Outdoor classroom combines art, literacy, and winter recreation for Okanogan second grade students

March 2019

by Ashley Lodato, Education Director for Methow Arts

What do you get when you mix a sunny winter day, trailside art, and an outdoor ice rink? You get 45 happy second graders, that’s what!

Orchestrated by Okanogan School District Instructional Coach (and former second grade teacher) Jill Streeter, a second grade field trip to the Methow Valley included art, ice skating, snowshoeing, and all the lessons an outdoor classroom has to offer. A collaboration among Methow Arts, Methow Trails, and the Winthrop Rink made the multi-element day possible.

The field trip began with a bus ride from Okanogan over Loup Loup pass early on a frosty 11-degree morning. Two school buses dropped students off at the Winthrop Rink, where rink staff and Methow Arts staff and a teaching artist greeted them and divided them up into three groups. Two groups headed into the rink to get outfitted with skates and helmets, the other group began buckling on snowshoes to explore the trailside art near the Winthrop Town Trailhead.

Many of the students had never snowshoed before, so as Methow Arts teaching artist Margaret Kingston guided them through the process of securing the snowshoes, she also talked to them about the benefits of being a “BigFoot” in the snow, as opposed to “SmallFoot.” (BigFoot distributes his weight over a greater surface area, staying closer to the top of the snow, whereas SmallFoot plunges in more deeply.)

Kingston also explained that the group had special permission to snowshoe on the ski trails for the day, and asked them not to step in the groomed tracks.

Snowshoes secured, the students clomped off. First stop: the murals on a small shed at the trailhead. Inspired by vintage winter recreation photos from the Shafer Museum and painted by Liberty Bell High School students with teaching artist Tori Karpenko, the murals depict ice skaters, skiers, ice fishermen, hot air balloonists, and trappers from the days of yore and provide a glimpse into the Methow Valley’s recreational past.

After examining the murals, the students headed to the trail to experience the StorySki, which is a story-lined 1-kilometer loop that features panels of Polar Polka, a book by Methow Valley author/illustrator Erik Brooks. At each panel, students read the text together and then explored the different artistic techniques used for each painting. Led by Kingston, they discussed elements of art such as line, color, and value, as well as perspective and emphasis.

As students walked (or, rather, RAN–snowshoes did not seem to hold them back one bit) from panel to panel, Kingston played polka music to get them in the polka mood. Sometimes this polka mood inspired students to go off-trail, into the deep snow. “I’ve never seen kids so happy to fall down!” says teacher Kari Gillespie.

Bald eagles soared overhead, the graceful lines of the Spring Creek Bridge drew the eye from the periphery, and water droplets glistened as hoarfrost melted off the trees. There was something beautiful to look at in every direction.

Click HERE to watch students reading one of the StorySki panels.

The groups all rotated through the various activities, so everyone got to ice skate, view the murals, and tour the StorySki. And at the end, more than one student was overheard saying something like “I think I’m going to fall asleep on the bus ride home, and maybe stay asleep for the whole weekend.”

Says Streeter, “One little guy stood out to me during the skating. Usually when I see this kiddo, he’s having a serious discussion with a teacher or with the principal. On Friday he was all smiles. Happiest I’ve ever seen him! He’s a bit aggressive and impulsive and being outside, in a learning and playing situation was ideal for him.”

A student, however, best summed up the experience: “BEST! DAY! EVER!”

Another triumph of the outdoor classroom!

This program was brought to students by Methow Arts Alliance’ Okanogan Region Arts Education Partnership, the Winthrop Rink, and Methow Trails. Methow Arts serves more than 5,200 students and 380 teachers across greater Okanogan County with arts programs in classrooms in the Brewster, Methow, Okanogan, Omak and Pateros School Districts, and in the Paschal Sherman Indian School on the Colville Reservation.

Methow Arts programs in the Okanogan School District are sponsored by the ArtsWA, Icicle Fund, the Robert B. McMillen Foundation, Greg & Mary Hamilton, Okanogan Kiwanis, Okanogan-Omak Rotary, and the Community Foundation of North Central Washington.

Visit us on Facebook to see more photos from this day in the outdoor classroom.