November 18, 2015

Outdoor Learning

Seth Boyden has long been committed to outdoor education and is focused on turning its entire backyard — the biggest in the district — into an Outdoor Learning Center.

The development of the outdoor learning center is based on the Master Plan that the PTA developed with the Natural Learning Initiative of North Carolina State University.

OLC Project Status
We have reached the fundraising target for the Outdoor Classroom. Thank you for your contributions in so many ways that made this project possible. The grand opening was held on Sept. 16, 2016.

The Teaching Garden
The centerpiece of that outdoor education has been our garden, Strawberry Fields, which is a crucial part of our school’s curriculum. Since 2013, Seth Boyden’s centennial year, the PTA has funded a garden instructor, who works with teachers to get all classes working in the garden. The instructor also coordinates outdoor science experiments, art and cooking projects, and math lessons.

Play, Health and Fitness
Seth Boyden’s schoolyard is designed to provide our kids with an environment to encourage physical exercise and playing. Sun safety is encouraged with hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses while at the OLC and playing outdoors. We are in the process of collecting funds for a new shade structure for the OLC! The schoolyard is also open to the community; community members are invited to use the running track, fitness equipment and an open picnic area.

Learning Outdoors, Learning from Nature: The SOMA Children’s Arboretum
Seth Boyden Outdoor Learning CenterOur current project aims to transform the overall schoolyard into a learning center. The classroom consists of 40 native trees intended to transform the schoolyard over the coming years into a created version of what the area might have looked like before and soon after settlers arrived: a woodland with a diverse range of landscapes, some parts fairly open and others resembling a forest.

The centerpiece is our Outdoor Classroom. The classroom consists of three intersecting, playful circles, framed and embraced with landscaped berms, trees and ground cover. The largest circle is the size of a regular classroom, with tables, a blackboard and electricity/WiFi to support formal instruction for an entire class. The Improvisation Nook offers room for breakout work or performances in small groups. The Art Nook is a circle with a floor designed for chalk drawing. It is surrounded by plants and structures that attract birds and butterflies. The Art Nook also serves as the trailhead for a “Nature Story Trail” that leads into the adjacent habitat garden.

vThe Habitat Garden was renewed in two sections. The open section of the habitat garden, inside the track, has been modified to include trees and low-growing plants so it remains safe for use by kids at all ages and at all times, and is easy to maintain in the future. The wild section of the Habitat Garden will be arranged along the fence line. Both sections will attract and serve as a refuge for birds and small animals.

The trees selected for the classroom and habitat garden, together with the trees planted along the fence line and surrounding the play equipment, are designed to form an Arboretum. A “Nature Story Trail” will tell the story of the importance of each tree species to our environment as well as its part and importance in the history of our country. In addition, we are also planning to re-install existing outdoor benches on the slope next to the old playground equipment to form an amphitheater.

If you have questions, please contact the committee chairs, Tia Swanson ( or Matthias Ebinger (


Outdoor Learning Center sponsors