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The Outdoor Classroom

The Environmental Garden

The Environmental Garden at George P. Nicholson School officially opened in the fall of 2008. It serves as an outdoor classroom and enables our students to make learning connections right in their own back yard. This special facility supports many natural science, social studies and technological components of the Alberta curriculum. The garden also makes learning come alive by connecting our students with hands-on resources and community expertise. It helps us to broaden our students’ perspectives and plays an important role in our work to achieve superb results from all students.

The Environmental Garden project was supported by Community Partners and Environmental Founders. Their legacies as founding educational leaders are acknowledged on a beautiful recognition plaque, which is prominently displayed. They are each a valued partner in education.

We appreciate the support of our School Council, Parent Society, students, staff, parents, community members, and numerous volunteers for helping us to create this beautiful Environmental Garden.

We have a space that will help us support and extend the curriculum, an essential, to a school that believes in the value of inquiry.

Environmental Garden – Curriculum Connections and Use


The curriculum connections for kindergarten students in the Environmental Garden are as follows:

  • develops an awareness of the importance of sharing the responsibility for caring for the environment
  • becomes aware of the importance of protecting the environment

Our conversations with students focus on how our work together helps care for the environment. We include the environmental garden in our exploration of nature, how beautiful preserving nature can be. We use concrete examples from the garden to support this:

We appreciate the important contributions of individuals at home at school and in the community

  • What are the benefits of working cooperatively with others?
  • In what ways can people contribute to a group or community?
  • In what ways can we work and play in harmony with others to create a safe and caring environment?

 To support synergizing (Habit #6) we work cooperatively to ensure the upkeep of the environmental garden. We examine how working together brings us together as a community and how it makes us feel. We have an assigned area to be responsible for.

Grade One

We are so fortunate at our school to have a beautiful Environmental Garden which enhances our children’s learning. The students in Grade One have opportunities throughout the year to use the environmental garden’s space. Some of the ways we use the space include:

  • Observations of Seasonal Changes
  • Observing plants in their natural habitat
  • Creative writing
  • Sketching

Together we keep this beautiful space thriving as a beneficial learning environment.

Grade Two

We are appreciative of the Environmental Garden and the opportunities it provides for enhancing the Grade Two students’ learning. We investigate small flying and crawling creatures and float our handmade boats in the pond for science. Throughout the year, we also use the garden to read, sketch, and do buddy activities.

Grade Three

The grade 3 students and teachers enjoy using our Environmental Garden throughout the year. The garden is used for a range of activities that support our teaching and learning. A few examples include teacher read aloud times, buddy reading, writing activities in a quiet setting, nature observations and sketches for art classes, as well as looking at soil samples in science. Our favourite moment in the garden is when we release our Painted Lady Butterflies in the spring after having studied their life cycle. The garden provides a wonderful backdrop for photo opportunities. The grade 3 students are encouraged to take great pride and ownership of this lovely outdoor space. We are so fortunate to have a wonderful garden. Thank you to our GPN School Community!

Grade Four and Grade Five

The Environmental Garden is integrated in many ways at the grade 4 and 5 level in its capacity as an outdoor classroom. For example, during Art class, students use the “Look-Draw” technique to sketch various natural forms. Students also have many opportunities to engage in journaling activities to enhance the learning in Language Arts and Science that may complement the Grade 5 unit “Wetlands and Ecosystems”. In the Grade 4 unit “Plant Growth and Change”, students nurture plants through planting, watering and weeding. The Environmental Garden is a wonderful place to gather with your class, and engage in reading and synergizing activities.

Photos of a nature art small group activity that grade 4 students completed in September 2013.

Grade Six

The beautiful grounds at GPN, including the Environmental Garden, Amphitheater, and surrounding area, provide for a variety of real world learning opportunities for our students. The Grade Six Science curriculum includes a unit on Trees and Forests and with the wide variety of trees on the GPN grounds, we are able to meet all of the curricular objectives for this unit. To meet objectives in the Art and Language Arts curriculum, the enclosed garden and surrounding area provide inspiration for sketching, journal entries, and poetry and story writing, and an oasis for reading alone, with partners, and with cross-grade buddies. Opportunities to volunteer in the garden by weeding, repositioning the rocks, and removing snow from the paths help students meet objectives in the Health and Social Studies curriculum which include volunteerism and students taking action in their community. The garden and grounds provide an area for students to participate in a diverse variety of Physical Education activities. Spending time in GPN’s outdoor spaces helps students learn, stay active, form relationships, grow as citizens, and develop respect and an appreciation for the role that nature plays in their lives.

Environmental Garden Maintenance

The GPN School Council is responsible for the maintenance and has an Environmental Garden Committee to oversee this area, coordinate weeding work, and contact companies to do the repair work on paving stones, pruning, etc. There is currently a maintenance account funded through grants and donations to access to cover costs incurred. The GPN Parent Society has made a commitment to provide money each year so this fund does not get depleted. No educational dollars from the school budget can be used for the maintenance of the Environmental Garden, however students and staff assist in caring for the area along with numerous parent volunteers.

 Environmental Garden History and Acknowledgements

Like the planting of a seed the planting of an idea can grow into something magnificent. Eight years before our school was built, the idea, that seed of creating an environmental garden was first planted.

A group of us that included staff from Edmonton Public Schools, architects, builders and individuals from the neighbourhood of Twin Brooks helped with the planning and building of this school. We talked about all that was needed in a school to support the amazing inquirers that would attend. We all believed that one essential need was a space that went beyond the walls of the school. A space that would support the curiosity of our learners and that would encourage them to explore, question, wonder and reflect. A place that would make the curriculum come alive for our children. That was the beginning of planting our seed, our idea, called an Outdoor Classroom.

At our school’s official opening in November 2002 we received our first contribution to our environmental garden from the Board of Trustees of Edmonton Public Schools. Then for a while, the growth of our garden was quiet.

Like a seed, a good idea needs to be nurtured and sometimes, to make it magnificent and reach its full potential, it needs a master gardener or maybe a few master gardeners. Two years after we opened, our school found just that in a group of very committed individuals from our School Council. Leading that committee was one of our teachers, David Sobolewski, an active member of this community and at that time a parent of one of our students.

As a result of the nurturing of Mr. Sobolewski, his Environmental Garden Committee and the efforts of many, we see how that seed of an idea has grown into a legacy for our school, our district and this community. Today, and for th