With Halloween approaching, carving jack-o’-lanterns seemed a fun and fitting way to decorate the courtyard. The kids teamed up to carve the 8 pumpkins (all donated by Kroger), and they did a terrific job scooping the goop and carving cute, funny or scary faces.
This pumpkin-carving activity took place 2 weeks ago (yes, I’m a little behind here), which I thought would be close enough to Halloween – October means cool fall weather, right? But, with the unseasonable heat wave that followed, the jack-o-lanterns were a mushy mess even before the Monster Mash. But, at least for that short while, they added a nice, festive flair to the courtyard.
Eco-conscious footnote: I admit this activity had much more to do with having a fun time than helping the environment. So, here’s a related “help the earth” request – if you can, after Halloween, get your kids to help you compost your pumpkins instead of letting them end up in a landfill.
In week 2 of Fall Earth Club, we put the kids to work weeding the courtyard. Many were in their pj’s for Spirit Week’s Tired Tuesday, but they were not a very sleepy looking group. They pulled weeds and explored…
posed for the occasional photo…
chatted with friends, and appeared to have an all-around good time (looking pretty adorable all the while!).
Although many of the flowers are past their peak, the courtyard is still lush with various green things growing, and some flowering plants are still holding their own beautifully:
Last week, we kicked off our new, fall session of Earth Club with a group of enthusiastic second and third grade students who are excited to work together to help the Earth.
The club’s main initiative in the spring was to improve the courtyard garden, with the dual purpose of creating more habitat for wildlife and making the garden more beautiful for all the school community to enjoy. The term “wildlife,” in a central Ohio context, might first call to mind birds and mammals, such as those that abound in area parks. But, it’s setting our hopes a bit high to expect wildlife such as deer, rabbits or even squirrels in our small, enclosed courtyard. Birds, yes: mourning doves nest there, and for a few years, a duck chose this space to raise its ducklings. The mother duck and her brood had to be led out through the school hallways at the end of each spring (I wish I could have seen that!).
The courtyard is also home, or at least temporary habitat, for many other creatures: insects, spiders, mollusks such as snails and slugs, and even a couple of small amphibians. This summer, the courtyard was certified as an official Monarch Waystation by the conservation group, Monarch Watch, thanks to a girl scout troup that planted milkweed – the main food source of monarch butterfly caterpillars – last summer. The spring Earth Club members also planted a variety of flowers that are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.
With all of that in mind, our main outdoor activity of the day was a “minibeast” scavenger hunt. The kids searched high and low, and before long the courtyard fairly rang with announcements of their findings: “I found a slug!” “There’s a caterpillar over here!” “I saw the salamander!!”
Although butterfly sightings in the courtyard have been few, we did find evidence that they have passed through: one chrysalis hanging from the eaves, and an empty one on the ground.
Pictured to the right: Izumi and Pranav trying to get a better look at a chrysalis – see the little spot on the top left?
We also found other insects on the milkweed:
Milkweed bugs – nymphs and one adult
Aphids infesting the milkweed
Pictured at left are several milkweed bugs including one adult and several nymphs. Although they feed on the milkweed, they do little damage. On the other hand, the many little yellow insects (pictured at right) on the milkweed stems are aphids, which, unfortunately, do damage milkweed by sucking liquid from the plants. Controlling the aphid populations, to keep the plants healthy for butterfly caterpillars, could be an Earth Club project.
Altogether, the great variety of insects and other wildlife (or signs thereof) that the kids found are good indications of a healthy courtyard ecosystem.
The same activity could be done in a backyard or local park. What signs of wildlife are present? What changes could be made to attract even more wildlife?
The last Earth Club meeting of the spring was a celebration, with many family members present to help celebrate the accomplishments of our students.
An Earth Club celebration needed an Earth Cake:
Over the summer a few members of the club met twice for some courtyard maintenance. They had a chance to see the full beauty of the courtyard garden, including the many flowers planted by the club in the spring.
Although the Earth Club’s last meeting and celebration was this week, I’ll save writing about that for another day as I have some catching up to do first. Previously I posted some of the kids’ contributions to the blog, and here are the rest:
What do we do in Earth Club? Tessa summed it up pretty well:
Planting was indeed a favorite with many of the club’s members, and Cam and Quinn likewise commented on and drew pictures about this activity.
Cam, on what we’ve been doing: “We have been planting flowers in the courtyard.”
Quinn, on what he likes best: “I like planting flowers in the courtyard.”
