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Creating An Outdoor Classroom For Your School

Updated on October 1, 2013
The original doodling
The original doodling | Source
More daydreaming and doodling
More daydreaming and doodling | Source
More doodling
More doodling | Source
The stuff of dreams
The stuff of dreams | Source

Teaching is hard work. For those of you out there who are considering teaching as a career because it will afford you with many days of vacation and short work days you might want to re-think your career choice. Mind you, I have known teachers who did not work hard, who clocked out exactly thirty minutes after the final bell, who never graded papers at home and certainly did not do planning during the summer months, but for the most part the teachers I have known have put in long, hard hours in an attempt to be the best they could be.

I have been retired now for a little over two years but I remember clearly the great intentions as each school year approached. I would spend the summer researching new units and finding new ways to present the information, all in an attempt to keep my classroom exciting and challenging for the students. I would do my long-range planning, mapping out each month in sequence, beautifully connecting different units as they would flow smoothly from month to month.

And then reality would hit and the school year would begin!

If you are a teacher then you know all too well what reality I speak of. Once the school year begins there is very little time for research and most certainly very little time to formulate new units and plans. The daily duties of simply managing your classroom are enough to bring most people to their knees but then you have assessments to write up, meetings and workshops to attend, parents to confer with and before you know it Christmas vacation is upon you and all of your beautifully crafted long-range plans are in shambles. It is time to re-group, re-organize and have a tall drink!

I have been there! I feel your frustration and I send my empathy to you.

That is why I have decided to write up some lesson plans that I have used successfully in hopes that you can borrow from me and lighten your load. The lesson I present to you today came to me while my kids were working on a test I had given them. I was staring out the window daydreaming and doodling while they strained their brains to answer the test questions. Outside our classroom window was a half-acre of manicured lawn that I envisioned having a much greater purpose than as a cafeteria for birds. It was a lovely spring day and I thought of how wonderful it would be if I could take the class outside and teach them in an outdoor classroom. I began drawing and this lesson and so much more came from it.

If you glance at the pictures I have included you will see the rough drawing of that original lesson plan that seemed to take on a life of its own. After finishing the drawing I then decided to go for broke. God hates a coward you know! I took the drawing to my principal and thank God I was sitting down because she bought it hook, line and sinker. She told me to get started on it and she would find the money.

HELLO???? I was just doodling! How can you possibly take this seriously? That’s what I wanted to say but instead I headed back to my classroom and began to figure out how in the world I was going to pull it off.

What follows is the step-by-step process that we undertook. Due to budget constraints and a change of principals the final product was never completed but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t do it. Allow me to tell you what we did, what we planned and some variations you might consider.

IT ALL STARTED WITH BUTTERFLIES

Yes, butterflies, and in particular the Monarch Butterflies. I had read how they migrated from Mexico each year up to the Northwest where our school was located and how they are attracted to certain plants and flowers. This whole idea started with the idea of planting a butterfly garden. How was I to know that the garden would be the seed that started a much larger project?

Right below our classroom window was a long-neglected garden full of weeds. I did a little research to find out what plants the Monarch liked and then I called local nurseries and pitched the idea to them. I ended up getting a couple nurseries to donate the following:

· Azaleas

· Lilacs

· Impatiens

· Verbenas

· Phlox

· Black-Eyed Susans

· Milkweeds

We were in business. I put aside a day when we had the time and then my science class and I headed outside and weeded and prepared the garden. A local company donated some garden soil and in two days we were ready to plant.

All this of course led to lessons on pollinating and migration and I even scored a cool butterfly hatching kit which we set up in the classroom. Each day the kids would check to see if the butterflies had broken free of their cocoons and let me tell you, the day it happened there was pandemonium in the classroom. You would have thought someone had given birth to a real baby. Quickly we took our newborns outside and set them free in our new butterfly garden and it was all very, very cool.

ON TO STEP TWO

By that time I was thinking this plan wasn’t nearly as difficult as I once envisioned and step two was fairly easy as well. Step Two called for raised garden beds so each class in the school could have their own vegetable garden.

I sent out a newsletter to parents explaining my need for 2x6 lumber and within two days I had the lumber I needed for nine raised garden beds. The school maintenance guy (hi Todd, how are you?) cut the lumber into the lengths I needed and my kids and I headed out to screw the beds together.

