Through child-led, collaborative and small group work, the MdTL Naturalist program focuses on much more than gardening. Besides the many small gardens across campus, children also enjoy access to our school community garden, which serves as our main Naturalist outdoor classroom. While planting and harvesting are components of the Naturalist program, the ultimate goal is to connect our students with the outdoors by providing opportunities for them to dig in the dirt, observe local wildlife and create with natural materials.
Students enjoy sampling edible plants, making teas and natural dyes, and creating crafts with various materials found in the garden. They can be found making ropes, wreaths and crowns. Activities are both structured and spontaneous. Students make sculptures from the garden clay, build forts, tipis and even bridges over the running water in the rainy season. They observe plant and insect life cycles, watch the birds and squirrels building their nests and raising their young, and track who has been nearby in our absence by looking at animal scat and prints. Students are offered opportunities to become immersed in nature and be inspired by the wild and ever-changing garden.
Our Naturalist program is mostly centered around our elementary students, grades 1-3, and 4-6 where groups of 6 children at a time visit the garden and engage in a variety of educational and captivating activities. We are expanding the program to encompass working with our younger, preschool aged children next year as well. Our garden is truly an outdoor classroom, meant to be a wild place with insects, reptiles, birds and squirrels, where children are guided in nature studies and activities as they connect with and care for their outdoor environment.