Conference inspires outdoor classrooms and school gardens

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COLUMBIA - The Missouri Environmental Education Association hosted MO Green Schools and Environmental Education Conference on Friday and Saturday to inspire more outdoor classrooms.

About a hundred teachers and non-profit organization members signed up for the conference. Seminars like “Connecting Youth with Nature” and “Nature as a Classroom” were held all day Saturday.

The goal of the conference was to bring people interested in environmental education together to share ideas.

“We really wanted to put some focus on school gardens and outdoor classes, and show what great additions they can be to education in any setting,” Jennifer Grabner, MEEA conference committee member said.

Using the 2018 conference theme “Taking Learning Outdoors," more than 30 people attended field trips on Friday. Vans bused people to three different Columbia schools: Rock Bridge Elementary, West Middle School and Douglass High School.

Each school featured forward-thinking garden and outdoor programs like a learning garden at Rock Bridge, an amphitheater with an assortment of tomatoes and flowers at West, and several gardens that grow sweet potatoes and more at Douglass.

The field trips toured schools to show teachers and non-profit organization members how to integrate gardens and outdoor learning with education.

“We wanted to get our conference attendees out and to really see on the ground what’s happening in these school,” Grabner said. “There’s really nothing you can’t teach in the garden.”

Grabner taught the session “Connecting your School Garden to the Community” on Saturday. She believes outdoor learning improves conceptual understanding of all subject areas and increases awareness of the seed to table experience.

“It’s a chance, with gardens especially, to show students and teachers and families where food comes from, and how it is produced,” Grabner said.

Registration for Saturday's seminars cost $55 and was free for anyone 18 and under.