The environmental stewardship and gardening program at Seattle Waldorf School feeds the sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world that is innate to human beings. Using all our senses, through observation and experimentation, children explore questions that lead to an appreciation and understanding of the interconnectedness of our world. Interesting things happen outside in the school garden, the SWS Restoration Garden and East Woods, or while we are working on habitat restoration projects at Magnuson Park or the Lavilla Meadows Natural Area with Green Seattle.

For example, students learn to identify plants and then ask questions like a fourth grade student did the other day—“Why is it so easy to weed Herb Robert (or stinky Bob as it is fondly known to SWS students) and so hard to weed the broadleaf dock?” Looking at the root system, we see that one has shallow roots and the other has a deep taproot, which leads to the next question: “Why do you think plants have different root systems or types of roots?” More observations and insect discoveries take place while we work the soil. These explorations teach us about the interconnectivity of all living things and their relationships to their habitat, whether forest, stream, or garden. Questions like, “What do these creatures do?” and ”How do they help support life on our planet?” are asked and pondered.

At the Lavilla Meadows Natural Area, just a short walk from Seattle Waldorf School, the fourth grade partners with the Thornton Creek Alliance Citizen Science program to sample water on the south fork of Thornton Creek and Willow Creek. SWS fourth grade students are providing data about the number of coliform (disease causing) bacteria in the stream to help the community, the City of Seattle, and Seattle Public Utilities ensure that the creek is safe for all. Students learn the skills needed to sample water with equipment that scientists use and the importance of consistency and observation. “Why are we water sampling again?” is a question that comes up often. Discussing long-term research and observing changes in nature over time is immensely important and beneficial for all of us, not just scientists! (Follow this link to read more about the partnership.)

In the SWS Restoration Garden, students learn about the beauty of native plants that they plant and nurture until they are established. Students learn how our stream is connected to Thornton Creek and we need to be good stewards so that the water that flows from our campus will not harm the stream or the creatures in it, including salmon that may come into Thornton creek to spawn.

Espalier pruned by students


Unfortunately, in our current world, we find that many children are spending less and less time outdoors, to the detriment of their physical and mental health. Being outside reduces stress and anxiety for most of us. In the garden and when working with all our partner organizations, including Meadowbrook Community Care at their community orchard, we build practical skills. As they work with their bodies, students get a chance to move in healthy ways while learning and reflecting. Plus, it builds confidence in their skills when they complete a task and see the progress of what they did—whether that is growing a plant, pruning a fruit tree correctly, or building a willow fence.

Learning is deeply reinforced when you are actively engaged. As a scientist myself, I believe deeply in hands-on learning. It builds pictures in your mind that relate to academic learning and allows the student to go deeper into the material, asking more insightful and interesting questions.

You might be interested to know that other scientists and researchers have found that outdoor learning also boosts academic performance in the classroom; improves children’s emotional, physical, and intellectual development; and shows measurable physical and mental health benefits while connecting us to nature. Plus, outdoor education is fun! One can be working with friends, happily chatting away, and then someone spots a hummingbird or uncovers a sowbug or a really large worm, and a new learning experience emerges.

Seattle Waldorf School provides many opportunities for outdoor education, and we can do more with your support. Please give generously to our Inspire 2021 fund-a-need campaign to build more permanent outdoor spaces on all of our campuses. If anything, the pandemic has shown that we can do more outside. Please make your gift today so we can take our students outside more often tomorrow!

–Dr. Charlotte Rasmussen, SWS Garden Educator

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