the music of the forest, and the better part of it is faint and far away or high in the tops of trees."  --Liberty Hyde Bailey,  The Holy Earth

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Progress Continues!

Walkway overlooking wetlands
completed by Eagle Scout, Andrew!
The lower trail is muched and lined
led by Eagle Scout, Tyler!

Tyler with some of his crew!

Trees and sky along the path

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Long Awaited Friend Arrived Today!

Our Monarch Hatched!

An hour or so after hatching,
the butterfly sits on our hands!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Progress and Projects

Little children love the dandelion, why may not we?  LHB
Liberty Hyde Bailey was a man ahead of his time . . . I feel as if we may be catching his meaning and making a better place for students, teachers and gardens.  Here is what he wrote in the early 1900's

"This modern educational process is the active method as distinguished from the sit-still method.  It arouses, stimulates, individualizes the learner, developing its own mental movement.  The older method is largely one of repression and subjugation.  It is little less than barbarous to keep children sitting all day on benches."  -L. H. Bailey, from "The School of the Future" in The Outlook to Nature, 1905

We are making good progress as the Eagle Scouts are working their magic on the grounds here at North Shore!  Andrew has the decking on site and will be securing it in the days ahead. 
Wetland Overlook Project
This evening I was out flagging a wasp nest that needs removal by someone braver than myself.  Checking out the other gardens and projects, I walked over to our raised bed of dandelions to see what was growing.  For two years I've been weeding everything but the dandelions out of that bed.  (As many of you know, we planted dandelions for our groundbreaking in honor of Liberty Hyde Bailey, who enjoyed all plants and found dandelions no different.  In fact, he even wrote a poem on their behalf.)  But here's the problem with that dandelion garden.  As soon as I have pulled out all the other plants, new plants spring to life practically spontaneously, until it's a mass of vegetation of all sorts and varieties living very vigilantly together.  The dandelions never took over.  I have come to believe that dandelions prefer to grow next to other types of plants.  They flourish best within a diversity of plant life.  How very cool is that?!  The humble dandelion sets such a good example for those of us who seem to prefer the security of sameness.  That little flower has many endearing qualities I never knew before this venture.  We have plans to re-dedicate that bed to perhaps a butterfly garden, but before it goes down, here are just a few shots of the humble plants that grow so well together.  I have to admit, I've grown to like that crazy bed of vagabond plants that seem to come from nowhere and find a home with us.     

Weeds have a way of taking the smallest plot of ground and creating a modest garden, without cost, worry or regret.  And in addition, they service the bees, butterflies and all kinds of creatures, just for being exactly where they were destined to be. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Work In Progress

Mulched trail through our woods
Today we made great gains on the trails here at North Shore!  Tyler led a crew that cleared and prepared the second trail through the woods.  DeGrandchamps donated wood chips and about a third of that trail has been covered.  They will need additional chips to continue the project.  It is looking very cool!  The first trail (out to the wetland area) was also mulched today by Neil, his mom Ann and myself.  It was a beautiful day to work!  Thank you to all who donated time, materials and/or labor!  If you have a chance, consider taking a walk on this new path through the woods.  You will be amazed at the diversity of trees and the beauty of this little stand of woods.  Tyler, with the help of others, will be making tree identification signs and adding bird houses on this nature trail.  I can't wait to show my students!   Generosity, hard-work and perseverance is alive and well on the Liberty Hyde Bailey Interpretive Garden Path!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A New Beginning

Thanks to Bob McGinness and the folks at Exterior Site Services we have a newly surfaced path out to our wooded trail and wetlands.  It is crushed concrete.  It will be a no maintenance and wheelchair accessible surface.  Thank you Bob and crew! 
And there is more excitement to come!
Work Crew underway
Oak tree on the border of the clearing

Entry to the woods
The paths through the wooded areas have been cleared and are ready for wood chips.  The DeGrandchamps are donating chips and we will be looking for help to spread them on Saturday, September 8th, at 10:00 a.m.  Thank you in advance DeGrandchamps! 

