Learning Landscapes is capturing national attention as a model for kid-centered community conservation that can be replicated in other communities.
Last summer, the national Land Trust Alliance (LTA) featured Learning Landscapes in its Saving Land magazine. Read the article: Nurturing a Conservation Ethic One Classroom at a Time
After leading several workshops at LTA's national "Land Trust Rally," Learning Landscapes coordinator Rob Wade is helping to lead LTA's national K-12 Community of Practice, as well as coaching other land trusts interested in our model. This year he has led two Webinars, is a regular contributor to their weekly blog, and this October he will have the distinction of leading a full-day seminar at the Rally in Pittsburgh.
Read more featured articles.
While our focus remains local, you can be proud that your support is inspiring communities across the country to create similar programs that grow young stewards. Thank you.
Growing “Mountain Kids” who Love, Understand, and Steward this Place
“We have a saying at our school--You’re a mountain kid,” says 2nd grade teacher, Aletha O’Kelley. “You’re a mountain kid if you’ve interacted with local plants and animals. You’ve seen them in the wild, you understand their ecology, and you’ve done projects to support them.”
Ms. O’Kelley and her colleagues at Chester Elementary School are using Learning Landscapes to pioneer Next Generation Science that’s rooted in mountain culture—Outdoor Core.
Across the curriculum, each grade learns ecology and stewardship through the eyes of a different organism: the garden, “creepy-crawlers” (invertebrates), reptiles and amphibians, mammals, trout, and birds, culminating in 6th grade with the Feather River Watershed “Plumas to the Pacific” experience. Next year, schools across the watershed will adapt Outdoor Core to their Learning Landscapes.
“Whether our kids stay or move away, they will understand things like, Where does our drinking water come from? What affects that resource?” says 4th grade teacher Nicholle Crowther. “My kids will never forget these experiences. Outdoor learning fosters critical thinking, creativity, fun, and a real-world context for learning.”
Well-known field guide artist and wildlife biologist leads workshop with students and teachers at Plumas Unified Schools, Loyalton, and Downieville.
In March 2017, John Muir Laws, artist and creator of the widely used Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, toured Upper Feather River Watershed schools (and Downieville in the Yuba) leading classroom workshops and assemblies for the region’s students and teachers. Laws taught principles of field journaling—a way to engage with the natural world and delve deeper into “mountain kid” studies.
Field journaling is an exercise to “externalize thinking” giving student the regular opportunity to draw, document observations, ask questions, and connect to their environment without a right or wrong answer.
Over the past four years, Feather River Land Trust’s Learning Landscapes program has collaborated with John Muir Laws to inspire local teachers to improve their science instruction and expand their use of Learning Landscapes sites. Field journaling is a powerful and popular tool with teachers and students alike. During this most recent visit to the Upper Feather River Region John Muir Laws provided twenty one different classroom activities and eight assemblies at local elementary schools along with four staff trainings. It was inspiring!
Why do these workshops matter? FRLT's Learning Landscapes coordinator Rob Wade emphasizes that field journaling has been an exciting accelerator for Learning Landscapes as it has provided a powerful and relevant activity that is effective at every grade level. It supports teachers to teach outside more frequently. The fact that it integrates science, language arts, art, and math allows teachers to use it across the curriculum as they explore phenomenon, pose questions and solve problems they encounter on their campus and adjacent Learning Landscapes outdoor classrooms.
In 2015, schoolchildren and teachers in Portola, Loyalton, and Quincy gathered to dedicate new Learning Landscapes outdoor classrooms as special places for learning and land stewardship.
On the Portola High Tierra de los Venados Learning Landscape, students in Dave Valle’s 7th-12th grade science classes have been building trails, installing water guzzlers and wildlife cameras, hanging bird nesting boxes and monitoring them, designing and installing interpretive signs, and planting native plants.
“Kids spend way too much time inside. I involve them in the construction and maintenance of the place so that they feel a sense of ownership and will take care of it and the creatures that live here. The kids love it," says Mr. Valle. That love of place and ownership seems to be growing.
Christina Silva and Mikayla Quesenberry volunteered to map and design a sign for their Learning Landscape’s 1-km Manzanita Trail, noting points of interest like the amphitheater classroom, benches, and butterfly garden. The girls “like being outside and doing schoolwork at the same time.”
Seventh grader Jaden Bok mountain-bikes the trail with his friends, while 8th grader Margaret Canseco hikes the trail with her family. “It’s really peaceful,” she says. “I like how it has lots of nature and people don’t disturb it and want to keep it.”
It was a great way to finish out Quincy Junior/Senior High School's Centennial year. On June 5th, the entire student body gathered on their Learning Landscape outdoor classroom to express gratitude and to dedicate the Leonhardt Ranch Learning Landscape Barn to outdoor learning and love of place for generations of Quincy High students to come.
