Play-oriented learning in a UNIQUE School Garden

The construction of the school garden and learning center at Clark Fork School. Photo credit: Kris Litz
Clark Fork School (CFS) is an educational cooperative where experience in nature and a progressive, place-based curriculum foster academic excellence and a connection to local and global communities. Located in Missoula, Montana, CFS has received a silver award through the Eco-Schools USA program and features a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Over the last 16 months, Clark Fork School (CFS) has installed a large garden and learning center on an empty lot adjacent to the school. This garden is one of the schools’ proudest achievements and has become a special place where students can engage in play-oriented learning. The school garden features raised beds where students grow vegetable and herbs, a Pollinator Paradise garden, and a greenhouse built from sustainable wood.

Students planting a Pollinator Paradise garden. Photo credit: Kris Litz
However, what we TRULY love about this school garden are the unexpected learning spaces that can be found tucked away inside:

  • A music station where recycled metal objects act as drums and musical instruments, where students can
    experiment with sounds and rhythm.
  • A mud kitchen where students use different tools to make mud pies and mud smoothies while engaging in a very tactile learning experience.
  • A tunnel of wonder planted with native vines that providea child-centered sanctuary where imagination rules the land.
  • A insect hotel where students can observe different insects and learn about their needs and habitat requirements.
  • A dig pit where students can play, practice shoveling, design a tunnel network, and even go on scavenger hunts.

Do you have space for any of these unique learning spaces in your school garden?

Download the Clark Fork School Pre-K lesson plan here!

Click here to learn more about the Eco-Schools USA program, and find out how you can participate!

Kris Litz with her dog and children.
Kris Litz with her dogs.

This post was a collaboration between Jennifer Murck and Kris Litz. Kris is Missoula native and is extremely passionate about helping students build a resilient bond with Planet Earth and community. She has a Master’s Degree in Adventure Education from Prescott College, with a focus on place-based and environmental education. Kris has taught students in both traditional and outdoor settings, with much of her expertise focusing on ecology, conservation, and service-learning. Kris loves exploring the outdoors with youth.