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History of the Outdoor Project

 A few years ago, a group of teachers at Mt. Lebanon School became concerned that children were not connecting with the outdoor world. During the summer of 2006 they attended a weeklong workshop at the Barry Conservation Camp in Berlin, New Hampshire to learn ways to help their students become engaged with the natural world around them. They spent the week hiking through the forests, climbing hills, and wading through streams while learning about animal habitats. When they returned to Mt. Lebanon, they were eager to help their students gain an appreciation of nature. The teachers worked with site maps to determine the best use of the school’s property for creating wildlife habitats that their students could use for study and play. It soon became apparent that the best place to start was with the playground area near the library windows.

At the same time that these teachers were working on the idea of creating this outdoor habitat, other plans were being made to create a memorial garden for Brianna Mayes, a student who had attended Mt. Lebanon School. The two projects were combined.

Now the question was how to make it happen. The teachers’ goal was to involve students in all aspects of the project, from dreaming and planning, to planting and maintaining. While at the Barry Conservation Camp, they met Marilyn Wyzga from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. Marilyn has written several books on wildlife habitats and has worked with many schools on outdoor projects. She became the “Artist in Residence” at Mount Lebanon School during the school year 2007-2008.

Marilyn introduced the students to the idea of creating a wildlife habitat on their playground. Under her guidance they made models of all sorts of things they wanted to include in the project. After spending time at Mount Lebanon and listening to the ideas and dreams of the students and staff, Marilyn was able to create a beautiful plan for the garden. It involved building berms and using native plants to attract wildlife. There would be a lot of work ahead for everyone, but they were ready for the challenge!

In the spring of 2008, Marilyn Wyzga helped the students lay the groundwork for their new garden beds. They laid out the garden areas, then “made soil” by putting down layers of wet newspapers and covering
 them with several inches of mulch. These new gardens were kept moist all summer, creating rich soil which was ready for planting in the fall.

In the fall of 2008, there were two “planting” weekends. On the first weekend, families, community members, and staff members volunteered their time and expertise to create two berms, install a flag stone terrace, and do some of the planting. They worked long and hard to get the basics of the garden installed.

On the second weekend, family and friends of Brianna Mayes gathered to continue the work and plant flowers and bushes in her memory. What had been a rather barren section of the playground was being transformed into a beautiful garden habitat.

While the garden settled over the winter, Marilyn and the staff continued to plan for more planting in the spring of 2009.  When the weather and ground warmed, a special planting day was held for  students. Each class came out to the garden and met with Marilyn again. She showed the children how to properly put a plant in the ground so that it will grow and thrive. They also talked about how to use and care for their new wildlife habitat. Marilyn had been able to purchase most of the plants needed from Van Berkum Nursery in Deerfield, New Hampshire. They also very generously donated several plants to help the project. There were enough plants so that by the end of the day, every student at Mount Lebanon had been able to help plant a flower, grass, or bush, creating a beautiful new garden.

Part of Marilyn’s design for the garden included a spiral path that the children could walk on and enjoy. It was made possible by a generous donation of “tree cookies” from David Falkenham, an Extension 
Educator of Forest Resources from UNH.  He cut the tree cookies for us and donated them for our project. Several students installed the path during their recess times.

To add whimsy to our project, one of the new berms was designated Fairy Hill. Here children use natural materials such as sticks, bark and stones to create beautiful homes for woodland fairies. This is one of the most popular areas of our garden.

Every garden should have a nice place to sit and read or for quiet thinking and visiting. Thanks to a grant from Four Winds, we were able to buy materials for two beautiful stone benches. Peter Harvey and ______ donated their time and expertise to find the materials and install the benches for us. They were placed in the garden to take advantage of the summer shade and winter sun.  Students have enjoyed them all year long.

Mt. Lebanon’s garden area has become a popular spot during recess. Many students enjoy building fairy houses. Others prefer a few minutes of quiet reading or visiting with friends on the stone benches. Some of our young scientists spend their recess looking for seeds and insects among the plants.

The garden also provides a beautiful spot for lessons. It is a perfect place for a study of insects and plants. Students bring their magnifying glasses to get an up-close look at spider webs and insects. The Art teacher regularly takes classes out for nature drawing. One teacher used the garden with her class for nature journaling. Many teachers have taken their classes out for story time and sharing Reader’s Theaters. It is also becoming a special place for celebrations.

What was once a rather barren area of the playground at Mt. Lebanon School, has now been transformed into a beautiful garden that students enjoy all year long!