Student body president Matt Beeson surprised the crowd when he swung open the hay door and addressed his fellow students, extolling the beauty of the barn (and his girlfriend!).
"All of you who are going to be here next year, encourage your teachers to bring you out here. I don't think there's anything more beautiful - except Brooke [laughter and applause] - than this Barn with Spanish Peak in the background, the fields with the cows. We have just such a unique opportunity at Quincy High School, and I hope everyone gets to enjoy it equally."
With a generous gift from visionary local donors, Grant and Cindy Edwards, FRLT built the barn as a home base for student learning, agriculture education, and restoration projects on the Quincy Learning Landscape, adjacent to Quincy High School. And students and community volunteers have been planting native plants and removing invasives.
Quincy High principal Sue Segura, FRLT Executive Director Paul Hardy, former landowner Rick Leonhardt, and Learning Landscapes coordinator Rob Wade welcomed the students to their new barn, and outdoor learning, for years to come:
"This year marks 100 years of Quincy High School and the community investing in one another. This barn is built to last until the next centennial. None of us will be here then, but the Feather River Land Trust has protected this land - in perpetuity - for you and for every generation of Quincy High students to come." ~ Rob Wade
More Lands Dedicated to kids' Learning and love of place
That very week, students and teachers at Portola High School and Loyalton schools gathered to dedicate their Learning Landscapes outdoor classrooms as well.
Portola High School:
Teacher Dave Valle, with support from Rob Wade and Learning Landscapes, garnered support from the Plumas County Fish & Game Commission, Portola Rotary, Plumas Unified School District, generous local contractors, and community members to accomplish a tremendous amount with his 7th-12th grade students. From an outdoor amphitheater, to water guzzlers for wildlife, to an interpretive loop trail, Portola High has created an ideal habitat not only for area wildlife, but for kids' learning and stewardship ethic.
Valle says, "Having outdoor learning right out our classroom door - with no need for field trip permission slips, organizing transportation, funding - makes it possible to do field studies and restoration work with our students every day if we want." Read the feature article on what Dave and his students have accomplished.
Loyalton Elementary and Jr/Sr High Schools
In Loyalton, you helped us conserve the 142 acre Smithneck Meadows Learning Landscape. The property now has a seating area, a trail, signage, and a safe entry. Students and teachers have embraced unplugged learning enthusiastically.
Lucas, a Loyalton High student says this about outdoor learning: "I like learning first hand. It's interactive. You can look at it, touch it, feel it, hear it, and smell it. Using all of your senses implants it in every part of your brain."
Outdoor classrooms in every community in the Upper Feather region
Conserving and dedicating natural outdoor classrooms within walking distance of every school in the Feather River Watershed (13 schools!) and then enhancing them with the kinds of features that make it easy for teachers to bring their students outside, is essential to Learning Landscapes' strategy of instilling a love of place- and the knowledge and passion to care for it - in the children of the Feather River Country.
At Quincy High's barn dedication, Executive Director Paul Hardy spoke to students' sense of belonging and love for this place:
"Looking through the barn's door to Spanish Peak, at the headwaters of the Feather River, I think of how the river flows from the Plumas to the Pacific, bringing water to communities along the way. Like the Feather River, many of you will flow to other parts of the state when you graduate, and make great contributions. And like the water that evaporates from the Pacific to give us rain here, some of you will return to Quincy, and make your contribution here." ~ Paul Hardy
Want to help?
As we start the new school year, we need your financial help. Learning Landscapes is funded by the Land Trust, small family foundations, and generous donors like you.
Please give as generously as you can and help us grow the next generation of stewards for the Feather River Country. (Write "Learning Landscapes" in the Notes.) Thank you!
Trace back the story of almost any of us who care about and devote ourselves to conserving natural lands and waters, and it all goes back to a the seed of experiencing Nature as a child, whether in the woods nearby or simply the garden or a city park.
Yet on average, North American children now spend about seven hours a day in front of a screen, but less than 7 minutes outside. (Gulp!)
And that has impacts not only for the health and development of children, but for the lands and waters that they - and all of us - depend on.
Recent research is showing that experiences in nature benefit the health and development of children. The benefits of regular exposure to nature include relieving stress, depression, and attention deficits. It has been shown to help reduce bullying, combat obesity, and boost academic scores. Studies suggest that abundant time in natural settings improves cognitive development by allowing children to make more discoveries and cultivating curiosity and wonder.
"If sustainability depends on transforming human relationships with nature, the present-day gap between kids and nature emerges as one of the greatest and overlooked crises of our time," says paleontologist/biologist and science communicator Scott Sampson.
The solution? A bad (good!) case of topophilia.
