The Nature Explore Classroom at

Netherwood Knoll Elementary Arboretum

We are thrilled to have established a school garden and outdoor classroom, called the NKE Arboretum, at Netherwood Knoll Elementary.

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What was once an overgrown and little-used courtyard inside our school is now a captivating natural area that draws people of all ages and facilitates learning. With the renovation of the space, our outdoor classroom now has art gardens, a stream/pond area with waterfalls, a climbing structure that inspires imagination, many raised vegetable beds, a sand area, a dirt digging area and a geology labyrinth/exploration area, among many other intriguing features.

This project has been extraordinarily successful in terms of enthusiasm from both the students and staff while also providing new, more engaging academic opportunities. Teachers use the space for everything from sensory writing projects to math lessons to observing insects. The gardening projects/lessons are a definite favorite. Students often say that the days they planted the gardens or ate their garden creations were their favorite of the entire school year. We see them demonstrate an increased connection to their food, saying things like, “I didn’t know pickles were made from cucumbers!” Our guidance counselor, who is a lead staff member who coordinates the vegetable gardens, has this to say about the effect of the gardens on our students, “I have observed an increased sense of responsibility from the students in the classes who have been involved with the garden beds on a consistent basis. They have pride and a sense of ownership for the food they have grown and used.”

An unexpected aspect of this project has been the way it has formed new connections between our school and our community. School families donate their time to help with Arboretum projects on weekends. High school students from the agriculture program helped clear the space, while students learning woodworking, built our nature art tables and created the signs that designate the areas. Local garden club members have donated plants and helped plant them. Local organizations such as the Rotary Club and the VFW have supported our efforts as well. With this project as the genesis, we have also begun forming connections with the other schools in the district to begin coordinating a district-wide vision for environmental education in our school district.

Undoubtedly, the students’ reactions to the space are the best result of all. This quote from a student’s sensory writing project in the Arboretum sums it up well: “When I walked into the Arboretum, I felt like I was in a secret garden that smelled like magic.”



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276 Soden Drive
Oregon, WI  53575


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