Tucked away among the lush woodland and pristine waters surrounding rural Saanich’s Prospect Lake sits its eponymous elementary school, where the students’ love of nature now transcends far beyond simply playing amid the trees at recess.
Last week the school launched its outdoor learning space, which, when complete, will provide the kids with a number of direct-to-nature educational and recreational opportunities.
“We looked at where the school is situated. It’s in a rural area, it’s quiet, we’ve got a forest in the back. How can we take these kids who are already playing in the dirt and sand, and get them interested?” said Sat Lail, a Grade 2/3 teacher.
The outdoor learning space is a multi-phase project that begins with the construction of eight three-foot by 10-foot garden beds. Each class gets its own garden and will plant whatever flora the students want to grow.
Grade 4/5 teacher Laurel Evans said her students began working on inquiry projects to determine how to best use their garden. The students researched such topics soil types, native plants, and how often different plants need watering before the class chose their seeds.
“Most classes are looking at growing food. Some might be doing science experiments – comparing growth of a variety. They might be growing vegetables to make a salad they’re going to enjoy June,” Evans said.
“Kids can lose interest (in a lesson) really easily when they see the same thing year after year. Creating real engagement with authentic things, getting outside, getting them to make inquiries with their own learning, and applying their math, social studies, science, writing – it’s all about using our outside environment to engage them in their learning.”
The next phases involve building a natural outdoor play space, creating a trail leading out to the forest and nearby stream, and maintaining a native plant rain garden at the front of the school.
“It was just such a natural fit to do this and make use of this space,” Evans said.
Grade 3 student Ellington Peacock said he enjoys playing outside and is looking forward to planting vegetables and flowers in his class’s garden plot.
He said he likes learning about the environment, and cited worm trivia he learned in science class as one way he’s tying his schooling into the outdoor learning space.
“A few months ago in science we learned that worms have five pairs of hearts, so that’s 10 hearts. And if they’re cut in half they will die. But if you cut their tail end off it’ll grow back,” he said.
Prospect Lake principal Mark Guiguet said engaging the students with different learning opportunities is key to their education.
“We feel that these outdoor learning spaces, with the staff that we have, will move our children forward … in becoming more self-directed and motivated to learn,” he said.
The entire project comes with a price tag of about $40,000. The school is looking for donations in the form of grants, money or in-kind that can help take these outdoor learning spaces from concept to reality.
Individuals or organizations interested in donating to Prospect Lake elementary can contact Guiguet at 250-727-3314.