There is a fabulous, free, outdoor learning laboratory near your home in Fairfax County. It can enrich your child’s education and blend schoolwork with outdoor learning. Pre-school through high school, there is inspiration in parks.
Green Spring Gardens (GSG) is one example. It is a source of enriching educational opportunities for students. Green Spring is an outdoor classroom, a museum and a historic site. The gardens have a wooded stream valley with ponds, a naturalistic native plant garden, and two gardens specifically designed for elementary-age children.
A fourth grader studying Virginia history can research the Moss family, who in 1784 were prominent in Fairfax County politics and government. They were the first family to own Green Spring.
A middle or high schooler can start a history journal at GSG. During a field trip, students can visit the site’s historic house and draw or photograph areas of interest. As part of their research, they’ll learn that in 1942 Michael and Belinda Straight bought the house. Belinda Straight was involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and Michael played roles in national politics and as editor of The New Republic. They donated the property to the Park Authority in 1970.
Children can keep a GSG journal to record changes in weather and the impact on plants. Young ones can draw pictures or trace leaves. Older children can write about trees during fall and chart the changing of the leaves. They can observe how seasons flow and change. They can study photosynthesis. Perhaps they’ll pick one tree on the grounds, learn its species, and study its changes every month. They’ll learn which trees keep their leaves in the winter. Nature journaling involves observation, art, writing, imagination and science.
Green Spring Gardens has begun offering “Field Trips for Families.” As parents take on additional teaching duties, these field trips can be an innovative way of supplementing students’ science education with outdoor experiences that apply the classroom concepts required in the Virginia Standards of Learning. More information about the field trips and other educational programs, which are geared by grade level, can be found in Green Spring’s Programs & Events brochure.
There are endless possibilities for education at GSG. Children can make crossword puzzles using names of plants they observe. They can learn spelling and synonyms, identify fauna and flora, and practice math on the chalk board in the Children’s Garden. (Bring your own chalk and eraser or cloth to clean the board.)
Do your youngsters know that the making of French fries begins in the ground? Do they know how vegetables grow? Stand by the Edible Garden and discuss vegetables and herbs. Older students can research plants that are grown for medicinal or cosmetic uses. Perhaps a visit will inspire planning your own vegetable garden.
A garden journal could include poetry about experiences at Green Spring or about observations of a flower or frog. A walk to a bench by the ponds can open the door to scientific observations. Can older students draw the pond to scale? What wildlife is there? Follow up at home, research the wildlife, and read about their life cycles and the habitats they prefer.
Green Spring Gardens encourages imagination. So, pack a snack, grab a journal (don’t forget pencils, crayons, and markers), and enter an outdoor school with endless learning possibilities.
Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener and a board member of the Friends of Green Spring.
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