There are many outdoor learning places to visit on the Crestwood school grounds, including several garden sites, wooded trails, and the apple orchard. Other nearby nature areas include Owen Park, a city conservation park with a restored prairie and maple and oak forests located on Old Sauk Road, and Kettle Pond, another city conservation area located on Old Middleton Road.
Below is some information on each outdoor learning space on our grounds and some things to investigate as you visit these places with your students. It may be helpful for them to have paper, pencil, and rulers to record their observations. The questions in bold are only suggestions for observation. You and your students will certainly come up with your own unique and interesting questions and observations!
Before you start, here is some background information on the Aldo Leopold benches, the mosaic signs, and the kiosks, all located on the school grounds in various outdoor spaces.
The Aldo Leopold Benches
The Leopold Benches at Crestwood were built by Travis Wood (former Crestwood student) as Eagle Scout project, Al Wessel (former SEA), and Don Worel (former 4,5teacher).
In 2010, 7 more of these benches were built and dedicated to staff who were retiring as well as volunteers who have done OE with Crestwood students for many years.
How many Leopold Benches can you find as you explore the Crestwood school grounds? 8 in the back
What color are the benches? (some plain, some blue/green, one red, one signed by 5th grade students)
The Mosaic Signs
Unfortunately, several of our mosaic signs took heavy damage during storms in the summer and early fall of 2016. Until they are repaired or replaced, they can’t be placed outside.
Do you recognize any of the birds on the mosaic signs in the woods? Which birds have yellow coloring? (goldfinch, chickadee, nuthatch) Which birds have red coloring? (robin, cardinal, woodpecker)
How many mosaic signs do you see in front of the school? What shapes or pictures do you see on them? (rainbow shape by the prairie garden, circle shape by the circle garden, apple shape by the apple orchard, butterfly shape by the butterfly garden)
How many kiosks can you find in the woods?
How many in front of the school?
What words or pictures would you like to put on a sign for one of these kiosks?
In 2009 there was a revival of restoration efforts by the Outdoor Education Committee comprised of both Crestwood staff and volunteers. Parent and Arborist Joe House has helped with safety concerns by spearheading tree and shrub removal and community woods work days. From 2009 to present, new trails have been created including an “upper loop” in 2009 off the main trail, a “lower loop” in 2010 located behind the classroom circle and a new trail connecting the lower loop with the main trail near the Highlands Road in 2011. In spring 2014, smaller trails were added through the plots for more student access; though currently some of those trails are somewhat overgrown, they are accessible in the spring.
Each grade level of students that enters Crestwood as kindergartners is assigned a certain plot in the woods. Students help to plant native trees and shrubs and spring ephemerals in their plot, remove invasive species, and spend time exploring, studying and visiting their special area during the different seasons each year. Each grade level plot is named after a woodland bird. Some of the many classroom activities in the woods include native tree and shrub planting and data collection; “my spot” observation area through the seasons; removal of non-natives—garlic mustard, buckthorn; planting spring ephemerals, native trees and shrubs; scavenger hunts, art projects, walks, photo ops, and phenology (study of seasonal changes).
Those maintaining the woods at Crestwood face a variety of challenges, including trail erosion during downpours, invasive weeds, dead tree hazards, damage from storms, and damage from large equipment coming through to do other maintenance on the property. Still, we are committed to keeping the woods a vibrant learning space for Crestwood students, many of which know and treasure it as their own.
(Note: One way to tell what plot you’re in, other than the signs, is to look at the colored tape on the tubes protecting young trees that have been planted by the students. The colors are noted after the question below.)
What grade are you in and what is the name of your plot?
Nuthatch = KG and 4K (purple tape) Cardinal = 3rd (red tape)
Robin = 1st (“egg blue” tape) Goldfinch = 4th (yellow tape)
Blue Jay = 2nd (blue tape) Chickadee = 5th (orange tape)
Locate an oak tree in your plot to observe through the seasons.
Many plants in the woods have gone to seed. How are plants spreading their seeds? What evidence do you see? (notice all the plants that have berries in the Goldfinch, Cardinal and Blue Jay plots like Solomon’s Seal, Pokeweed, Jack-in-the-pulpit and others – PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE ARE NOT EDIBLE PLANTS AND ARE IN MOST CASES QUITE TOXIC, ESPECIALLY THE BERRIES; check your clothes for burrs from burdock and enchanted nightshade; find exploding seed pods on the jewelweed that has taken over most of the woods)
Living Stage and Oak Savannah
If you walk down through the woods, past the classroom circle, and out into the soccer field, you’ll see some new and exciting developments since last year. Thanks to a grant from Community Groundworks, volunteers planned and installed an outdoor Living Stage against the backstop fence. The stage has hosted several performances already, including many renditions of Mr. Szudy’s garlic mustard play, and live poetry readings during Poetry Night in May 2015. Along the edge of the soccer field, among the jewel weed and burdock, you’ll see some young swamp oak trees. This area is an oak savannah restoration project still under development.
