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outdoor classroomThe stump circle is in place, students have carefully planted ferns and wild ginger, and a fresh coat of electric blue and green paint now dons the wall. Thoreau’s Outdoor Classroom, after months of work, is now ready for use.

Thanks to an $8,000 grant from the Madison GROW Coalition and further support from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and The Friends of Lake Wingra, a team of Thoreau staff and parents was able to make this dream a reality. The space, a sunken courtyard along the south-west side of the building, was barren and littered - and calling out for revitalization.

Staff and parents worked throughout the winter months to invite community input and draw up plans. In the past few weeks the stump circle and a stone walkway were added by Avant Landscaping (who volunteered some of their work time to help the project meet its budget), and the planting beds were prepared. Children, grades kindergarten through fifth, have been working in shifts to plant small rain gardens and fill the landscape with native perennials.

Parents are currently working on a whiteboard kiosk and a team of kindergarteners with their fourth-grade mentors will be assembling picnic tables and Leopold benches.

Once the space is complete, a grand celebration will take place on June 10. Students will be invited to visit the space and imagine the possibilities for learning outdoors. Project manager and Thoreau parent, Betsy Parker, encourages kids to think of the space as an extension of the school. “It wasn’t until the 1920s that every school had a gymnasium. Now, it’s the 2010s and we hope to inspire schools to think of the outdoor classroom as a regular part of the school-scape; to make it as commonplace as the gym.” The children seem to agree. When asked what they could do or learn about in the space, many list reading, writing and math in addition to science topics like plants, animals and insects.

The outdoor classroom is being dedicated to long-time Thoreau teacher and environmental mentor, Marta Sells, who is retiring this year.