More garden soil was needed and the local business was more than willing to help; by now I think he was seeing this as an opportunity to get some free advertising out of this project and I wasn’t about to disrupt his dreams. We took his dirt, filled in the gardens, planted donated seeds from the nurseries and we had it all done within a week.

STEP THREE WAS A LITTLE BIT MORE COMPLICATED

Why stop with nine raised beds when you can have a 15x25 community garden? Luckily we had a parent who was a professional landscaper and he had the machinery we needed to turn over the soil and prepare our garden. Literally in one day we had carved out our community garden and the next day we were able to plant the seeds.

We fenced it off to protect it from roaming animals and wayward first graders. Each day I scheduled kids from my class to do follow-up weeding and watering and each classroom was in charge of their own raised beds. I also put some kids to work building a compost bin.

Within one month of my doodling exercise we had made nine raised garden beds, a compost bin, a butterfly garden and a community garden. Total cost to that point was slightly over $100 since most of the things we needed were donated.

It was time for the showcase item and the main budget item.

A WORKING GREENHOUSE

During the month that we did the work outdoors the principal was working on financing the crown jewel of our outdoor classroom, namely a 10x20 greenhouse. She was able to divert some of the money made in the school auction and we ordered the greenhouse; it was delivered within two weeks and constructed within a week after delivery. Cost: $5,000!

Now we were in business. Local newspapers were told about our project and we had a huge celebration before school let out for the summer. Families were signed up to do the watering and harvesting during the summer and by the time summer vacation began what was once a silly daydream was a fully-functioning outdoor gardening center.

There was so much more to do!

UGLY REALITIES

As I stated earlier we never really got past that initial effort. We did get some trees donated so we could start our fruit tree orchard but our plans for additional features were never realized and for that I feel bad. The principal left for another school, the budget was tightened and I retired. I have no idea what happened but I’m fairly certain that the dream died shortly after I left.

What was going to be there? We had planned on digging a stream bed and installing a pump to provide a continual flowing stream through the area. We had planned on a waterwheel and wind turbines (we actually made one of these in science class) and an outdoor astrology lab. We had planned on having covered wagons and an aviary and petting zoo and a small amphitheater. We had planned…….well, the possibilities were endless.

AM I DISAPPOINTED?

The quick answer is yes! There was so much we could have done but the commitment at the top dried up and for a project like this you need everyone on board and totally signed on.

The long answer, however, is no, I am very encouraged and proud of what we accomplished. In two short months we created something that had the students excited and engaged in learning. In two short months we brought a school community together working toward a common goal. In two short months we had taken a silly dream and made it at least partially a reality.

I wanted my students to become inspired and for two months they were. I wanted my students to realize that the only thing preventing some dreams is the lack of vision and for true visionaries anything is possible. That is a lesson you won’t find in any textbook but it may be the greatest lesson we can teach our kids. Never give up on a dream! Never allow a dream to die because of a lack of commitment and never let someone tell you that a job is too big because there is no such thing as a job too big.

I have often told my students to never underestimate the power of a determined group of people. I believe that with all my heart and today they do too.

2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • missolive profile image

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 5 years ago from Texas

      Fabulous ideas. I'm lucky enough to have a rather large classroom window. Just outside my window are several juicy blooms that attract plenty of butterflies and hummingbirds. A fellow teacher and I counted 21 hummingbirds the other day - just beautiful. I decided to turn it into a lesson and the kids loved it. I like teaching outside of the box and I definitely don't mind taking my kids out for a read or a lesson.

      I love the idea of a working greenhouse. The science teachers have been working on creating a garden club and I think a greenhouse would be an awesome addition.

      Thank you for sharing your knowledge, VISION and experiences with us. GREAT video :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Miss Olive! We went the expensive route on the greenhouse but it is easy to make using pvc pipe and plastic for much less money. Peace and blessings to you my friend.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Thank you for pushing me off a cliff first thing in the morning, bro! :) Hopefully, some young teacher or student will look at what you started and wonder, "Why wasn't this finished?" and pick up where you left off. Although I'm not a teacher, I like the lesson of this hub; you just never know what you can accomplish until you try. :) Voting up and awesome.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      TT, anytime I can be of assistance to you just let me know. I'll even toss down a rope after you go off of that cliff. :) That's what brothers are for. Oh, yes, thank you!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      What an inventive idea, Mr. Holland!! I am so sad it wasn't able to be seen to completion. This would be fabulous for any school, especially in year-round warmer climate areas of the country!

      We definitely need more teachers with imagination and creativity such as yours.