Tyler, one of the eagle scouts, developed an additional trail and will be puting up bird houses and labeling some of the trees.  Jim Ingraham built a picnic table in the clearing and is helping the eagle scouts with their various projects.  Cameron, another eagle scout, will be adding benches in the clearning for an outdoor classroom.  Our third eagle scout, Andrew, is making a viewing deck for the wetland area. 
I went out this evening to check on the progress and I was blown away.  The progress was amazing and the beauty of those woods was stunning.  I am so excited!  I hope that you can join us on Saturday, September 8th, to share in the joy and spread a few wood chips! 
Future site of the outdoor classroom


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Nature-Study Prime Time

Horizontal Fringe in Sunlight
"Nature-study, as a process, is seeing the things that one looks at, and the drawing of proper conclusions from what one sees.  Its purpose is to educate the child in terms of his environment, to the end that his life may be fuller and richer. . . It takes the things at hand and endeavors to understand them, without reference primarily to the systematic order or relationships of the objects.  It is informal, as are the objects which one sees . . . It is therefore supremely natural.  It trains the eye and the mind to see and to comprehend the common things of life; and the result is not directly the acquiring of science but the establishing of a living sympathy with everything that is." 
--Liberty Hyde Bailey (Leaflet 1.  What is Nature-Study? 1897)

The beauty of Liberty Hyde Bailey is not simply his scientific gifts, but his gifts as a person of wonder.  He was supremely knowledgeable in his field, having written and published over 30 horticulture books and dozens upon dozens of scientific and practical articles.  The amazing thing about Bailey is that he was so much more than that.  He was a student of life and a gifted teacher.  Bailey knew that the first step in learning is observing and appreciating the world around us.  It is the development of a sense of wonder that is at the root of a good student.  This is the gift that he shared so generously with the world.  His sense of wonder is reflected in his photography, poetry and ongoing thirst for knowledge.  Bailey never lost his sense of wonder and he shared it with all those around him.  He taught us who he was (not just what he knew) and he was a man of great wonder. 

Summertime is nature-study prime time.  Its a time of natural and easy wonder.  You don't need a guide or an expert to find yourself face-to-face with a dragonfly at the water's edge or perhaps a frog hanging out in your window well or a snake sunning himself on the bike trail.  And one does not need to know the name of the snake to appreciate its form and structure.  (A snake is an amazing animal and one that gets all my attention whenever I cross one's path.)  All those encounters stir up, however momentarily, a sense of wonder.

I've been riding my bike on the Kal-Haven trail.  I used to wear headphones and rock-out as I rolled down the road.  Learning a bit more about birds this year I've stopped listening to my music and have tuned into listening for birds and frogs and other creatures along the way.  I don't usually know what I'm listening to, but I am listening and wondering about the sounds.  I can pick out a few frogs and a couple of birds.  That's nature-study.  Lately, I have been admiring grasses.  When given time to go to seed, grasses are amazingly diverse and interesting.  The grasses above were alongside the bike trail.  They were so beatuiful in the sunlight.  I named them "Horizontal Fringe."  I know they have a scientific name and probably a common name, but to me, they are Horizontal Fringe.  And when I see them, I think of them as a grass that I know. . . I see them, admire them and recongize them.  They are part of my memory bank and forever known by me.  That's nature-study. 

I will never be the gifted scientist that Liberty Hyde Bailey was, but his gift was not simply scientific knowledge, it was reminding us of something even more valuable . . . that the world is amazing and everyone is invited into the wonder of it all.           

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer School

Rock and Sand Beach Art, Covert, MI
School is out for the summer.  Most teacher-types and a great number of student-types are breathing a sigh of relief.  Text books are put away and alarm clocks are reset.  The tests are over and the grades are in.  What has been done, has been done.  What has not been done has not been done.  And in the wisdom of the Beatles, we can "let it be." Summer goals include spending time on the beach, riding bikes and family cook-outs.  It is time for a new perspective.  It is time to take time and form hearts in the sand.