What kind of performance can you imagine happening on the stage?
Can you find three different prairie plants by one of the oak trees in the oak savannah?
Prairie Sampler Garden
What is the tallest plant you see? (Compass plant)
Is it a grass or flower? (Perennial plant that flowers. There are several prairie grasses nearby)
How deep do you think its roots go? (we don’t know precisely, but pretty deep!)
What would you call this plant if you were to create a name for it? Be creative!
(Example: Tall nodding sunshine flower?)
How many different colors or flowers do you find?
The Circle Garden
Planting of Red Emperor tulips occurs every other year with 2nd grade students (including this school year) in the fall. This then offers an opportunity to participate in the Journey North migration program (http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tulip/index.html) the following Spring. Students track the emergence of spring bulbs from the southern United States to the north and add their own data on Crestwood’s tulip bulbs.
Once the tulips have bloomed (and bulbs have been removed) the garden is planted with summer blooming flowers/crops.
This year the circle garden is a blooming forest of sunflowers and other beautiful blooms! First graders planted several varieties of sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds last spring, and they are clearly thriving. Look carefully and you’ll see volunteer dillweed and tomato plants growing amongst the flowers as well.
How many different colors of marigolds can you find?
How many different kinds of sunflowers do you see? What makes them different from each other? (height, color, size of flower, shape of leaves) What animals do you think like to eat sunflower seeds?
Why do you think the plants are called sunflowers? (they turn toward the sun)
Who is taller? You or the sunflowers? Your teacher or the sunflowers?
What is the circumference of this garden? Diameter?
The Butterfly Garden
There are a lot of yellow flowers in this garden – are they all the same?
If not, what do you notice that is different?
What other kinds of plants do you see in the Butterfly Garden?
Garden opportunities historically were offered through a lunch recess garden club, run by parent volunteers. More recently, entire classrooms have been involved in planting and harvesting various parts of the gardens. Starting in spring 2016, Crestwood has had a Gardener-in-Residence to organize programming and help maintain garden plots. The Gardener-in-Residence is a program run through the organization Community Groundworks, who hires the GiR and provides training and support.
In spring 2017, second graders started cucumber seeds in mini-greenhouses made out of milk jugs and planted them all around the front garden plots, the idea being that they can harvest them for pickles in the fall as third graders. Other vegetables growing in the front this year include kale and broccoli planted by last year’s 4th graders, scarlet runner beans, purple beans, and a few peas.
Do you know what type of vegetable a pickle is before it is pickled? See if you can find the plant in the garden (cucumbers- these plants are vines – they like to grow up onto things).
Do you see tall plants with feathery leaves and a dome of tiny yellow flowers? Can you identify them? (dill – self-seeds prolifically and grows well with cucumbers)
There are some tall plants with huge dark green leaves. Can you identify them? (kale and broccoli) How many kinds of kale do you see?
Tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes and colors. How big is the biggest tomato you can find? How small is the smallest?
The Apple Orchard
The ground area in and around the orchard tends to get overgrown with creeping Charlie, which we’ve tried to combat by planting clover and other ground cover to attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Ms. Allen’s 2nd grade classes have researched and planted types of flowers that attract pollinators. Also, last year Mr. Basseuner (art teacher) and students built a pollinator house using milk cartons leftover from the cafeteria and hollow sticks and stems collected from the school grounds. Developing a well-balanced eco-system in the orchard is a work in progress and provides many valuable project-based learning opportunities.
There is a fruit tree already growing in this area. What is it? (Apple)
There is soap hanging near the apple trees! How many bags of soap do you see? Why do you think they are there? (deterrent for deer)
Do you know how many varieties of apples are growing in our orchard? What are they? (3-Crimson crisp, enterprise, liberty)
Do you see any apples growing in the orchard? Are they red all over or different colors?
The Back Garden
There are also four raised beds tended by the 4K class. Last spring they planted salad greens, and the kale bed continues to thrive this fall.
The Shed behind the Kinder/1st garden was built in 2010. It was designed by Linda Gourley (retired art teacher), built by Don Worel (retired 4/5 teacher), and funded by a grant from the WI Retired Educators Association.