Save the date! Design workshop for nature-based play

Design for nature-based play: Flyer for May 9 event

Sponsored through a prevention grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Register now!

Simply send an email to Justin Svingen, with:

Your name, your organization (if applicable), whether you need child care, and how many children you’ll bring.

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Cornell study: School gardens boost physical activity

A recent study from Cornell University compared twelve elementary schools in Upstate New York. Students in schools with school gardens were physically active an average of ten more minutes a week than their counterparts without school gardens.


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Learning outdoors: Powerful voices from around the world

Wondering how to achieve multiple goals using our natural assets of outdoor space and the proclivity of kids to learn through engaged learning, play and exploration?

This video, produced by the International Green Schoolyards Alliance, features leaders from around the globe talking about the benefits of green schoolyards.

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Children need movement to learn, develop and grow

How many times have you watched a child sit in a classroom chair, fighting the urge to move? It strikes a visceral chord in many of us who remember that awful tension that crept up through your neck and out through your arms. Sometimes it felt like you wanted to scream.


A recent article describes how school settings have continued to restrict movement in children and outlines why heavy gross motor play is essential to overall development.

It turns out that the strong, undeniable urge to move that we all remember helps children get what they need every day. Movement through play–especially play rich in sensory input–is one of the primary means for children to learn and achieve appropriate developmental milestones.

How can we better understand and address the ways our school schedules, environments and adult-centric views limit the opportunity for children to get what they need?

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Ever heard of place-based education? Now you have.

Imagine you take a group of fourth graders out into the neighborhood around their school. You begin to tell them about the animals that live in the neighborhood. At least three hawk species, four owl species, anyIMG_6430 number of migratory songbirds, and a world of trees just waiting to be identified. You tell the kids that if they followed the path of rain water that runs into the storm sewer, they would wind up in Lake Mendota.

It’s hilly, and kids are winded after walking up a big hill. Old red and white oaks reach out over ranch homes, dwarfing locusts and maples planted when the homes went in.

“Flying squirrels call those oaks home.” That gets them. The questions start popping. “Where do the squirrels sleep? How do they fly?”

“What do the hawks and owls eat? Why do they live here?”

“How can you tell the difference between a red and a white oak?”

You help them imagine this land before houses were built. For a hundred years, the land was farmed. Before that, oak savannah filled the space with high, swaying grasses and sprawling, sturdy oaks.

“Some of the oldest oaks are 150 years old,” you say, looking up. “They were here far before people ever dreamed of building houses on this land. In fact, they could have been saplings during the Civil War.” Another cascade of questions. New eyes on the places they live in and walk through every day.

Place-based education captures what is already in a place and helps students generate knowledge, rather than consume it. Teachers act as guides or co-learners, changing the dynamic of power among learner and educator. Students direct the inquiry, generating fodder for real-world problem-solving. Teachers who practice place-based education indicate that students feel valued. They come to a far deeper understanding of place and its importance in the life of the community. And evidence suggests it works.

For more about place-based education, see:

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Resources to mull this winter!

If you’re looking for summaries of the GROW pilot with fifteen participating middle and elementary schools, look no further!

Here is Madison Metro School District’s web page. And the list of resources for garden design!

If you’re looking for news about what’s going on in garden-based learning across the state, check out the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative.

Or, if you need a few ideas to mull this winter, check out the GROW Coalition’s Design Ideas for children’s outdoor learning.

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Raw asparagus snacks for the Kindergarten set at Muir Elementary.

Raw asparagus snacks for the Kindergarten set at Muir Elementary.

Muir Elementary's hard-working students got a boost from volunteers at CUNA Mutual. Staff from the Madison Community Foundation also lent a hand.

Muir Elementary’s hard-working students got a boost from volunteers at CUNA Mutual. Staff from the Madison Community Foundation also lent a hand.

Teachers from the five GROW Pilot Schools meet as part of a professional learning community. They build skills and learn strategies to engage students in active, hands-on learning in a garden or outdoor setting.

Teachers from five GROW Pilot Schools meet as part of a professional learning community. They build skills and learn strategies to engage students in active, hands-on learning in a garden or outdoor setting.

Don't forget the birds!

Don’t forget the birds!

Ad hoc fountain.

Ad hoc fountain.

Can be grown in shadier spots...

Can be grown in shadier spots…

Herb spiral

Herb spiral

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Application now available for Growing Outdoor Classrooms Pilot, Year 3


Kids grow the BEST food!

Check out the 2014-2015 application for the Growing Outdoor Classrooms Pilot project!

The goal of this three year project is to create 15 model schools that integrate outdoor learning and garden based education in a holistic way across academic content areas. Ten down, five to go!

This spring, GROW will be accepting applications for Year 3 of the Growing Outdoor Classroom Program.

By submitting an application, your school, if selected, is committing to fully participate in the Growing Outdoor Classrooms Program.  This year-long program begins May 2014. All schools will be expected to have completed their outdoor classrooms by June 2015.  Any public elementary and middle school in Dane County is eligible to apply. Applications are due April 11, 2014 by 5:00 p.m. 

GOCP 2014 Application (Download MS Word file)

Program Nuts and Bolts:

In May 2014, 5 schools from Dane County will be selected to participate in Year 3 of the Growing Outdoor Classrooms Program to:

  1. Create or further develop their outdoor classroom; and
  2. Engage and educate their colleagues and community about the connections between learning, outdoor classrooms and sustainability.


Specifically, each participating school will:

  • With the technical support of the GROW Coalition, create or further develop an outdoor classroom through crafting and executing:
    • An outdoor classroom design;
    • A plan to facilitate faculty and staff use of the outdoor classroom to teach academic content;
    • A community engagement plan;
    • An outdoor classroom build event(s).
  • Share their knowledge and skills regarding outdoor learning with their colleagues a minimum of one time during the school year during, for example, at a staff meeting or during Professional Collaboration Time.
  • Implement 1 other sustainability project at the school, in support of the themes addressed in the outdoor classroom.
  • Send 2 representatives to monthly 2-hour sessions on outdoor classrooms and sustainability.  One of those attendees must be a teacher. School representation is required at 7 of the 8 sessions.
  • Send 2 Green Team members to a 20-hour garden-based learning Summer Institute during the week of July 28- July 31, 2014. One of those attendees must be a teacher.
  • Actively communicate with the school and broader community about the Growing Outdoor Classrooms Program (for example, through e-mails, Facebook, newsletter articles, press releases).


In return for the commitment of each school to the goals and outcomes of this program, each school will receive the following:

  • Support to create or enhance their outdoor classroom design.
  • A facilitated workshop to develop a Community Engagement Plan.
  • Substantial material assistance ($8,000 value) for the outdoor classroom.
  • Monthly educational and networking events, called Sustainability Sessions, addressing outdoor classrooms, learning and sustainability.
  • A one-week garden-based learning Summer Institute scheduled for July 29-July 31, 2014 for 2 Green Team members.
  • On-going support from the GROW Coalition.


Julie Jarvis (Sustain Dane) / 608.819.0689

Nicole Nelson (Madison Metropolitan School District) / 608.663.5208

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