      Not much changes from generation to generation in most school districts. Well, then again....from what I'm seeing and hearing these days, things are changing, but sadly...not for the better...the better of the students!

      Make this your next BOOK!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Hey Paula, thank you...sadly I agree with your statement about change...and as a matter of fact this will be my next Kindle book, the entire lesson unit for a grande total of $.99. I also just started a teaching memoir book that will take me a few months to write. No end to the projects I have going on. Too bad none of them make any money! LOL...thanks buddy!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Allz I can say is that I'm sure your students thought you were legendary. Fabulous ideas, fun in the garden...and for me, there are 10 days left. I'm not counting...but, wait, I just did. ;)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh, wait, less than ten days now Cyndi...but who's counting, right? Love it, the countdown is in full force and I am so excited for you. Hooray for retired teachers!

    • Vidya Mallar profile image

      Vidya Mallar 5 years ago from India

      This is a wonderful share Billy, It was very interesting to read about how you carried on the idea, but I felt sad when it ended half way... So much of your effort and hard work...

      I understand now how wonderful a teacher you had been and how your students should have loved and respected you...

      ... the only thing preventing some dreams is the lack of vision and for true visionaries anything is possible.

      These words inspire me a lot to be more creative and active...

      Billy I respect you for what you are...

    • Vidya Mallar profile image

      Vidya Mallar 5 years ago from India

      What was the idea of poetry garden Billy? How was it constructed and what all was included?

      Was a poetry garden created there before you came out? I would love to visit it one time to get more close to my lovely nature and to write more inspired by this place...

      What was the idea of poetry garden Billy? How was it constructed and what all was included?

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Vidya! I was disappointed for sure that we could not finish what we had started but I am going to write a Kindle book detailing everything that can be done and maybe another teacher will be able to do this project completely. Thank you for your kind words my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vidya, that was just a name we gave for a space we would create where kids could go to write in their journals or do writing exercises for school...a quiet place surrounded by beautiful flowers, peaceful, a place that would inspire quiet reflection.

    • Vidya Mallar profile image

      Vidya Mallar 5 years ago from India

      Oh! you are giving me more ideas Billy, I want to name a corner of the garden in my house by this name... And I feel even the name can work out surprises.. Then later on I will present this idea in my school... You are sharing wonders ....

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      I knew I could count on my big brother to help me out in a perilous situation! :) I'm just ecstatic you didn't hurl fpherj48 over after me! :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vidya, it warms my heart that one of my ideas can be used by you and at your school. I am very happy!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      TT, I am here for you Sista! Anything I can do I will do for you and Paula! You can count on me each and every time! Please, don't try to thank me!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      lol! I'm sure no thanks is needed! :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      TT...what would I do without you? Let's not find out, okay?

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      You got a deal, BBB. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      TT, where the heck is your new hub? Are you resting on the incredible success of your last one? There is no rest in this man's army!

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I'm not a teacher, but your piece brought me up to speed in the realization that it is a difficult job at best, a lot like parenting with a daily plan. I, like the majority that have never managed a classroom, assumed the teacher's day was finished with the students. Your teaching endeavors go far beyond the scope of imagination and actualization I ever encountered as a student in private schools. In fact, I am appalled that you weren't nominated for Teacher of the Year. The only outdoor adventures I enjoyed at school was in a brief daily recess.

      My love for what nature teaches the observer, I learned from my mother. Even though I live in an apartment in St. Louis City now and miss the wildlife in my former rural home in Hillsboro, MO, I still feed the birds. Out in the country, I spent most of my waking free time outside cultivating a naturalized landscape.

      I would imagine the same diasterous economy that resulted in my layoff, cut the budget for your projects. With everything you put in place, I would hope the manpower to foster it remains in the student's hands. I think that letting it "go to seed" would be a huge loss for fostering the benefits of conservation, wildlife and pleasure in the calming beauty of nature. Fantastic piece, billybuc.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      B3, I'm working on it. I try to kick out a hub a day, but Collin makes it a challenge, to say the least. :) I'll send him over for a week so I can start to catch up to your impressive war chest. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Send him over, TT; we'll have a blast!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Amy, thank you! What I suggest here is so far from the accepted ways of teaching now that I fear we will never see it again in my lifetime. Federal funding is dependent upon test results and that is what the schools are concentrating on. Sadly that is not education!

