Monday, May 4, 2015

We've come a long way!

We've done a lot on the Outdoor Classroom since my last post!  Here's a photo timeline of this school year's success...

The area had been used as ball fields when the school hosted K-4th grade, but when the school was converted to preschool, the field was not being used.

After a concept design phase and funding secured, we broke ground in June 2014.

This initial design phase lasted into the summer--placing boulders, putting up sheds and pergolas, and a brick and gravel walkway.

Raised Beds were installed in September with the help of amazing and powerful volunteers: Maricopa Master Gardeners and Bank of America.

In October the teachers and staff of ML King were able to take their first tour of the Outdoor Classroom.

United Way brought corporate volunteers from Ernst and Young Accounting to help us prepare the ground and paint an amazing mural with our mascot--the Monarch Butterfly!

The Garden Party was an amazing success! Truly a joint effort between the Roosevelt School District teachers and staff, the Roosevelt Head Start teachers and staff, and the Roosevelt Family Resource Center maintained by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County.

With the help of our friends at the Arizona Nursery Association, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, the Southwest Herbies, and many generous donors over 400 plants were installed!

Children were able to begin using the site in January 2015. What a hit!

Our first theme was outdoor recreation. REI loaned us some fun equipment through the PEAK program.

Our Great Outdoors Festival held in February was really the grand opening for students and their families. We welcomed the community with lots of fun outdoor and nature activities!

Hands-On Greater Phoenix brought in corporate volunteers for a Spring Upgrade--adding signage, balance logs, more trees, and farm facades.

And in April 2015, the Outdoor Classroom had the honor of being the setting for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's visit and speech about the importance of high quality early childhood education.

2014-2015, what a year!
What is next? Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Garden Party Fundraiser for the Outdoor Classroom

Short URL:

Our Outdoor Classroom is ready to go green--with plants that is! Help us to purchase flowers and trees for our Outdoor Classroom. 

What is an outdoor classroom? What do children do there? Are there desks? Come see what all the fuss is about!

Nov 15th 10 am to noon
MLK Jr Early Childhood Center, near 24th and Broadway
4615 s 22nd St, Phoenix, 85040

light refreshments served

RSVP or just show up.
Can't make it but would like to help anyway? We welcome your donations, contact:
Nikki Julien, Instructional Specialist Coordinator, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What would an Outdoor Classroom do?

The growing trend in schools is now outside!

 Outdoor classrooms are proven to
· Create feelings of empathy for nature
· Facilitate cognitive and physical development
· Inspire collaboration and reduce violence and bullying
· Support whole-child development and learning across the curriculum

Okay... but what do children DO in an outdoor classroom? Are there desks?

With over 10 interest areas within the outdoor classroom, children are on the go! 
  • Climbing, running, crawling,
  • Touching, tasting, smelling,
  • Gardening at the raised beds,
  • Being creative at the nature art area,
  • Engineering with blocks and loose natural materials,
  • Dirt digging and water play,
  • Sensory exploration among native plants,
  • Relaxing with a book at the dreaming space,
  • Acting on the outdoor stage,
  • Riding tricycles, 
  • and sitting down as a class to plan, to share, and to reflect.

With Phases 1 and 2 already completed, the foundation of the Outdoor Classroom is laid. From initial planning to site preparation to the installation of irrigation and pathways, the Outdoor Classroom has gone from concept to reality.
Phase 3 has already begun: the installation of the gardens. Each classroom can adopt a large raised bed to grow flowers or food. Teaching young children about gardening supports the whole curriculum. 
  • Math skills are developed when children learn how deep to plant seeds and how tall plants can grow. 
  • How food plants are used by different cultures connects social studies with the diverse community here at MLK Jr. 
  • Science learning abounds outdoors where urban wildlife, such as birds and bugs, receive shelter and food in the garden.
  • Artistic expression in dramatic play and visual art expands where there is space for solitude and rich, sensory experience.
  • Working together in the garden amid the constantly changing natural world provides opportunities for problem-solving, cooperation, and social-emotional growth.

The MLK Jr Outdoor Classroom still needs your help! 

There's much more to do to take us from the barren empty fields of last year to the lush and unique learning environment of next year.
  • Volunteer your time and skills. Help with planting, building structures, and simply clearing weeds is needed on a regular basis.
  • Sponsor the planting of a tree to offer shade and to green our community.
  • Donate funds toward our big projects: a large climbing structure and brick flooring for learning areas.

If you have questions about the MLK Jr Outdoor Classroom, or you like a tour, please contact:
Nikki Julien, Outdoor Classroom Project Co-Manager
Like us on Facebook at:

MLK Jr Early Childhood Center is part of the Roosevelt School District and is located at:
4516 S. 22nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85040

The Outdoor Classroom in sponsored in partnership with:
  • Roosevelt School District
  • Roosevelt Head Start
  • The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Outdoor Classroom Phase I complete!

After two years of planning, groundbreaking for the outdoor classroom began on June 3rd. In a joint effort between University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Roosevelt School District, and Maricopa Head Start, Phase 1 of the Outdoor Classroom installation included:
First step was to grate the surface.
  • ·       Grading the site and marking areas
  • ·       Installation of drip irrigation system
  • ·       Installation of trike path
  • ·       Installation of walking path
  • ·       Installation of sheds, stage, and shade structures
  • ·       Purchase of raised garden beds, soil, and tools

A large grant from First Things First supplied the bulk of the installation of Phase 1. This was a large and vital stage that could not have been accomplished in smaller increments. Additional funding from Head Start provided the raised beds, tables, sheds, soil and wood chips. University of Arizona was further able to appropriate funding toward hardscape for learning areas, boulders, garden tools, and an additional garden shed. 

