From The Ground Up: Build Day

By Heather Fox, Nature Explore Education Specialist 

This series will follow the creation of a Nature Explore Classroom as it develops from a concept plan into a reality.  Heather is applying the theory she knows so well towards the less familiar territory of building, contracting and planting. We hope her experience will assist you on your own path towards a fully realized nature-rich outdoor classroom.

Build it and they will come…or should I say, they will come if they know they get to build. This was our experience at Southern Heights Food Forest’s first ever build party.

It was our next step in creating a Nature Explore Classroom from the ground up, and the purpose was to assemble our first round of furnishings.  Because this project relies on grants and donations, we chose to create simple representations of each of the recommended areas.

We purchased most of the natural products from the Nature Explore Resource Guide since we knew they were field-tested and teacher approved. The tables, benches and planters were to become the templates/inspiration for future outdoor classroom features.

Not being a natural builder myself, I was both excited and nervous about this event. Here are a few lessons learned:

1) Deliver near the site. I didn’t take my coworkers advice when he urged me to have all the materials shipped to the build site. It seemed to me he was just weary from the countless times I had asked for his help with the “heavy stuff,” and I vowed to carry everything myself from my office, to the car, and then to the site. Turns out he was right; my time and muscle power could have been better spent. Let UPS do the work.

2) Organize building kits. This was the best part! The day before the event, I took everything out of the boxes, read the instructions, then counted and grouped all the materials needed to build each item. When the volunteers arrived the next day they chose a “kit,” grabbed the needed tools, and went to work.

3) Use Communication tools. While it’s important to remember your physical tools (drills, screwdriver bits, hatchet wrench), it’s equally important to remember your communication tools. Each volunteer came to the building event with individual skills, understandings, and with their own way of communicating. In order to support multiple learning styles, I printed the directions for each of the Nature Explore Natural Products from the website.  By providing directions in writing, in photos and verbally, we met the needs of all. I also witnessed great negotiation skills in action as the furnishings took form.

In the end, ten eager adults and one tween built six benches, two tables and an art easel. We left proud of our accomplishments and excited to put them into action. These are my lesson learned. What are yours? Please join the conversation and share in the comments below.