Friday, November 15, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Nature Break

Sometimes it's nice just to take a break outside after a long test.

We are in the thick of MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) this week.  After a long morning of math "meaping," we are enjoying a break outdoors on our wetland overlook.  Sometimes it's just good to take a break outside without any study at all, just plain rejuvenation.

One of my favorite quotes from Liberty Hyde Bailey comes from his book entitled The Nature-Study Idea, 1905.  He is answering the question, What may be the results of Nature-Study?  I love his answer:

"Its legitimate result is education--the developing of mental power, the opening of the eyes and the mind, the civilizing of the individual.  As with all education, its central purpose is to make the individual happy; for happiness is nothing more nor less than pleasant and efficient thinking.  It is often said that the ignorant man may be as happy as the educated man.  Relatively, this is true; absolutely, it is not.  A ten-foot well is not so deep as a twenty-foot well; and although the ten-foot well may be full to the brim, it holds only half as much water as the other."

Sometimes, in these high-stakes testing times, I think we forget that ultimately learning is a joy and "an opening of the eyes and mind."  And teaching the joy of learning and the happiness of thinking is our goal as educators.  Happy teaching and learning to all of us outdoor learning enthusiasts!   

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Class Pet for a Day: Experience of a lifetime

Due to the generosity of Ilse Gebhard (butterfly expert and caterpillar gifter) we watched, fed and learned about monarchs in our classroom.  This one actually came out during class!  We let them go in our butterfly garden, knowing that they have a long journey ahead of them before the snow flies. 

Our Monarch, just out of her chrysalis

Drying her wings on my finger
Just about ready to fly

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Back To School

"It is a wonderful world in which we live and vegetation is the garnishment of it.  It is a marvelous experience to see the manifold forms of life emerge from the bare earth, all the greater because we do not recognize the sensation.  As we are inhabitants of the planet it surely is our part to appreciate and utilize the objects and incidents with which we are placed.  The interest in them, and their meaning for us, lies in their essential nature and in the fact that they are partners, and the sense-sensations of color and fragrance are only attributes." --Liberty Hyde Bailey
Future site of the outdoor classroom

The new school year is underway!  For those of us who are in the field of education, we seek once again to bring the joy of learning to our classroom of new students.  Teaching, when fully engaged, is not simply a passing on of information or a presentation in formal methodolgy.  It is a complex web of connections between us, our students, and the subject matter.  Ultimately, teaching comes from the heart.  When we are at our best, we are sharing, inspiring and thinking as a community of learners in new and creative ways that come from the best of who we are.  Liberty Hyde Bailey surely shared his love for learning and teaching with those who were fortunate enough to be his students and colleagues.  I like to believe that he would be happy to know that his appreciation for nature study with children has again found a foothold in formal education.  One thing I know for sure is that his teaching has had a lasting inspiration for students like me and I am forever thankful.  
The Liberty Hyde Bailey Interpretive Garden Path continues to grow.  If you would like to be a part of this work, consider joining us for a meeting on September 26th at 7:00 p.m. at the Liberty Hyde Bailey museum.  Learn about the progress to date, hopes and dreams for the future and how you can be a part of this growing outdoor learning movement here in South Haven, Michigan!                    

Students capturing the sounds and sights of the wetland

Butterfly Garden Flower

Sunday, July 21, 2013

School Garden

School Garden in Sweden
"Give the children an opportunity to make a garden.  Let them grow what they will.  It matters less that they grow good plants than that they try for themselves."  --Liberty Hyde Bailey

This summer I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in Norway and Sweden.  I can't begin to describe the beautiful gardens, waterways and mountains, or the amazing architecture and history, of these northern countries.  My husband Bob's roots are in Sweden and mine are in Norway.  Although neither of us have traveled to Scandinavia, we both felt as if we were strangely home in these very foreign countries.  As we were touring a church one day, I walked the perimeter of the cemetery.  All the cemeteries were well manicured and filled with flowers.  This particular grounds was lined by an ornate iron fence covered with vines and various flowers.  I noticed a gate and peered through.  On the other side of the gate was this amazing garden.  There was an older couple sitting on one of several benches.  They smiled and waved, so I walked into this flowering wonderland.  The woman began talking to me excitedly in Swedish.  I was immediately transported to my childhood, when my grandparents (on both sides of my family) would hold long conversations in Norwegian just so that I would not understand, planning some surprise or punishment with seemingly great delight.  This couple spoke no English and I clearly did not understand their Swedish.  Finally, the woman pointed to the above sign and then across the street to a building.  I realized at once what I had stumbled into; a school garden!  What a magical moment!  It was as if I was meant to find this amazing plot of land near this obscure cemetery in Sweden.  We are not alone in our pursuits to bring children and gardens together.  And on that day, I was reminded of how amazingly similar the teaching of children and the passing on of beauty is in this world that we all call home.  The following photos are all taken in this "Skoltradgarden."