Bridget and Daniel both chose to contribute artwork to the blog:
In the courtyard, I’ve seen Larry the toad, the nesting mourning dove, and the bit of old beehive, and I’m willing to believe there was a salamander sighting. But, I’m hoping the connection between Daniel’s and Izumi’s contributions is just coincidence and imagination, and not based on any reality of the wildlife in the courtyard garden.
(“Recently, we spread mulch around the yard. I think the best part about the earth club was when I joked about a scorpion in the mulch, and Abby said, ‘I’m not taking any chances.”)
Sure enough, Abby did NOT mention mulching as a favorite activity:
There you have it from our 12 enthusiastic second graders! Stay tuned for a final(?) post of the season about our end-of-year celebration.
The club is making great progress in the courtyard garden! I did not get a chance to take pictures outside, and anyway maybe we’ll keep it a secret until Family Night in a couple weeks. Instead, I asked the kids to contribute to the blog with their thoughts and drawings, which I’ll share here and over the next week or two.
The meeting was run by Mrs. Barley, Mrs. Gearhart, and Mrs. O’Connor.
And, the big news for the kids, as shared by Rahaf: May 9, 2016: The principal’s daughter is coming.
That’s right – Earth Club was again a family affair, with Mrs. Barley’s two teens coming to lend a hand.
Other students responded to prompts such as why they joined Earth Club, their favorite activities, and what we’ve been working on:
Yua: [I joined the club] because I like outside and I like nature, planting flowers.
Taylor: I like Earth Club because I want to help the Earth. My favorite Earth Club [activity] is planting. I like to help nature.
Ben: What we are doing is helping in the courtyard. We are planting flowers and pulling weeds. So we can make the earth a better place.
Henry, on what else he likes to do to help the Earth: I like to recycle stuff because it helps the world.
We help oceans,
We help land.
We help everything that we can.
We will work together
To help the earth be better.
We’ve been opening our meetings singing this little ditty, which could be viewed as a club oath. My daughter composed a version of it a year or two ago, just for fun; and we modified it for the club, placing emphasis on working together.
The song expresses the club’s very serious intent, but we add in a bit of goofiness and fun by singing it as fast as we can. The kids get a kick out of it (and so, I admit, do I).
Earth Day Assembly
It was great to see the students in the club get recognized at the school’s spirited Earth Day assembly last week (pictured above). Mrs. Gearhart introduced the club and highlighted its goals and the members’ good efforts so far. When the group was asked what has been the most fun so far, Bridget spoke up to say that she liked working in the courtyard the most. I’m pretty sure that’s a feeling shared by most if not all of the members.
I was also thrilled to hear the announcement of a new school initiative: a sustainability committee that will examine ways to conserve energy and reduce waste within the school community. In addition to various staff, the committee will include a student representative from each grade level. I think this is a wonderful development because, truly, it is by working together – whether the 12 members of the earth club, or all 400+ students and staff of the school – that major progress towards sustainability can be made. Also, the students will learn so much about environmental stewardship (among many other things!) by studying the school’s consumption of energy and materials and by investigating and implementing ways to reduce that consumption.
Week 4 and the big picture
For this week’s meeting, we again spent most of a delightfully warm and sunny hour working in the courtyard garden; but first, we also took some time for looking at the big picture of our gardening project and planning out the few weeks left. If we factor in time for documenting our work and for having families come to the final meeting of the spring, that really only leaves a couple more weeks for the actual work of preparing and planting the garden beds.
We also talked about the needs of the plants and how they might affect our garden plans. The kids were quick to identify the basic things a plant needs to thrive: water, air, soil, sunlight, space. The four walls of the courtyard of course greatly impact the amount of sunlight reaching each garden bed – only one side gets almost full sun – so we will need to select our plant locations accordingly. As for soil, one important and easily measured (and sometimes easily amended) factor is pH. Many plants prefer soil that is slightly on the acidic side of neutral. Besides, using a pH meter is fun (and, I hope, educational); so, we started taking measurements in various parts of the courtyard. (That is to say, we dug a bunch of holes but ran out of time for actual measurements… ah, well, next week…). We might not have time to make any needed pH adjustments this spring, but having the information will be useful for future reference.
Getting back to that “big picture”: 8 weeks isn’t much, but the kids seem so absorbed and in-the-moment as they go about their gardening work. By the time we finish (or, pause for the summer), we will have enhanced the courtyard garden to provide nourishment to a variety of pollinators; and in the process, I’m hoping, we will have nourished a love of nature in these children’s hearts.