Outdoor Learning Center

SETH BOYDEN OLC from Andrew Riss on Vimeo.


Seth Boyden Elementary School is located in the most densely developed neighborhood of Maplewood. The school is blessed with a large outdoor play space. Parents and teachers at the school developed with the Natural Learning Initiative of North Carolina State University a master plan to transform that backyard into a nature-focused “Outdoor Learning Center” that might enrich the school and its curriculum as well as the neighborhood and its children. The development of the Outdoor Learning Center, called “Strawberry Fields” has been initiated in several phases over many years: to date the PTA has built flourishing class gardens, installed new playground equipment and completed the fundraising for an outdoor classroom, which will be built in the spring of 2016.

Proposed Outdoor Classroom (coming in spring 2016)


  • 2001: Raised more than $100K through public and private funds to transform Seth Boyden’s backyard. Working from plans from Natural Learning Institute at North Carolina State University, group successfully planted habitat garden, teaching-garden plots for every classroom, and installed a poetry corner, a music garden, and paved jogging paths.
  • The project, known as “Strawberry Fields,” also included a primary grade playground structure, grass playing fields, an amphitheater and climbing wall. The learning gardens have since been replicated by other district elementary schools and were the focus of a PBS television documentary.
  • 2010: New parent committee formed to revitalize the vision. Many structures installed as part of original effort had deteriorated or become outdated. Re-commissioned NLI to update plan for overall yard, the largest in district.
  • SB serves largest percentage of families who qualify for free or reduced lunch (more than 40 percent) in the district. For many SB students, the schoolyard is their primary access to green space and to nature.


  • Erase current inequity of play equipment at Seth Boyden compared with more affluent schools in our district;
  • Create functional spaces for environmental and outdoor teaching and learning;
  • Support multiple intelligence framework of learning by providing opportunities for hands-on learning, physical and sensory activities, musical and theatrical performances, and exploration and discovery of natural world; and
  • Model “green” construction and design


Phase 1:

  • In 2011, SB PTA purchased and installed first new piece of equipment: the Hexamid climbing structure.
  • In 2013, the PTA purchased and installed the second new piece of equipment: a large multi-age, multi-use play structure.

Phase 2:

  • Have raised enough money through donations, fundraising and community and business grants and gifts to build an open air classroom. Construction of the landscaped project is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2016, and completed before the year is out. Full use of the structure will begin in the fall of 2016. The innovative design is the result of collaboration between an architect parent and a noted local landscape architect.

Phase 3:

  • The OLC continues to raise money to complete the full vision of the original NLI proposal.
  • Those include:
    • Amphitheater
    • Trees/Landscaping
    • Paving

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