When it comes to spending time in nature, the students at Franklin Elementary School rarely miss a day, whatever the weather. In addition to the usual slides and swings, their grassy playground also features an arboretum, birdhouses, gardens, and now, a bug hotel. With help from visitors from Dawson College, Franklin students recently completed the “interior decoration” of the structure to celebrate Earth Day. All this adds up to a playground that is teeming with life, so it should come as no surprise that Franklin Elementary is on track to being the first elementary school in Quebec to have the status of Living School.
The Living Schools website describes these schools as “places where staff and students are co-learning, creating real-world solutions, and there is an explicit awareness that schools are interconnected with nature as well as with local and global communities.” As Eveline Taylor, principal of Franklin Elementary, says, Franklin is a “school that really lends itself to [the project].” There are only a few more conditions to be met for it to be granted the status of Living School, such as a follow-up species inventory (an initial inventory was carried out last year) and some labeling in the arboretum.
Taylor says that one of the “biggest charms” of the school is its rolling, grassy playground, which allows the students to observe the tremendous biodiversity that surrounds them. Students keenly monitor the bird feeders, making sure they remain fully stocked with seeds, and Taylor says the stone wall that borders the playground often shelters creatures that might venture out, giving students the chance to see salamanders, snakes, groundhogs, and other native species. The students are “curious about the critters,” but “respect what’s out there,” she explains, citing the example of a huge empty beehive found on the school grounds last year that is still intact – “nobody has been touching it.”
For Earth Day this year, the school received a group of students from Dawson College’s community, recreation, and leadership training program, who came to give a presentation about biodiversity and to help with the bug hotel. The Franklin pupils were supplied with recycled materials, sticks, rocks, and wool to make cozy abodes for local insects. “They had so much fun!” Taylor exclaims. She says that all these activities are “little things that tie together” and they add up to an “important education,” but she suggests that the most important thing is the wonder on the children’s faces when they discover something new in the world around them.