Rita Lewis, an administrator from Racine Montessori School, a certified Green school in Wisconsin and a nationally recognized Green Ribbon School, provides some helpful tips:
Nature comes naturally at Racine Montessori School. Whether it’s planting flowers or vegetables, tapping maple trees for syrup, caring for classroom pets, or hatching and raising chicks, the natural world is an every day part of every classroom. Maria Montessori instructed her teachers to “follow the child” and that usually means following the child into our world where they learn by experiencing life in all of its forms. We don’t use pre-packaged curriculums but instead guide students to care for their world by following their own interests and questions.
We believe that nature has to be more than an exceptional event in a child’s life. It must be a part of everyday life. When we venture into nature with children, we want them to make connections and to become familiar with the natural world — to touch, feel, and experience. The world around us is a classroom without walls.
- Pet Care: Even our littlest students care for classroom bunnies, guinea pigs, canaries, hamsters and other animals daily, making sure their needs are met.
- Care for Plants: All students care for classroom plants and learn about plant growth and development. Elementary students often grow herbs and vegetables that are then used for monthly soup lunches. Students use our Green House to grow vegetable plants to sell to support their classroom botany projects.
- Chick Husbandry: Our upper elementary students incubate chicken eggs, monitor their development, they watch them hatch and raise them until they are old enough to live on a farm and continue to contribute to the world by laying eggs of their own. Baby chicks also visit the primary classrooms for a morning of fun!
When the grounds need a little sprucing up, whether it’s picking up garbage, weeding or planting, our students are usually the first to notice and come up with a plan. Our Nature Center, rain garden, Monarch Way Station, and native areas are familiar territory for our students to explore and maintain. Every day is Earth Day at Racine Montessori School!
- Nature Center with a circle of sitting rocks for outdoor classroom experience.
- Fruit trees and berry bushes for children to collect food as well as a greenhouse for students to plant seedlings and watch them grow.
- Several Bird Feeders.
- Students take Nature Walks with teachers during their 1/2 hour recess period.
- Tree Tapping: Our adolescent students (7th & 8th) tap the Maple trees on our grounds each spring, gathering sap until they have enough to make syrup and prepare a pancake breakfast for the entire school.
- Root River Monitoring: Our adolescents go to the Root River to monitor and test for stream flow, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen. They also have an aquaponics system in the classroom and learn about other water-related studies.
Food and Nutrition
- Students bring a bag lunch with reusable containers.
- There is a compost area and each classroom recycles and composts daily.
- Students in grades 4 through 6 provide monthly soup lunches for the school.
- Use foods grown in gardens.
In the Community
- Older students volunteer regularly at the Eco Justice Center.
- Elementary students participate in planting at the Zoe Gardens in the neighborhood.
Mary Kae Laing, a 4th grade Elementary school teacher, shares activities from her classroom:
How to Build a Terrarium:
Every year students get a visit from the Master Gardeners and learn how to build a terrarium. They learn how it acts like a water cycle, when to fertilize, the type of plants they put in the terrarium.
Master Gardeners have taught a lesson on soil, its types, its importance, how to protect it, and the dust bowl. This coincides with the fourth grade unit on rocks and our changing earth. Students understand that soil is a precious resource and is necessary to sustain human life with food production. Students love the hands on activity and many like to tell about older siblings who have done the same project and how it is still thriving in their home.
Hatching Chickens and Doing the Math:
Students love to experience hatching chickens, research hatching chicks based on their inquiry, bonding with the chicks, weighing them, graphing growth, and doing fractions and percent. I received a grant from PPG to set up a coop in our courtyard. I plan on reaching out to Case High School to see if high school students could possibly build a chicken coop for us. Students will learn about caring for animals and hopefully understand that they give back to us with egg production. I also think they would be good therapy for emotionally struggling students.
Meet Burt Blomgren. Burt grew up in a rural area near Tigerton, Wisconsin, and spent 37 years in the Air National Guard, engaged in administration, training, and supply. When he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1991 at the age of 55, he took up a lifelong love of gardening in his life on a farm near the Interstate in Caledonia. He soon joined the Master Gardeners group affiliated with the UW Extension.
Botany in the Classroom. Thanks to the enthusiasm of Mike McConnell, who at that time was a teacher at Olympia Brown, Burt developed a program called “Botany in the Classroom” designed to bring to elementary students experiences of seeding and growing plants. Since that time he has been active in the classroom directing this program and supervising about 27 other master gardeners who work with him for various periods of time. The 45 minute lesson plans cover first through fourth grades, which become more complex with each grade.
Currently the program is in 19 schools including Bristol, Kenosha Unified, Raymond school, and Racine public and private schools, including Dr. Jones; Johnson; Schulte; Julian Thomas; North Park; Jefferson Lighthouse; Gifford; Giese; West Ridge ; and St. Edwards. Throughout the school year, apart from November through January, Burt is in one of the schools for several hours almost every day.
First Grade. Each students creates a terrarium step-by-step in a large plastic bottle, planting bella palms and baby tears and learning about the interior habitat of the terrarium. Each child takes their terrarium home with instructions about how to care for the plants.
Second Grade. Burt goes through a similar creation of the terrarium. He then returns several weeks later to give them a “Trip Inside a Bean” explaining the different parts of a bean and how it will sprout to maturity.
Third Grade. For this age group, he teaches “cutting”—how roots can sprout and plants can grow from clippings of other plants.
Fourth Grade. Burt focuses on soil, explaining ingredients of soil, different kinds of soil, what enables soils to be fertile, and how to understand the layers of the soil.
Burt also works with 4H groups and scouts, as well as some summer school programs for enrichment. He has helped a number of schools set up and maintain gardens on their school property. In some schools, he has special Mother’s Day programs for students to plant a flower or climbing plant for their mother.
Ongoing program. In talking with Burt, it is obvious how much he loves to do this program with the children. He is now in his mid-80s and eager to pass the baton to new leadership to keep the program going. In the meantime, he is open to considering a few more schools for the program. In order to contact Burt to inquire about the program or get assistance in setting up a garden, his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
On April 27th, North Park Elementary School had a Family Garden Night. Students and their families gathered in the cafeteria for snacks and then went to three different stations to do different garden activities. Nutrition Educator from FoodWise Nutrition Teaching in Racine and Kenosha, Amy Macemon, gave a presentation on Healthy Foods and Gardening Vegetables. In the cafeteria, the families decorated cement stepping stones with colored glass pieces. In the art room, they planted seeds to take home, such as peppers and beans. In Mr. Appenzeller’s science classroom, they made jars to grow sprouts in. Sprouts are inexpensive to grow and are more nutritious than the full-grown vegetables. The sprouts grow in less than a week. The students and their families had a fun evening enjoying the gardening activities!