Low boulders will be great for standing on to see the wide open country!
As Project Manager for the installation, my scope of work included bidding, scheduling, and overseeing all the work done by the construction companies. My network of helpers included an irrigation specialist from the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension who came on site weekly to inspect work and offer suggestions, the school’s janitorial staff who helped with access to the worksite, and the district’s facilities’ department which managed the preliminary work including bringing water to the site. The helpers were dedicated to the project and went above and beyond to help the work to be completed in a timely fashion.
Sheds hold storage for our garden tools.

 The Outdoor Classroom will be used for nature education, free play that encourages creativity, and nutrition through gardening. Outdoor play is well documented to have positive effects on children’s cognitive development and social development. Connecting young learners with nature forms a basis for caring for the planet. Opportunities for nature exploration will abound in our outdoor classroom as plants and natural landforms such as rocks and dirt mounds create areas where children can witness the cycles of nature. The learning areas will include places to run, climb, ride trikes, and scout around plantings which promotes whole body, healthy activity. These large spaces for activity coupled with natural materials for building will encourage creative play that is child-directed which fosters cooperative social development and problem solving. The garden bed area will offer a large raised bed for each classroom; teachers and students can plant harvestable food which introduces children to where their food comes from. The act of garden has been proven to promote healthier eating habits.
Stage and pergola for children's performances.

A starter for Phase II.
Although there is still lots to do, with Phase 1 complete, the Outdoor Classroom has taken shape! Beginning in the fall of 2014, teachers will be able to take their children to the outdoor classroom and begin to get to know the area. Neighbors of the school and families who use the Family Resource Center have come to the fence to express their interest in the project during installation. They are happy to see something good happen to the field and happy their kids get to benefit!

What is next for the Outdoor Classroom? Phase II will welcome in 15 large raised beds, one for each classroom!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Meet Javier. He screams when he feels overwhelmed.

I should have gotten a picture of him screaming, arching his back, and trying to get out of his father's arms. But I wasn't quick enough.
Instead, this is what the camera captured:

As soon as Papa put his hands in the soil, the spell of sensory overload was broken. The screams and the rigidity were gone as if they never existed.

And when Mama found a worm...

Javier held it.

As the hour outside progressed, the group--the staff, his parents, the other parents, even the other children--were mesmerized by his behavior change.

He enjoyed a story.
He dug in the garden.
He played with his friends.

And when given other opportunities, that would have been overwhelming in a different setting, he welcomed the experience.

Does time spent in nature have positive mental health benefits? 
Research and study prove it. If you need to read it try here:

But the question can be answered from within more readily...

Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Your Questions: What Is the Easiest Veggie To Plant TODAY?

Think you can't plant in January? But you can!

If you are not lucky enough to live where I am in Phoenix or another warm winter climate, plant indoors at a sunny window.

If you are lucky enough to live in Phoenix, check out this planting guide for January from the Maricopa Master Gardeners:

Started vegetables are seasonally available at your local DIY store. Though starts are more expensive than seeds, young children can see the results of planting right away. This might be more meaningful to them.

Seeds are still a wonderful option. Try getting large seeds such as peas, pumpkins, corn and beans. These can easily be planted by small fingers. 

Another fun idea is to  plant seeds that feature in a favorite book like Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and the Radish Cure.

What are some non-poisonous vegetable plants that we can plant on our playground?
There are so many! Try these:
· Beans. Beans are great eating raw or fresh and dried beans make wonderful pieces for mosaic art works.
· Squash. Find lesser known varieties for their weird and wonderful shape, colors, and skin texture. Carve them or decorate them anytime of year.
· Fresh herbs like lavender, mint, basil, and oregano will last all year and can be nibbled and crushed.
· Kale and broccoli—totally edible, from root to flower!

No raised beds? No money for soil?
Try window gardening...

All you need are the seeds (any variety will do, even dried beans from the pantry) and a ziplock bag.

   Give each child a small piece of paper towel or tissue to put in the ziplock baggie. Lay it on the table will make this process easier. Give each child 1-3 seeds to place on the tissue. Add a small amount of water (one plastic spoonful is plenty) onto the seeds and the tissue. Pat the air out gently and seal the top. Tape to a sunny window. The seeds should sprout within a week.

Cross cut your class's learning by integrating some math skills. Make a chart to record who planted which seeds on what day and when the seeds sprouted.

Though these seeds cannot be transplanted into the garden, the children will enjoy seeing the hidden life of a seed while it is waking up! 

Don't just stand there, Plant something!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Stepping Stones

It's project time!
Perfect for little feet, these stepping stones define paths through the garden. And they are easy to make from start to finish.

Get yourself a bag a Quikcrete from the Do-It-Yourself store. It costs all of about $5. Each bag will make about 20-30 stepping stones.

For the mold, you can either use disposable pie tins, plastic planters, or simply dig a shallow depression in the ground.

Add water in small amounts until the mix is completely damp but not runny. Go small, it won't take much.

I put the concrete in a ziplock bag so it's easy to stir--no shovel needed

4 cups of Quikcrete will fill one 8 in plastic saucer.
Tap the mold gently on the ground to remove the airbubbles.

Add your decorations--glass beads, plastic letters, or leaves. Press in gently.

Leave the leaves on the cement and they will eventually rub off completely leaving a very nice impression.

 Place the stepping stone, mold and all, into a plastic baggie. This will create humidity and slow the drying process (and keep any odd rain storms off). The slower concrete dries, the stronger it is. Leave it in the bag at least a week, up to a month is even better.
and they are ready for use!