Education in the formal sense may have stopped, but summer is a time for questions, the real root of education.  Why are we here?  Who do we serve?  Where did we come from and where are we going?  What brings us joy?  Who do we love?  Summer gives us time to ponder the big questions that form us and ground us.  It is also a time that affords us to think of the little questions that grow us.  What was that bird?  Who made the sand art?  What are those seagulls thinking?  Why are some of my flowers thriving and others barely living?  Some of the questions may have answers found in books, but many of them are found in the living and observing of everyday life.  Some questions may have no answers, but stay with us nonetheless in that ongoing quest for understanding.  I would like to believe that knowledge comes from taking the time to form questions.  And wisdom comes from letting the questions stand, when there are no answers. 

I wish for all of you, good questions and a few answers along the way this summer of 2012.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

About Learning a Lesson I Already Knew . . .

We have monarch caterpillars in our classroom right now.  They are eating us out of milkweed on a very regular basis.  Earlier this year, a friend brought us Monarch chrysalises and we had the good pleasure of having them hatch in our classroom.  Now we are coming mostly full circle. . . we haven't had eggs, but that will be for another year.  So we are enjoying watching these little caterpillars eat and grow and poop at a seemingly tremendous rate.  If we are lucky, they will actually become butterflies the last week of school.  If not, I get the pleasure of taking them home.  Either way, it's super cool!  Thank you to Ilse, our butterfly connection!

On a simialar note, we have a terrarium with three local frogs and a mud turtle.  They need constant feeding and live insects are the menu.  (I did find that if you dangle a dead insect the frogs will go for it anyway so it's mostly a movement thing, not an issue of fresh meat.)  At any rate, my students often spend their recess time hunting for live bugs.  One student actually caught a monarch butterfly.  We decided it would be a good big meal and, in the spirit of food webs, we tossed it into the terrarium.  We watched one of the frogs jump at it, take a bite and spit it out.  I thought, "oh that's too bad, it was too big" and then I thought, wait a minute. . . monarchs are poisonous.  I have read that a hundred times.  They eat milkweed and somehow that makes them poisonous to other animals.  In fact, I remember that some butterflies fashion themselves after monarchs just to fool others into thinking they are poisonous.

What an amazing moment!  I have been teaching for years.  I believe in hands-on education.  I believe it makes kids smarter, but I had proof of it that day.  I knew monarchs were poisonous in the recesses of my mind . . . I'd read it many times.  But it really wasn't until I watched a frog spit out a monarch that I really knew it and I'm pretty sure I won't forget it.  We let the butterfly out of the terrarium and it flew to the window and we let it go free.  I think it is a wonder that an insect could teach me so much after all these years.   And I learned a lesson, again, that I already knew . . . kids need to experience learning and I need to keep teaching with that in mind.  Sometimes learning a lesson that you already know is an amazing gift!          

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Spring Observations

Checking out the cool frogs in the pond

A captive Reporter

The Fern Garden Grows!
Last week we went out looking for producers, consumers and decomposers.  We found lots of examples of them all happily growing and surviving together in our various backyard explorations!  Our science theme this quarter is Organisms.  We are learning about habitats and ecosystems.  We constructed a small habitat in our classroom for a local green frog.  We have been capturing moths and other insects to feed him during our recess time.  He seems very well fed, however, he may be a bit lonely.  We will release him in the days ahead.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spring Meeting!

Wetlands at North Shore

 We had a wonderful gathering of people in support of our project last Tuesday!  It was great to fill that museum with so much enthusiasm and brilliance!  Thank you to everyone who took the time to join us.  And for everyone who supports us and was unable to attend, thank you for your good wishes.  The ball is rolling!

Andrew presented his plan for developing a walkway onto the wetlands.  He is working with Brian DeBest and we are looking forward to peering into those wetlands on dry boards next year!  Thank you to Andrew and all those who are supporting this Eagle Scout project!