      I appreciate your kind words. I'll keep howling at the moon and maybe someday someone will listen.

      bill

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Rotflmao. Tempting...VERY tempting. :)

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      billybuc, All of the Charter Schools in St. Louis are closing. Low income families are struggling to keep their heads above water and don't have the financial means to cheat on the SAT's and ACT's that render the scores that keep gov't funds coming. Now, there are thousands of young children with either a long commute or the humiliation of not being accepted into some of the public schools due to the huge numbers of kids ousted from the school they knew. Its a mess and, once again, the poor suffer.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Amy, that's an all-too familiar tale nowadays. We see it here in the Northwest as well. I love the way you described "cheating" on the SAT's and I have no argument with that. When we took them there was no studying for them nor were there any practice tests; we just woke up and took it and we did fine...of course we had received a quality education leading up to the test so we were prepared. Not so in today's world.

      Great comment; thanks!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I know you touched all the students and even if disappointed I am sure this is one of their big memories and you did inspire them. Maybe even the failure to achieve made just a couple of these students more determined in an important decision in their lives. You did your best, hopefully planted a seed unseen.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Jackie! I am sure much good came out of it as I still get emails from my students about it.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Oh to have had you for my science (or any subject) teacher when I was in school! I remember being so bored. My grandfather was my best teacher because he pointed out so many interesting things all around us. He wasn't employed as a teacher, but you and he would have been good friends I think. You have the same mindset. Engaging students and making things fun and interesting is the very heart of learning I believe. Thanks for this hub. I hope that many teachers read and follow your lesson plans. They are truly inspiring. Voted Up and pushed lots of buttons!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Grandma, thank you very much! To be compared to a loved one of yours is an honor and I appreciate it.

      I'm not sure why it is so hard for many teachers to grasp this fact, that kids learn when they are engaged and interested. It's up to the teacher to make that happen. The buck stops right there!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      What a creative teaching environment and one that would inspire others though nature about life. Sorry it didn't come together at the end, but you never know what sees were planted that will take hold in the future.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dianna, that's how I choose to look at the situation. Maybe they will pick the project up again at a later date.

      Thank you as always and have a great weekend.

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Oh Bill, you should be so proud! You and your students were able to do this project while you taught wonderful lessons and involved the community. I would love to be able to do something like this, but I am thinking an English teacher going into the principal would not produce the same results. LOL

      We do have a Botany class, though. I am a bit jealous of the hands on lessons in the green house. Of course, our Botany teacher has time AND time again had to save a poor plant that I have brought to her door. So, I am sure she would banish me if I tried to teach a lesson with good reason. LOL

      When my husband was in Iraq, I did go to her with a landscaping project for our house (things he had wanted to do but could not get to). She told me the materials and plants I needed after looking at our place and brought the kids out. It turned out wonderful, and my husband was so pleased when he saw it.

      Thanks for sharing this experience. I know what you mean about planning all summer then reality hits. Some things can be used and somethings are not used because of lack of time. Summers off are a myth that makes teaching seem so "glamorous." Hmmm... if I get started, I will be writing a hub. LOL

      GREAT HUB! Votes and shares!!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Susan, it is one of the great myths in the job world! If people only knew how much work goes into teaching they might shut up about the "vacations" that teachers get and the pay for only nine months of work.

      You are probably right...this unit would not work for an English teacher. Sounds like you have one heck of a good botany teacher though.

      Thank you my friend; have a great weekend!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I wish my three sons had had the opportunity to have you as their science teacher. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Theresa, good to see you! I see you have a new hub and I'll be there shortly. Thank you my friend!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      This Billy my dear friend is amazing and so you!!

      You have given so much of yourself to enriching the lives of others;for example your students .

      Today you inspire me and your followers on here no end. I love each hub ;which you bring to life effortlessly. You were meant to write and thank goodness for the internet and HubPages.

      I vote up plus share on my FB page.

      Take care and have a wonderful day.

      Eddy.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Eddy, you found one of the oldies! Thank you so much for the kind words. I know that I was born to teach, and now I'm beginning to feel like I was born to write. It feels very good when a writer of your caliber gives me such positive feedback.

      Sending you happiness from across the Pond.

      billy

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      lovedoctor926 4 years ago

      You are a great public speaker. I could tell from your videos without even reading this hub that you were a teacher. What other subjects did you teach besides science?

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Love! I also taught history and geography, as well as political science. Wherever they needed me, which is pretty common when teaching in private schools. I am glad you like the videos, and thank you so much for the compliment.

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