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Butterfly Gardens

Our pet monarch from earlier this fall
We have big plans for a butterfly garden on our trail at North Shore, thanks to Jessica Overholser!  She has designed a plan for several raised beds that should encourage and support our butterfly population.  Jessica is a junior in high school and has been planning this since last year as a final Girl Scout project.  It is about to take shape in the weeks ahead!  She will be using indigenous plants that are draught hearty.  The flower beds will be on the upper field above the wetlands.  There is one component we have not yet figured out and maybe you can help.  Butterflies need water.  Jessica was hoping to develop some sort of well or way of capturing water, both as a watering system for the plants and as a water source for the butterflies.  If you have any suggestions or are willing to donate supplies to develop a well, please let us know.  When this project is complete, we will have a certified Monarch Way Station!  How cool is that?!       

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Earth Day

 A Letter written to Mother Earth

Last week, I read one of my favorite picture books, Dear Children of the Earth, to the students in my class.  It is a beautiful story written as a letter from the Earth to those of us who have the privilege of being inhabitants on this amazing planet.  After we read the story, students took the time to write letters back to "Mother Earth."  The writing above is one such letter.  This Monday, April 22nd, is the official Earth Day.  My students and I will be celebrating the day by making recycled paper and taking time to clean up our school grounds.  Last week we planted annual flower seeds under lights, in the hope of planting them as the spring unfolds.  Happy Earth Day!  Take some time to celebrate this amazing little home of ours in the universe on Monday and everyday you have a chance!     

Monday, April 8, 2013

Signs of Spring

We looked for signs of spring today and started a book of observations.  We plan to visit the outdoor learning center on a regular basis this spring as we watch the season unfold.  We are even adding temperature and other bits of weather information (our science unit from last quarter).  Observation is an important science skill and basic thinking skill.  This is the perfect time to be observing a seasonal transition.  We are all excited to be heading toward warmer weather! 

Saturday, April 6, 2013


The Weed Garden Grows!
"No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow." --Proverbs
I went for a short walk on our paths through the woods and peered into the wetlands and poked in the gardens looking desperately for signs of spring.  It was a cold and windy day and the signs of new life were somewhat subtle and subdued to my anxious to be done with winter self.  I did hear the sounds of a few spring peepers croaking and a variety of birds singing, sure signs of winter's close.  And there were sprouts of green life poking through here and there, especially in our weed garden and in the swampy, mucky areas.  I think it is time to study the signs of spring and the changes over time in the quiet little pathways of our backyard.  My students and I will be observing, charting and delighting in the turning of this long winter into the greening of a new spring, for it is sure to follow.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Poetry Night


By Liberty Hyde Bailey

One day
I went
To the fields to rest.

The sun
Hung low
On the rim of the West.

A sparrow
As it dropped to its nest.

And my soul
Had found
The boon of its quest.

Liberty Hyde Bailey was a man of many interests.  He wrote this poem in his book of poetry entitled, Wind and Weather in 1923.  My students have been writing poetry on and off throughout the year.  They celebrated their poetry writing with "Poetry Night."  Students chose two of their favorite original poems to share on stage at Foundry Hall.  We filled the theater with family and friends.  After the readings, the young poets autographed programs.  We had a wonderful time!   The sample below is just one of the amazing poems written and read at Poetry Night. 
I Am Autumn
By Jennifer Guzman
I see frost on blades of grass
I feel cold whirling wind going through my branches
I look at my leaves that already floated to the ground
I smell cold wind
I have a rough tree bark
I see animals getting ready for winter
I stretch my roots into the dirt
I am Autumn 

Celebrating Poetry at Foundry Hall!


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Great Backyard Bird Count!

Russ Schipper and students looking at birds

This past Friday my students participated in the Great North American Backyard Bird Count through Cornell University.  Russ Schipper, from the Kalamazoo Audubon Society, was their bird guide and resident expert.  He and Anne Long (Director of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Board) took students out in small groups to look for birds.  They spotted 80 birds and 12 different species.  Most of the birds students observed were ones that they had studied in class.  The week before the count, students made bird feeders with Anne Long.  The very first thing they checked when they went outside were their bird feeders.  They most certainly attracted birds to the area.  It was an exciting morning!  We submitted our findings to the online site at Cornell, along with hundreds of other backyard birders.  It was both fun and exciting to participate in this real-life science project!  Results can be found at (look for a link to the Great Backyard Bird Count).  A special thank you to Russ and Anne!  We had a wonderful time exploring birds in our backyard!  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter on the Trail

Deer Tracks on the Trail


Student with bird feeder!
Last week we continued to learn about birds in class, as we prepare to participate in the North American Backyard Bird Count on Friday, February 15th.  Russ Schipper, from the Kalamazoo Audubon Society will be back with us to help identify the birds in our backyard and submit our findings online to Cornell University.  Learning about the common birds in our backyard has been an exciting way to practice non-fiction reading and writing.  Last Friday, Anne Long came to our class bringing supplies and helping us make bird feeders to attract our feathered friends.  We made them and hung them out along our trail.  We can't wait to see who has been dining on our delicious peanut butter/lard/fruit/seed bird feeders!  We have also used our knowledge of birds and written a variety of poems.  This Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. some of those poems, along with other favorite poems, will be part of our Poetry Night at Foundry Hall.  My students will be reading original poetry on stage and signing autographs afterwards.  This fun event is opened to the public and sure to bring a smile to those who love birds or kids or poetry.   

