Outdoor Learning at Green Spring Gardens

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.

Find an introductory video about the Children’s Garden as a learning laboratory, a Children’s Garden exploration video, and an activity sheet for children on Green Spring’s web site.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener and a board member of the Friends of Green Spring.

For more information, visit:

Visiting Green Spring Gardens

Information about Master Gardeners

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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