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New outdoor learning space takes shape at Farmington school

Teachers Chris Caduff and Cinda Current are turning part of the grounds at Riverview Elementary School into a new outdoor learning space.

The staff at Riverview Elementary School is always trying something new to teach students. The latest project, though, focuses on a topic as old as time itself — nature.

Earlier this month, the school created its first Outdoor Wonders Learning Station on the grounds outside of the school. On May 2, a group planted nine new trees on the land adjacent to the playground equipment. The next day, several Riverview families and staff helped spread mulch over the entire area.

The space will be used by all staff, but mostly by teachers Cinda Current and Chris Caduff, who are taking on new specialist positions next year.

The school boundary changes that go into effect next fall necessitated the addition of new staff at Riverview, Current said. As a result, two new science-based specialist positions were created. Caduff was named the new engineering specialist. Current is the iNature specialist.

Current’s iNature position will focus entirely on encouraging students to ask questions – to inquire – about things that happen in nature.

“We’re trying to get the kids back into nature,” Current said. “The kids need to be able to learn more with nature. I have a theory that the more technology we have, the more nature we need.”

The Outdoor Wonders Learning Station constructed this month is just the first of several to come. What those new OWLS may look like, though, has yet to be determined.

School staff hopes to put both vegetable and flower gardens around the school yard. There will probably be bird feeders as well. They may even reach out to Farmington Parks and Recreation to try to partner on projects that involve the Vermillion River, since it is close and easily accessible for students.

“This is just the first one that we created,” Current said of the Outdoor Wonders Learning Station. “This one is meant for the kids to play at during recess, as well as for use to use for our classes. We don’t know for sure what exactly the rest will be until we do them.”

The whole extended science program is in the beginning of its own evolution. While both Caduff and Current will use the OWLS, they are both just starting to redesign the way science will be taught at Riverview Elementary. The OWLS offer both of them new kinds of hands-on learning options.

But it seems like the kids are already catching on to the possibilities. A few preschoolers have already picked dandelions and decorated the pine trees with them. Other students are using the logs on site to roll around on or use to build forts.

And that’s just what Current wants to see.

“The whole point is for them to be creative and come up with their own really cool ideas. We also want to get them used to asking questions,” she said. “It’s a beautiful space for our students to play creatively and learn about nature.”

Funding for the OWLS project is provided through the Riverview Elementary School Parent-Teacher Partnership.

“We’re very thankful to them for funding this. We love our parent council,” Current said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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