Saturday, July 6, 2013

Charger Trail: Nature Trail at West Noble Schools

We went over to Ligonier for a family reunion on Independence Day (it's on July 4th, but my husband balks if we call it the 4th of July). We go every year that it is geographically possible. My mom's cousin lives on a big farm, has a tennis court, volleyball court, barn to explore, tree house, hay ride, apple trees, wheat fields, pool, and more! Let's just say it's a kid's paradise! It's a family of farmers and teachers who have been able to make their own slice of heaven. They are all very sports minded (many of the kids are coaches, too) and family oriented. They live very close together and even go on vacations together.

Well, it's probably obvious that I talk to people a fair amount when I'm out and about. I started asking about how another mother of all boys gets out with her kids and what places they like to explore. From the map, I knew Chain O'Lakes State Park wasn't too far beyond their house. There is also a marshy area nearby she suggested. She mentioned they had a trail back behind the high school that connects over to the elementary school. I was intrigued. She told me a little more. She put it together. She was teaching kindergarten or first grade at the time and asked for the kids who had a hard time sitting still. With them, she helped develop a birding sanctuary, outdoor classroom, and nature trails. Wow! She mentioned how much they learned and grew in the process.

After our fun reunion, we drove by the high school to find the trail she mentioned . . . I probably was closer to the elementary school, but walked backwards and the trail ended behind the baseball diamond. As the sign implies, there were a few side branches. I often take a picture of the trail map with my phone before heading on a hike. Later, when I can't remember how these trails wind, I can enlarge the picture of the map on my phone easily.

I just jumped out and took the trail by myself. It was a pleasant walk.

I saw Mayapple, berries, and other edibles as I walked along the path. 

There was a good mix of trees and understory. 

A few benches were available along the path. 

There are great textures for student interaction.

There were signs along the paths to point us in the desired directions. 

This owl was a pleasant surprise! Little bits of whimsy add such a great spark and wonder to a hike. 

I also loved seeing hollow logs.

And natural balance beams.

It's a great place to explore with a classroom or as a family. With the ball parks so close, it would be easy to take a quick hike before or after a game. 

Near the front of the complex of schools, there was a gazebo and nice area of plants along a path. 

There was also a sizable pond.

It was great to see the outdoor lab, pond, and trails as part of West Noble High School's plan. The School Improvement Plan (SIP) reads: 
Outdoor Labs
These are our woods, our pond, and our gardens. We have a natural resource right   outside our doors, and groups of staff are working to make these into prime learning areas. The nature trail needs to be restored. The pond and the gardens are beautiful attractions out front, and their upkeep and care can be incorporated into many different subject areas. 

I love how this school uses the natural spaces as part of the educational process! Every school has some natural features that can be used to help connect students with nature. I hope they are using them! Here are a few tips from the Audubon Society for bringing nature into the classroom. Here are a few other ideas for an outdoor classroom. Whether a space is small or large, nature can be an integral part of learning. 

Looking online, I found Red Marsh as a popular birding area.