Jessica presented her plan for developing a Butterfly Way Station.  She has great ideas for developing three gardens and a walkway.  Ilse, a butterfly expert from Kalamazoo, was at the meeting to lend ideas and support.  Having a butterfly garden will be not only be educational, but a great source of wonder and delight.  We can't wait!

Cameron is also working on an Eagle Scout project.  He is planning to create a seating area for students that will overlook the pond and the grassy area.  Students and teachers will be able to sit outside and write, draw and work.  I'm going to love that, especially when the weather gets nice!

Other dreams (to name just a few) include making the trail handicap accessible, developing a food garden, working on signage, supporting indigenous plants and continuing to lift up Liberty Hyde Bailey and his work.  I feel humbled that so many amazing and talented people came out to the meeting on Tuesday.  It reminds me that we are on the right track.  Thank you!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Earth Day 2012 in Our Backyard

An old friend we hope celebrated Earth Day in Mexico
I had a wonderful Earth Day thanks to many good people and an amazing planet!  My day started out with an early morning "birding" expedition led by Russ Schipper, bird expect and educator.  I was the most novice in the bunch, so I kept my mouth shut and my eyes peeled, which seems to be good practice for most times (I just sometimes forget).  The wind was pretty strong and the air cold as we started out at the North Pier and traveled along our coastline, ending up at the state park.  My favorite spotting was of a flock of mergansers.  They are pretty amazing ducks.  They seem very pleased with themselves, especially the males (I feel as if you can add your own comment here).  It was a great adventure!  I got home and found out that I was bitterly cold.  Apparently I had been too interested in birds to have noticed how cold I really was . . . a sign of a great adventure.  It took a large bowl of oatmeal and a warm blanket to revive me.   

I attended the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum's Earth Day celebration later that day.  It was a well attended and a really lovely event.  John Stempien reminded us of how Liberty Hyde Bailey saw the beauty and sacredness in all the earth.  I think everyday was Earth Day for Mr. Bailey.  He loved the great and the small of it and all the in between of it.  He must have smiled looking down at all of us in his old homestead, celebrating the earth.  Anne Long gave a short history of Earth Day from the 1970's and reminded us of how really far we have come and how important it is to stand up and be heard.  Little things, done together can make a big difference.  That's the spirit of Earth Day . . . We also had a guest speaker, Maynard Kaufman, who talked about saving the earth in our backyard.  He reminded us that biodiversity is critical to a vital ecosystem.  One step toward promoting biodiversity is to decrease (or eliminate) those manicured grass lawns!  He also stressed the importance of planting native species of trees, flowers and perennials.  His ideas were practical, simple and earth friendly.  Learn more about Mr. Kaufman and his earth friendly techniques and ideas on the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum Website.  I hope to see many of you at the fun and educational events the museum offers through the year.  It is always a good time filled with amazing people and generous hospitality.  Happy Earth Day to all of you that make this planet your home!  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dandelion Patch

Photo taken by D~
"Little Children like the dandelions, why may not we?" 
--Liberty Hyde Bailey

The dandelion patch that we planted in honor of Liberty Hyde Bailey is alive and well!  My son and I spent some time pulling out the extraneous weeds and we even found a few volunteer dandelions on our path that we transplanted to the garden.  Dandelions never had it so good! 

Spring is here and thoughts of growing the Liberty Hyde Bailey Interpretive Garden Path are at hand.  On Tuesday, April 24th at 7:00 p.m. there will be a meeting for anyone interested in the project.  We will be meeting at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum.  We need you.  We need everyone who is interested in building an outdoor learning environment for the students of North Shore Elementary.  You do not have to be an expert in anything, just someone who thinks kids need an outdoor setting to expand their learning and you want to help make it happen. 

The agenda is short.  We have two Eagle Scout projects and a Girl Scout project to showcase and discuss.  They will need our help as they plan and develop an outdoor seating area, a floating walkway on the wetlands and a certified Monarch Way Station. 

