After participating in a world-wide day of service learning, students at Talbott Springs Elementary School in Columbia came away with a new a understanding of the environment and sustainable living — and a new sensory garden.
The Green Apple Day of Service, held Saturday at the school, was one of 1,100 service projects held around the world as part of an initiative established by the U.S. Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools. It is the first year for the initiative.
"We're focused on the sustainability of schools, and the students learning about sustainable lifestyles," said Cindy Thompson, community advancement specialist for the U.S. Green Building Council.
Talbott Springs took on the day of service because Thompson has a special connection to the school: Her mother, Nancy Thompson, is the school's principal.
For several hours Saturday morning, students, teachers, parents and community members re-painted a shed, tended to the existing vegetable garden behind the school, and built a sensory garden: seven beds that will be planted with different textured and scented plants.
"It's for the kids to re-learn curiosity in nature, and have a special engagement with nature in learning," Cindy Thompson said. "This is the future generation. We want these kids to have it embedded in them: We are wasting away our planet. We want to make sure we're saving it for them, and for them to understand that this is a resource that we need to keep for the future."
Furthermore, Thompson said, there's been an "epidemic" of children becoming overly attached to their computers and other electronic devices — or simply just staying inside and not experiencing the outside world.
"Getting them back out into nature, re-engaged and re-curious, is important," she said.
Encouraging children to get back outside was what drove local architect Bob Moon to become involved in Talbott's Green Apple Day of Service. Gardening equipment in hand, Moon helped the students build the beds he helped design.
"Everybody's concerned about children," he said. "The children-in-nature movement is so huge; I'm thrilled I'm a part of it. We're going to see great things happen with the children and nature here."
The garden is a perfect way to get the students outside, Moon said, because the building sits so close to the woods — an added opportunity for learning, he said. Talbott Principal Thompson said that, curriculum aside, the gardens behind the school were also a good learning tool for students.
"Children don't get out as much as they used to, and they have so many sensory needs that need to be managed, so we're creating these gardens that they can walk through and smell and touch," Thompson said.
"Kids who live in apartments don't have this opportunity. We have a lot of families living in dense housing in this area, so to be able to walk through, touch and appreciate what's growing and how it got there, it's important. ... The possibilities that lie within this for teaching children about the outdoors are huge."
Under the new Common Core standards, Thompson said, there's a focus on children learning about the outdoors while actually outdoors.
Thompson said she sees the area behind the school being used as an outdoor classroom in the future.
More than 50 people helped with the gardening Saturday, Thompson said, including the Ganel-Constant twins: Jonathan and Matthew, both third-graders.
"We're making Talbott Springs better," Jonathan said. "We're making new plants."
"Growing plants helps the earth," Matthew said.