by Susan Giovanetti, Bellwether Craftsmen

Early in the winter of 2017, kindergarten students at Brewster-Pierce Memorial School in Huntington, Vermont, gathered around their teacher. They were getting ready to go outside and spend the day in the outdoor classroom. She led a discussion about what animals do in winter: Do they hibernate? Do they just get a little sleepy? Or do they stay active? Students then put on their warm winter coats and excitedly headed outside – to their timber framed outdoor classroom.

In the spring of 2015, kindergarten parents advocated for outdoor learning for their children, and in the following school year staff and parents worked together with the Green Mountain Audubon Center to plan and undertake outdoor learning activities. Some parents got together and built a lean-to shelter for the rainy and snowy days, but it soon became apparent that a bigger, permanent space was needed.

The parent group approached Brian Hayes of Bellwether Craftsmen, who developed a design that was met with enthusiasm from parents and teachers alike. A materials list was generated and fundraising began for the 20×20 structure – from a pizza dinner to a “yoga and brunch” to generous donations from individuals and the Huntington Historical and Community Trust, the entire community contributed to this special outdoor space.

Building professionals donated their time and materials, helping to move the project forward rapidly with excavation services, pre-cast piers for the footing, structural steel, and crane time to raise the beams.

Several professional timber framers and other community members crowded into the Bellwether Craftsmen shop to help cut timbers as well. This effort, under the guidance of the craftspeople at Bellwether, resulted in a unique outdoor classroom space where children can discover their local flora and fauna.

This first classroom led to second in another location: Tyler “Tucker” Riggs of LSF Forest Products in Fletcher, Vermont, donated all the timber materials to the project with the understanding that Bellwether would share their engineered design and timber framing skills to build a second classroom at Fletcher Elementary. Knowing the value an outdoor classroom would bring, Brian happily agreed, and the Fletcher Elementary classroom was completed in winter 2019.

If you venture into the outdoor classroom at Brewster-Pierce Memorial today, you might see a weather station where students measure rainfall and temperature at the beginning and end of the day, then return to the classroom to learn to make charts and graphs. You might observe the solstice tree where they leave food for animals and then study the tracks that come to the tree. You may also see students in the mud kitchen with pots and pans and spoons, and, of course, mud. They’re obviously having fun, but the kitchen also provides an opportunity for dramatic play, developing social skills, and learning how to share.

In addition to the science learning and skill building that happens in the outdoor classroom, Brewster-Pierce Memorial School Principal Sally Hayes (no relation to Brian Hayes) talked about another benefit of this unique space: children are developing “a connection to the natural world that will become part of them for the rest of their lives.” Building community space builds communities – now and into the future.

The basis for this article appeared in The Times Ink! of Richmond & Huntington (Vermont) in February 2017 (Volume 34, Issue 1), in an article entitled “A Community Works Together”, written by Jane M. Vossler.

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