Interior shot of a log cabin.
Reconstructed cabin New cabin helps school's Outdoor Education Program © Kokomo School Corporation

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Reduce, Reuse & Recycle to Rethink Education

The Nature Conservancy facilitates construction of second cabin for outdoor education at Boulevard Elementary

One cabin plus one more cabin equals two cabins. In the case of Boulevard Elementary, and its successful outdoor learning program, it also equals greater opportunities for students to learn problem solving and team-building skills with more space to grow.

At Boulevard Elementary, students spend half of their day learning in an outdoor classroom, where they are encouraged to get messy, climb trees and dig for worms. While the Outdoor Education program needed to expand physically, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) also needed to remove old structures from its recently-acquired Wallier Woods Preserve. Knowing of the two conundrums, TNC employees realized a solution.

“One of TNC’s best attributes is its ability to bring different parties to the table,” said Allen Pursell, TNC’s director of forest conservation in Indiana. “In addition to land acquisition, we also leverage conservation by making connections between different entities to achieve mutually beneficial results.”

The Kokomo School Corporation began its Early Childhood Outdoor Education Program at Boulevard Elementary in 2016. The program started with a pre-K class for four-year-olds and its popularity has seen an expansion through second grade. The program’s growth meant a physical expansion was needed as well; a rustic indoor space is utilized as a base for outdoor learning.

The second cabin, currently being reconstructed at Boulevard Elementary, was brought to Howard County from Harrison County. Before deconstruction, this cabin was located at Cedar Farm in Laconia, Indiana, located along the Ohio River. Pursell, who lives in Harrison County, knew that Boulevard Elementary was looking for a second cabin.

Pursell connected Bailey Construction, a salvager of old cabins, with Kokomo School Corporation, and the wheels were put in motion to move the cabin to Boulevard Elementary – an urban elementary school near the heart of the City of Kokomo, Indiana. TNC land steward Mike Everidge sought out Mr. Bailey to salvage a nearby old barn at Wallier Woods, and the wood from that structure is now incorporated into the cabin’s flooring and mudroom.

The second log cabin will double the capacity of the Early Childhood Outdoor Education Program and will now allow four classes to participate. Hiking, climbing, problemsolving and collaboration are all part of the daily “outdoor time” from the Indiana State Standards and Indiana Foundational Standards, which are incorporated into the curriculum and daily lesson plans.

“The Early Childhood Outdoor Education Program was designed based on the success of Forest Kindergartens in Scandinavia,” said Dr. Jeff Hauswald, Superintendent of Kokomo School Corporation. “We have found that our children who participate in the Outdoor Early Childhood Program have developed life skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, risk-taking, creative thinking and artistic expression. These skills transfer to a ‘love of learning for learning’s sake.’ Movement is extremely important for young children. The opportunity to explore, run, jump, splash in mud, rest in the shade, and reflect on the shape of clouds and the letters in the sky, all support the success of this program.”

Hauswald continued, “The demand for the outdoor program continues to outpace our capacity. Clearly, this unique program is evidence of the importance of connecting students with nature and the important relationship that exists between physical activity and learning.”

And, says Pursell, “being outside feels good, as does seeing our work reach back in time to write the next chapter for conservation.” 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.