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tracks in the Snow

On the Trail
Mouse Tracks

Rabbit Tracks


Today we ventured into the woods in search of animal tracks.  We read a story involving animal tracks and decided to look for some in the snow in our backyard.  It was the perfect day for it with newly fallen snow and little disturbance.  We found several sets of tracks and were able to identify a few with a chart I provided.  We actually saw the mouse that left the above prints as she/he ran for cover on our approach.  In addition to the various tracks we saw a nuthatch, several chickadees, and many American crows.  It's amazing what you can see, learn and observe on a short 15 minute trip in the backyard! 

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year's Resolution

Bailey writing on the meaning of nature-study . . .
What may be the results of nature-study?
"Its legitimate result is education--the developing of mental power, the opening of the eyes and the mind, the civilizing of the individual.  As with all education, its central purpose is to make the individual happy; for happiness is nothing more nor less than pleasant and efficient thinking.  It is often said that the ignorant man may be as happy as the educated man.  Relatively, this is true; absolutely, it is not.  A ten-foot well is not so deep as a twenty-foot well; and although the ten-foot well may be full to the brim, it holds only half as much water as the other."  --Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Nature-Study Idea, 1905

Our backyard project is in many ways nearly complete.  We have two trails, garden beds, a walkway near the wetlands, tree identification signs, birdhouses, and soon outdoor seating for 30 students surrounded by trees.  It's beautiful.  It's incredibly beautiful.  We could add more, and like any good garden, there is room to grow and room to blossom.  But now the real work is in our hands as educators.  How do we make this project a tangible tool for teaching?  I've thought about this since the day of its conception and yet I have written not a single lesson plan (although, truth be told, my class has been out on the trails many times).  A small group of interested people met two summers ago to discuss these very questions.  The group was an amazing collection of educators, some retired and some just stepping into the field.  We came up with a start.  We decided (someone smarter than me suggested it, I just can't remember who) that we develop ideas and lessons based on the seasons.  We would have tubs assigned to fall, winter and spring with ideas and activities that fit the seasons.  That, I think is brilliant.  It is simple and it is easy.  The tough question remains, what is worthy of teaching?  What ideas and lessons do we allow into the tubs?  Our time is precious and we have to choose what is worthy and most valuable to teach our students.    

A gifted teacher and generous friend of mine, Marianne Houston, once told me, "You teach who you are Becky, so take care of yourself!"  That nugget of wisdom has rattled around in my head for most of twenty years.  I knew it was true, but I have often pondered what it meant.  I love teaching, or maybe it would be more honest to say, I loved teaching.  Over the past few years, as more and more testing and evaluating has invaded our classrooms, teaching has become more and more of a burden.  I've felt inadequate, even when I've seen students grow and learn.  I've felt as if I am never quite good enough and if all my students don't acquire at least a B or an A on the tests handed down to me, I have failed my job.  It's hard to put your heart and soul into a burden and a failure.  And it's hard to put your heart and soul into teaching a test.  I tell myself, I'm here for the kids and not for the tests, but it's still a burden and I still feel the failure.  "As with all education, its central purpose is to make the individual happy . . ."  When the joy of teaching is gone, we lose the joy of learning.  And when the joy of learning is gone, learning is diminished.  How could it be otherwise?  Those of us who love learning and love teaching, need to take care of ourselves, so that we can share the joy of education with the students in our classrooms.  My New Year's resolution is just that.  My goal is to renew my joy in teaching so that my students can find the joy in learning.   Marianne was so wise to teach me such a simple truth and I am forever grateful to her.

Russ Schipper, Bird Expert and Educator

I am reminded of the joy of learning when I am in the company of enthusiastic teachers.  One such educator is Russ Schipper.  Although he is not a "certified" teacher, he is one of the most gifted in terms of pure love of learning and the study of his favorite subject matter, birds.  Russ came and talked to a dozen classrooms at North Shore Elementary, one at a time.  He spread his love of birds and joy of learning to all the students (and teachers) who participated and we are thankful!  He will be coming back to North Shore to help us participate in the North American Backyard Bird Count on February 15th.  My class is excited to join in this exciting event with Russ.  I know that there is not a test that will ask my students if they can identify a chickadee from a nuthatch, but I do know that is not what is really important anyway.  I know that if the real lesson taught is the love of learning, then the sky is the limit for our students.  They will never stop learning or finding happiness in knowledge.

This brings me back to the question, what is it that we teach in our backyard?  As we form ideas and develop lessons, I hope that we remember the happiness and joy that is the root of education.  For this is why we are here.  Happy New Year!