The Calyx in the Park Invites Learning

Posted in Feature, More Stories, Music, Theater and Dance, Visual Art

Whidbey Life Magazine Guest Contributor
May 21, 2014

Are you curious about outdoor schools or what a year-round outdoor education is like? On Sunday, May 25 you have the chance to find out at the Celebration of the Water at South Whidbey State Park.

The Celebration is a free, all-ages community event sponsored by Calyx Community Arts School and a number of other local non-profits as part of the Puget Sound Starts Here campaign. You can play and learn about our Whidbey Waters as you experience the 347-acre classroom at South Whidbey State Park, and meet the students, teachers and mentors who spend all their school days outside.

347-Acre Classroom
Last year, Calyx spearheaded an innovative response to cuts in public funding to Washington’s State Parks, by working with WA State Parks and the non-profit organization Service, Education and Adventure (SEA). They have transformed South Whidbey State Park into a year-round outdoor classroom, and reactivated the former ranger house. Now it’s an indoor learning center to support outdoor education.

Stream Painting  (photo by Lauren Atkinson)

Stream Painting (photo by Lauren Atkinson)

Calyx, SEA and the Friends of South Whidbey State Park moved into the former ranger house at the park last summer and Calyx moved its year-round learning center for children ages 5-8 to the park in September. It’s the first time since Calyx started three years ago that its main site has had a heated indoor space with electricity. “It’s a real luxury to have a warm space to come home to,” said Sarah Gillett, one of Calyx’s lead teachers.

Calyx students serve as stewards of the Park, monitoring trails and reporting findings (downed trees, broken bridges, etc.), creating interpretive trail maps by and for kids, and serving as a presence in the park throughout the year when there is no ranger on site. Throughout this year, they have had help from classes at South Whidbey Elementary, Middle School and Academy, who have joined Calyx at the Park for service and outdoor learning.

Nature and Arts
The former ranger house has been transformed by nature and art, which can be found throughout the house, on the walls and on the tables. Literally.

On one wall is a wall-sized interpretive map of the park’s trail system, an example of the way nature, art, and academics are woven together at Calyx. The children’s nature discoveries and special places are documented through their stories and illustrations—places like The Story Tree, The Hungry Mud, Squirrel Café, and even The Toilet Tree.

Propped up against another wall is a handmade PVC Pipe Loom, on which the children are weaving a large, colorful rag rug for the Calyx floor as part of the math curriculum. Good Cheer has donated many of the T-Shirts and one of Calyx’s crafty moms has led the project. The kids have written and illustrated a book, “How to Make a Rag Rug,” as part of their literacy work and for those interested in learning their process.

The tables the children sit at to do inside work are works of forest and water art, created by the children with the help of an artist dad.

A sunny spot below a window is home to Calyx’s nature table. Here the children’s nature finds are available for examination, study, and sometimes dissection. You might find the skull of a vole removed from an owl pellet, cones of all shapes and sizes, a colorful array of sea glass, deer antlers, an unidentified jawbone or spore prints from the park’s numerous varieties of fungi.

Much of Calyx’s art and academics take place outdoors on the trails, next to streams, and on the beach. The “lunchroom” is next to an old Douglas Fir. Seals have been known to interrupt a lesson on the beach. Everything stops when a child notices a bald eagle or osprey overhead, or a mouse or deer alongside a trail. A gunnel in a tide pool is an exciting find.

Boys on the Beach  (photo by Sarah Gillett)

Boy on the Beach (photo by Sarah Gillett)

Whidbey Waters
During the Spring Quarter, the Calyx kids have been studying water with support from Puget Sound Starts Here and Whidbey EcoNet. From the fresh water that runs through the park to the waters of Admiralty Inlet, Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea, their study has included an exploration of the watershed, mapping of the fresh water in the park, experiments with viscosity, cohesion and gravity, an exploration of marine habitats, water art, and lessons in the geography of our region, including a trip through the San Juan Islands.

On May 25, they will bring their learning to the community with a community wide Celebration of the Water at South Whidbey State Park. This event—with nature games, an interpretive walk by and for kids, a haiku hike, water art, a beach walk, and a free BBQ, along with opportunities to learn about whales, composting, and how to protect Puget Sound—is an opportunity to learn more about Calyx School and its partners, Service, Education and Adventure and Friends of South Whidbey State Park, as well as WA State Parks.

So, come on out for free fun and learning for the whole family, Sunday, May 25th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Image at top: Kids on tree  (Photo by Lisa Kois)

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