Since its launch in 2006, the Barbara Winsor Piccini Outdoor Classroom has become a unique and important part of the Junior School. Each class spends 15 to 20 hours per year learning environmental education, along with many hours at recess and during co-curricular activities. Lessons use open exploration, structured observation, games, gardening, crafts, and group or individual experiences.
Spending time in nature, students are getting an education that is rich in skills and values.
- 4 C’s - Every activity fosters the 21st Century learning skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. You may think they’re just building forts, weeding or making a sketch, but they have to work to meet criteria, problem-solve, negotiate, work within timelines, and more.
- Habits of the Heart & Mind - By using the space year round, in all weather conditions, the students are coached to develop their flexibility, optimism, and perseverance. There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.
- Caring through Connection - Every time a student plants a seed or bulb, every time they rake up leaves or play a game where they hug a tree, they connect themselves with the natural world in a way that fosters more caring.
- Health & Wellness strategies - We actively coach the students to go to nature for stress relief and often ask them to rate how they felt at the beginning and at the end. So often, we see their shoulders relax and life is all better.
In the first decade of the Piccini Outdoor Classroom, each class designed and maintained a special garden designed to provide habitat for wildlife and created with native flower and shrub species. The Grade 5 students added to and nurtured the garden kept by former Junior School principal Charles Tottenham, now called the Rainbow Garden. The Grade 6 students worked the soil for the tomatoes they grow annually as part of “Let’s Talk Science’s” Tomatosphere Project. As part of their ecosystem studies, Grade 7 East sustained a Butterfly Meadow, while Grade 7 West cared for a Wildlife Meadow. The Grade 8 students created a Water Garden which provides habitat for plants, invertebrates, amphibians and birds. These gardens were “given back to nature” in a ceremony celebrating ten years of stewardship. Their many plants are now able to care for themselves.
Now, well into the second decade of the Piccini Outdoor Classroom, each class works its own vegetable garden. Students choose their crop choices in the late winter and design their plot, then start the seeds indoors after the March Break. The vegetables and flowers are planted out in the spring and over the summer months, local TCS families volunteer to keep the gardens watered and tended, so that there is a bountiful harvest in late September after we’ve all returned. Teachers and students are able to use some of the wonderful permanent teaching areas such as the amphitheatre, the Touchstones circle, the water garden, and the many benches and rocks.
Every fall, students take part in a “Giving of the Gardens” ceremony where responsibility for each section of the Piccini Outdoor Classroom is handed down from one class to the next. The event marks the new classes taking on the stewardship for their grade’s garden for one year. The harvest is celebrated and then taken to Osler Hall to be enjoyed by the whole school community as soups, sauces and salads.
Throughout the school year, students are able to enjoy learning about the natural world both as part of the Junior School curriculum and through their own exploration of this special facility.