Hello Everyone.  I am working with a Minneapolis, MN school to offer an after school program called "Nature Construction."  The goal of this one hour per week, 8-week class is to have the students (4th & 5th graders) build a permanent, natural structure on their property that the whole student body can enjoy.  Has anyone done something like this before?  Does anyone have any ideas or suggestions...photos even?  Thanks! ~ Bekah

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Hi Bekah -- how are you? Your class sounds like fun! A couple of quick ideas that you've probably already considered, but just in case.... One would be a living willow structure of some sort -- maybe as a sort of green gazebo for students to have a quiet rest in. You can find tons on the web about building with willows, and there's a source for willow "whips" down in Decorah, Iowa (bug me if you need it, and I'll dig up the details). But if you're doing your class soon, the season is wrong for starting with willows; you want to harvest the whips in winter, and plant them in spring.
Another option might be to create a mini bird sanctuary with seating. Bird-attracting shrubs and perennials, nest boxes, a water source, etc. (you know that stuff as well as I do!) -- maybe wrapping around a seating area consisting of a few simple benches. The Leopold bench design would be easy enough for 4th & 5th graders to assemble, or you could get fancier with perhaps a little more adult help in the cutting. Again, not the best season right now, but hey, you Minnesotans are used to coping with winter!
Best to you.
Hi Ken. Thanks for the ideas. I thought about the willow structure, but we are in the wrong season as you mentioned. I like your bird sanctuary idea. We have a garage where we can build things this winter, and then we could move our pieces out in the spring and do some planting as well. I'm going to think that over a bit...thanks!
Hi Bekah

If you want ideas and photos then seek out Frode Svane on Facebook. He is very helpful and has lots of ideas - include ones for natural structures.

In Berlin I believe there's an adventure playground where children can rent a den for a month at a time. They can change it as they wish - every rusty nail returned to the playworker results in a new one given back.

Best wishes
Hi Bekah, I agree with Juliet - Frode Svane recently emailed me a bunch of images and links about building with mud / mud bricks which I would love to do with my preschoolers next year. Maybe this would be something to consider.

Hey Bekah-

Take a quick field trip with your camera and visit:

* Dodge Nature Center Preschool

* Dodge Nature Center woods near the administrative offices (as a staff person to show you)

* Wargo Nature Center's "Maple Hollow"

* Maplewood Nature Center's outdoor play area

* Chanhassen Arboretum's preschool play area


I'm sure there are more examples around town, but these are the one's I know about for sure. I like Dodge's examples because they are also so clearly used in the winter, which takes up half the year in Minnesota!


In my own neighborhood, I simply cut a bunch of buckthorn trees out of the woods, de-limbed them, and left the poles stacked around. In a couple weeks, magically, lots of little "forts" started appearing around the neighborhood. Yay!



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