This has been an incredibly exciting and busy year for Deschutes Children’s Forest’s NatureHood iniative. So what is a NatureHood? A NatureHood is a park or other natural area that schools and families use to learn about and explore nature close to home. The concept was developed in partnership with Bend Park and Recreation District and intends to provide outdoor classroom spaces, without needing to get on a bus or drive in a car. The roadmap for developing a NatureHood is driven by school participation, with the first step getting teachers and students engaged in learning in their NatureHood and then hopefully developing projects that contribute to what the NatureHood ultimately becomes. These NatureHood projects should engage visitors, inviting them to explore or learn about the park in new ways. This year, there were two schools that developed projects in local parks, all of which can be enjoyed by visitors and deepen their experience in that park.
Ponderosa Elementary and neighboring Pine Nursery Park was Deschutes Children’s Forest’s first designated NatureHood. The process began in the fall of 2012 when Forest Service experts led a field day for Ponderosa teachers, introducing them to the resources in the park and sharing activities that they could do for their grade level. Since then, there have been many teachers to utilize the park as an outdoor classroom space. One teacher in particular, Ryan Shaffer, utilized the park with his class on a weekly basis for what he called their “Pine Kn-OLOGY” unit, or the study of Pine Nursery Park. Each month they focus on a different “ology” of the park, including carpology, limnology, ornithology, geology, and dendrology.
This was just the beginning! The students then took what they learned about the different park habitats and developed two different field guides to the park – one is an iBook and the other is a paper version (click here to download the pdf). Both of these are available to visitors of the park to learn more about the plants, wildlife, and geology they can find there. This year-long project culminated in “Park Palooza” where all Ponderosa students visited the park, with Mr. Shaffer’s class as their guides. The students visited the different habitats and the used the 2 field guides to learn more about what they could find there. As all 3rd-5th grade students at Ponderosa have iPads, they were able to utilize these tools in a totally new way. This summer, Bend Park and Recreation District will be adding a sign at the main entrance to the park so that all visitors can download this resource on-site, or pick up a paper copy if they don’t have a smart phone. To check out the iBook. search for “Pine Nursery Field Guide” in iTunes, subscribe to the course, and download the book.
Bear Creek Elementary and neighboring Ponderosa Park were Deschutes Children’s Forest’s second designated NatureHood. Initially, our plans were to lead a couple of teacher trainings with Bear Creek’s staff and have the 2nd grade dual-immersion classes design bilingual interpretive signage for the park. Following this process, we heard news that the PTO had received a $5,000 grant through Lowe’s Toolbox for Education, allowing each grade level to complete a project in the NatureHood. As a result, this spring each grade level made a contribution to Ponderosa Park or the schoolyard. Kindergarten made stepping stones with animal tracks, 1st grade planted two pollinator gardens – 1 at school and 1 at the park, 2nd grade completed bilingual interpretive signs and constructed and installed 3 bat boxes and 15 bird houses, 3rd grade created a “Little Lending Library”, 4th grade painted a mural at the new park playground, and 5th grade created a raised bed garden at school. To see all projects and their locations, check out this map!
These projects were completed with many hours of help from community partners including Bend Park and Recreation District, Bear Creek PTO, Deschutes National Forest wildlife biologists and botanists, Discover Your Forest, and Deschutes Children’s Forest. It was truly a collaborative project with each organization contributing their expertise and time. These projects culminated in a celebration event on May 29th where families and students were invited to the park to view the projects and enjoy an evening of family fun. Hundreds came out for the event and students sang songs and introduced their projects to the community. This is really just the beginning for this NatureHood, as we hope that teachers utilize the new resources for teaching science concepts and families appreciate and become stewards of the park and these projects. This summer, Deschutes Children’s Forest will host one of our Discover Nature Day events at Ponderosa Park, and families will have the opportunity to attend an educational program right in their neighborhood. The event is on August 14 from 11am-12noon and will be focused on ‘Predators and Prey’. This is part of a 6-week series from July 10 – August 14.
In addition to these projects, Deschutes Children’s Forest and our partner organizations hosted field trips for over 500 Redmond students in their NatureHood, the Dry Canyon this spring. Though the Dry Canyon is not officially a designated NatureHood, Deschutes Children’s Forest is providing resources to promote schools using the canyon as an outdoor classroom. Most elementary schools in Redmond are within a 15-20 minute walk of this great resource. Deschutes Children’s Forest led a training for all teachers at Tom McCall Elementary in January to highlight inquiry-based activities that they could do in the Dry Canyon for their grade levels. As a result, 4 grade levels participated in some sort of field trip to the canyon this spring.
What’s next? In addition to continuing work at Ponderosa and Pine Nursery Parks, Deschutes Children’s Forest hopes to designate several new NatureHoods in Central Oregon next school year. This is not a cookie-cutter process, as each school, neighborhood, and park may lend itself to different projects or activities. Additionally, there are plans to establish several natural play areas in local parks around Bend, which promote informal exploration and engagement of nature in a safe context. Be on the lookout for NatureHood projects in your area, and be sure to visit both Ponderosa and Pine Nursery Parks this summer to see the students’ hard work and learn a thing or two about our environment!