Outdoor classroom lets students dig into hands-on learning – Coastal Observer


Outdoor classroom lets students dig into hands-on learning

Luna Isaia inspects a rosemary plant before putting it in the ground.

Maria Montessori once said: “What the hand does, the mind remembers.”

Coastal Montessori Charter School teachers and parents took that to heart three years ago when they started transforming a two-and-a-half wooded lot next to the school’s property into an outdoor learning area.

“It is remarkably important. These kids love getting their hands dirty and playing outside,” said Amy Miller, a parent who was recently named the school’s volunteer of the year. “It’s good for kids to be outside. They love the space.”

In order to raise money for the project, last year the school’s PTO joined Palmetto Giving Day and received almost $17,000 in donations.

“It’s our No. 1 focus. It’s really important to the school for kids to have that usable space,” said PTO president April Kaylor. “It’s obviously a very costly project and it’s going to take several years to see it through completely.”

Palmetto Giving Day is a 36-hour fundraising extravaganza started by the Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation seven years ago. Since then more than $14 million has been donated to nonprofits that serve residents of Georgetown County.

“It’s really been a godsend for us to be able to do it,” Kaylor said. “I don’t think we would have been able to raise the amount of money that we have so far.”

It’s also a good way to reach the parents of potential students who have never heard of the school.

“There’s not a lot of additional options for students who might want a different learning environment,” Kaylor said. “So it’s been great because it gets people more familiar with our school and what we’re doing here in the community.”

The PTO’s goal this year is to raise $40,000 to buy playground equipment made out of recycled bottles. 

“That’s why we’re really pushing hard,” Miller said.

“That will make it more usable for the teachers,” Kaylor said.

The space is not just about studying, Miller said. Students are also helping with the landscaping work.

“Kids have a vested interest in it,” she added. “They’re out here, they’re pulling weeds. They’re going to maintain it.”

With an addition to the building in the works, the school recently moved a shade structure that covered the playground equipment behind the building to the open area and installed picnic tables underneath.

Students have been tasked with painting the picnic tables with different themes such as peace and the environment. One table will have chess and tic-tac-toe boards painted on it.

Other projects scheduled for this year include getting a pollinator garden planted and building a labyrinth.

Kristina Strosnider, an Upper Elementary teaching assistant at the school, has been working on the project since the start.

She brings her students out at least once a week for lessons or to work on the landscaping. Strosnider wants the school’s other teachers to start using the space more.

“My hope is now that we’ve got a few more things going on here and more teachers are becoming comfortable with the space, they’ll use it more,” she said.

The charter school is doing everything it can to preserve all the longleaf pine trees on the site.

“Our longleaf pines are just doing so well. It’s a special opportunity for us,” Strosnider said. “We’re watching the kids grow and the pine trees grow at the same time. It’s really great.”

Eventually the school would like to plant a buffer along the edge of the property that borders Highway 17 to drown out the sound of traffic.

This year’s Palmetto Giving Day is May 7 and 8. Go to palmettogivingday.org for information.



Georgetown County Board of Education: First and third Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Beck Education Center. For details, go to gcsd.k12.sc.us. Georgetown County Council: Second and fourth Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Council Chambers, 129 Screven St., Georgetown. For details, go to georgetowncountysc.org. Pawleys Island Town Council: Second Mondays, 5 p.m. Town Hall, 323 Myrtle Ave. For details, go to townofpawleysisland.com.   , .