Other dreams include ideas for more plantings, grant writing, caring for the blueberry bushes (looking for a blueberry expert) developing a handicapped accessible path, curriculum work and more . . . The sky is the limit . . . as long as we have you with us.  Consider joining this amazing group of people for a short meeting at the museum.  I have been perfecting an old family brownie recipe, so brownies will be served.   I hope that you can join us!  If you are far away and/or cannot attend but have ideas, feel free to send them our way.  We are happy to serve! 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Springtime on the Path; Curriculum Connection

A big thank you to Russ Schipper for adding two bluebird houses to our backyard!  His knowledge and enthusiasm in teaching us about birds and his donations to the path are a generous addition to the education here at North Shore.  Thank you Russ!  This upcoming quarter, my students will be studying organisms in science.  The big idea with this unit is to discover how plants and animals adapt to their environment and to examine the characteristics of those different environments.  Why do different plants and animals grow and live in different places?  This is a great question for our backyard study.  Within the four acres in our school backyard, we have grassland, woodland and wetland.  Our path meanders through the different environments and for those of us who wander it, we get a peek into those natural surroundings and the plants and animals that have adapted there.  I can't wait to take my students out next week and listen to the frogs in the wetlands and see if the ferns have started growing underneath the trees.  No doubt there will be a variety of insects and other small creatures enjoying the warmth of spring in all the different areas. 

There are lots of ways to learn.  As we study the brain one thing is clear, knowledge is based on making connections.  We learn by connecting what we know to what we want to learn.  Students who love music, can connect new knowledge to sounds and tunes.  Students who love drawing, can connect new knowledge to art.  Students who love to move, can connect learning in hands-on study.  The Liberty Hyde Bailey Interpretive Garden Path has the potential to connect with students in a variety of ways that the classroom cannot always provide.  It's a place of beauty that can ignite the artist.  It's a place of amazing sounds (birds and crickets, frogs and toads) that can connect the auditory learning.  It's a place to move and explore, that can connect to those active learners.  Building connections in the brain, makes learning fun, but also makes students smarter.  It builds on what we know. 

My students had the opportunity to read poetry at Foundry Hall, our local theater.  Foundry Hall has generously let us use their wonderful facility for several years now, as my students celebrate poetry.  We filled the theater and ran out of programs.  Thank you Andru Bemis and Foundry Hall!  At any rate, some of our poetry was inspired by what we learned and what we observed on our path.  What is writing, if not an outcome of the world that surrounds us?

I Am Bluebird
By Makaelee 

I feel the wind on my feathers as I fly
I observe the kids playing outside
I wonder why the leaves change in the fall
I taste birdseed from the feeder
I dream of dancing on the clouds
I sing my cheerful song
I am Bluebird

Ice Crystals
By Zander
(a Haiku)

Frozen drops of rain
Sparkling white and fluffy
Then water beneath my feet

We have big plans for the Liberty Hyde Bailey Interpretive Garden Path.  Our goal is to make it an outdoor learning center that inspires students and teachers.  We will be getting together to plan and make goals for the future development of this project after spring break.  Details will follow in the days ahead.  Everyone is invited and chocolate is generally provided!  I hope to see you there!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Backyard Bird Count on the Liberty Hyde Bailey Interpretive Garden Path

Quietly watching for birds with binoculars in hand

Today, my students took part in the 15th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, through Cornell University.  We have been learning about the winter birds in our backyard with the help of Russ Schipper, from the Kalamazoo Audubon Society and two friends from the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, Anne Long and George Miller.  Russ came to our classroom a week ago with lots of cool information and real stuffed birds!  His presentation sparked a great deal of questions and enthusiasm for the birds in our backyard.  Today he was back, along with Anne and George to count birds in our backyard.  He led my students out in small groups with binoculars to quietly watch birds.  Among the birds we saw and/or heard were cardinals, chickadees, geese, crows, downy woodpeckers, an American goldfinch, a white-breasted nuthatch, a red-winged black bird and a seagull!  It was an amazing experience.  We submitted our findings online and were one of thousands of groups all across North American, watching and recording birds this weekend (  We also read Liberty Hyde Bailey's first published essay entitled Birds.  He wrote and presented the essay at the age of 15 to the Michigan State Pomological Society at South Haven, September 4, 1863.  His goal was to educate the farmers on the importance of birds to the well-being of fruit farms.

"Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, -- When the rigors of winter are over, and the pleasant days of spring return, what is more charming and delightful than the presence of birds?  What is more useful in destroying the myriads of insects which infest our vegetation?  Each one, from the different kind of insects it destroys, is almost indispensable to every farmer and fruit grower." 

He went on to describe in great detail different species of birds and the specific insects and noxious plants that they devour.  He finished his presentation with a poem he wrote in six verses.  The first two verses are as follows:

The robin sings sweetly from her native bowers,
The humming-bird sips the dewy flowers,
And the blue-jay's voice is often heard
From the forest, by fragrant breezes stirred.

The thrush, perched upon some lofty tree
That overshades the way,
Pours forth her song with joy and glee.
As if to welcome the coming day.

We have had a wonderful morning of bird watching, reading and enjoying the beauty of our South Haven home.  A heartfelt thank you to all who joined us for this adventure in learning . . . from those who loaned us binoculars to Anne and George and a special thank you to Russ Schipper! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"One day in February we were, with much enjoyment, wading through a drifted highway that skirted a forest, the least twig of which bore a burden of soft snow.  Over all hung that silence of winter which is the most 'silent silence' . . . No breeze swayed a creaking branch or shook from it the snow in soft thud to the white carpet below.  Even the song of the brook was smothered beneath coverlets of ice and pillows of drift.  We stood fast, awed by the stillness, when suddenly it was broken by the thrilling notes of the chickadees.  We could hardly credit our senses, for it seemed as if the woods was a hopeless place for any living creature that morning.  But there before our eyes was a flock of these courageous birds hunting for food on the leeward sides of boles and branches left bare and black in the recent storm.  Their ting weights sent the snow in showers from the terminal twigs . . . " 

--Liberty Hyde Bailey, December 1903, Cornell Nature-Study Leaflets, The Chickadee

Winter in our Backyard

Snow has finally arrived here in South Haven!  Our trail has a few inches of fresh snow and everything seems to sparkle.  Today I was out looking for signs of life and enjoying a beautiful sunny winter day.  I didn't see any animals, but I did hear several bird calls and I saw lots of animal tracks.   

On February 17th and 20th, my class, along with the Ann Long (Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum Board director, retired teacher, bird lover and friend) will be taking us out in small groups to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count!  This event is hosted by Audubon, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Canadian partner Brid Studies Canada.  Anyone can participate.  The results will provide a snapshot of the whereabouts of more than 600 species of birds.  We will watch and count birds for at least 15 minutes and enter our results at  The four-day count typically records more than 10 million observations from across North America.  We are looking forward to observing and participating in this exciting event!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Class Pet

Meet Maude.  She's our latest addition to Fourth Grade.  Maude is a 24 year old iguana.  How cool is she?!  Our classroom theme is "In Our Backyard," and although Maude is not native to Michigan, she was formerly living in the nearby middle school (technically our backyard) for many years.  Her latest owner, a now retired science teacher, donated her to our classroom.  Sometimes backyards are full of surprises.  The average life expectancy for iguanas is about 15 years, so we have an old lady on our hands (actually two if you count me).   I am looking forward to sharing this new found friend with my students.  We will have to figure out how to keep Maude happy and comfortable in her new digs here at North Shore Elementary.  It will also be fun to find out what her natural backyard would be if we could take her on a trip to her native land.  One thing is for sure, she will be happy when they turn the heat back up at school.  She is staying close to her "hot rock" and moving pretty slow.   I can't blame her.  If I could type with my mittens on, I'd be doing that presently.  Happy New Year to you and if there is an iguana expert out there, you are welcome to advise us on our new backyard gift!