Simply put, topophilia is a love of place. And we think this is essential for supporting healthy children, and helping them develop a strong land stewardship ethic.
In his new book, "How to Raise a Wild Child," Sampson argues that bonding between humans and nature is most effective when it is initiated in childhood. And fostering a close bond through abundant time in a single, local place, is likely to be more effective than periodic visits to lots of different places.
This is the vision of Learning Landscapes--to create a deep connection to place among the schoolchildren in the Feather River country.
Learning Landscapes is FRLT’s conservation and education program designed to greatly enhance children’s contact with the natural world, place-based learning, and hands-on stewardship experiences.
Together with you, we are conserving natural areas as Outdoor Classrooms within a 10-minute walk of every public school in the Upper Feather River Watershed and supporting their educational use.
By creating opportunities for teachers and students to experience and steward the same landscape year after year, we aim to create a culture of care that more than 2,900 students per year will carry with them for their lifetimes.
Our vision is that no matter where they eventually settle, children of the Upper Feather River will have learned how to get to know a place, to love a place, and to take care of a place.
You can help
As we start the new school year, we need your financial help. Learning Landscapes is funded by the Land Trust, small family foundations, and generous donors like you.
Please give as generously as you can and help us grow the next generation of stewards for the Feather River Country. (Write "Learning Landscapes" in the Notes). Thank you!
We think getting kids outside is a great idea (we bet you do, too), but what do kids think? Lucas of Loyalton High School says this about learning outside: “I like learning first-hand. It’s interactive. You can look at it, touch it, feel it, hear it, and smell it. Using all of your senses implants it in every part of your brain.”
In Mark Fisher’s biology class, Lucas and his classmates are diving into final projects. Each will choose a focus question, observe and track changes in a field journal, and present their conclusions in an illustrated book. Mr. Fisher’s quest is “getting kids interested in science and enjoying it. The outdoors is the connection to make that happen.”
With your support, teachers like Mark are teaching on Learning Landscapes properties throughout the watershed to enhance learning, a love of place, and a culture of stewardship among the Feather River region’s children.
"Today you stepped up. You're building a legacy. This is the time, and you are the people who really stepped up to make Chester High and Chester Meadows even better." With these words, Learning Landscapes coordinator Rob Wade congratulated a weary but satisfied group of 7-9th graders after a long day's work to restore riparian and meadow habitats.
With your help, FRLT’s Learning Landscapes conserves natural “outdoor classrooms” within a 10-minute walk of every public school in the Feather River Watershed and then trains and supports K-12 teachers to “Teach from the Land” and lead their students in hands-on restoration and stewardship projects.
In 2012 alone, your support empowered 564 students all over the watershed to remove invasive weeds, plant 1600 native plants, install 56 bird nesting boxes, and stabilize creek banks and riparian habitats. Together, we are creating a long lasting culture of care and stewardship among the children of the Feather River Country.
PARTNERSHIP GETS KIDS OUTSIDE RESTORING LAND: National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Feather River Coordinated Resource Management, Strong Foundation, Feather River College, Pacific Gas & Electric, Susan Hopkins, Tom and Rosemary Tisch, Ceci Reynolds, Feather River Resource Conservation District, Plumas Audubon, gracious landowners, dedicated teachers, and generous supporters like you.
“I want kids to learn that we can have economically viable agricultural production and preserve our natural resources. We need to teach our kids how,” says local rancher Rick Leonhardt. In 2012, Rick and his wife Tiffany partnered with FRLT to conserve the Leonhardt Ranch Learning Landscape for Quincy's schoolchildren - forever.
The 46-acre ranch provides a unique, living classroom for students to explore, learn, conduct research, and become land stewards. With a visionary gift from local donors, FRLT is building an educational barn on the ranch as a home base for student learning, agriculture, and restoration projects.
With fourteen landowners like Rick and Tiffany, Learning Landscapes is conserving riparian, meadow, forest, and agricultural lands as outdoor classrooms for children throughout the Feather River Country. By creating opportunities for students to steward the same landscapes year after year, we hope to create a culture of care that students will carry with them for their lifetimes.
PARTNERSHIP MAKES CONSERVING OUTDOOR CLASSROOMS POSSIBLE:
Visionary landowners like the Leonhardt Family, CalTrans Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Mellam Family Foundation, Firedoll Foundation, Grant and Cindy Edwards, Frank and Helen Davis, and generous supporters like you.
Learning Landscapes is the Feather River Land Trust's conservation and education program designed to greatly enhance children’s contact with the natural world, place-based learning, and hands-on stewardship experiences. Founded in 2000 by local residents, the Feather River Land Trust has conserved more than 47,000 acres of private lands that support outstanding biodiversity, waterways, working ranches, recreation, children’s outdoor learning, and spectacular scenery.