Innovative classrooms take learning outside


A new, innovative classroom at River HomeLink in Battle Ground is being used by teachers to enhance student learning of a variety of subjects.

The classroom, called the Outdoor Learning Space, has seen nearly a constant flow of traffic since it opened for learning last February.

The space is a garden of flowering and native plants, vegetables, a decomposing log, and other elements that teachers, parents and students planted and arranged after receiving a grant for the space from the city of Vancouver’s Water Resource Education Center. The organization provided $1,500 for plants, top soil, supplies and equipment for the learning space.

River HomeLink parent Tracy Ceravalo donated her time as a landscape designer to develop the site plan. Butterflies, bees and birds flit throughout the native plants, and insects congregate under the decomposing log. The trend of outdoor learning spaces is happening all across Battle Ground Public Schools. Teachers at other schools, including Tukes Valley and Laurin middle schools and Battle Ground High School, have embraced the land around and nearby the schools by taking their lessons outside to engage students.

“Research shows that outdoor spaces help students learn,” said Kris Potter, school garden coordinator at River HomeLink and facilitator of the innovative classroom. “We wanted to have a place that could be used by all our classes, so we call it the Outdoor Learning Space. It invites not just the science teacher, but also the art teacher and the writing teacher to use it as inspiration for assignments.”

On a sunny day last week, students from a science class rubbed elbows with students from an art class. While the students from one class walked around with clipboards on which they recorded the flora and fauna they found in the garden, making scientific observations about the entire space, students in the other class got comfy on the bark dust with their pencils and sketch paper, focusing on a specific leaf as the subject of their art.

“Use your scientific eye and draw what you see,” art teacher Anita Hindberg told her students.

The learning didn’t let up in the space even as students vacated the campus for the summer. Families in the parent-partnered education program volunteered to plant and maintain edible gardens over the summer. The harvest from these gardens is evident in the bright orange pumpkins, shiny cucumbers and a massive, rogue zucchini that wait to be picked.

Third and fourth grade teacher Susan Remmen is eager to continue the lessons in the Outdoor Learning Space with a pioneer garden that will feature edibles like turnips, parsnips and wheat. She wants her students to experience during social studies lessons the foods that pioneers planted and ate.

“It’s more than just a garden,” Remmen said. “It’s a classroom where we can engage students in activities that bring these subjects to life.”

River HomeLink is a parent-partnered education program in the Battle Ground Public Schools district. The school has about 1,000 students enrolled.