Music in the Garden

Music may not be the first subject that comes to mind when you think about garden-based education. But the outdoor classroom can be a rich environment for exploring sounds, both natural and human-made. Nathan Larson, director of the Wisconsin School Garden Network, discusses music in the garden (and so much more!) in his book, Teaching in Nature's Classroom, which is now available as a free e-book in both Spanish and English. Of his experiences with music in the garden, he writes:

"At the Troy Kids' Garden we have a much-used and much-loved outdoor music-making area. It includes an A-frame strung with old pots and pans from a local thrift store as well as donated drums and 5-gallon bucket drums. It was originally inspired by the Tree o' Tunes in the Life Lab Garden Classroom in Santa Cruz, California, and over the years it has inspired a number of teachers in our area to install similar features in their school gardens.

One year, there was a group of boys who initially were not very interested in gardening, but they did form a strong connection to our music-making area. They spent the majority of their time in the garden creating percussive beats and freestyle raps. As their impromptu music collective evolved, they began performing for their peers on our earthen "living" stage. At one point, they even made flyers for a Friday afternoon concert, which they distributed to all of the students and teachers at school. The connection that these students made to the garden through  music was powerful. Over time, this primary connection led them to explore and enjoy the garden through the lens of other disciplines as well."

(You can learn more about Teaching in Nature's Classroom or download the free e-book in English or Spanish here.)

One of the reasons we love this topic is the endless possibilities – and the fact that you don't need a lot of funds or new materials to create a space for music. In this issue of the newsletter, you will find creative and practical ideas for incorporating music and sound into any garden or outdoor classroom.

Already have music in your garden? Tell us about it! Share your photos and stories on our Facebook page or Twitter using the hashtag #GardenMusic.

-Renata, WSGN Communications Manager


Singing & Learning in the Garden

From our friends at The Edible Schoolyard Project, this lesson allows young students to put their garden learning to music. The garden is a vast habitat and through this song students will learn -- and brainstorm -- about the many organisms that call the garden their home.

Music Inspired by Birdsong

Nature has served as a muse to many composers. And a garden is about way more than plants. Students can listen to classical music pieces inspired by birds' songs and then listen for the bird calls out in the garden!

Building a 2x4 Xylophone

This oversized outdoor xylophone is a great addition to any garden or outdoor classroom. Younger students can help with its assembly, while math and music lessons for older students are perfect for determining how big the boards have to be for the notes to have proper intervals.

DIY Instrument Series

DIY Music Man is like a scarecrow, but way more fun! This blog post provides instructions to create your very own "Music Man" and also links to other great blog posts with fun ideas and instructions to create music installations, like a sound wall and a music tree.

When it comes to building musical instruments for the garden, you can start with what you have laying around. But how do you turn scraps into music? As always, Pinterest is a great resource for creative and innovative projects. Browsing photos of outdoor instruments will lead to your own symphony of ideas!
Homemade Musical Instruments

From xylophones to sensory shakers to trash can steel drums, this blog post is full of incredible ideas. Some can be made in a single lesson while others take more planning. With such an extensive list of suggestions, students can make music with almost any available material!

News & Announcements

Growing Minds: Garden-Based Learning from the Ground Up!

July 24 - 27, 2017 from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Community GroundWorks' Troy Kids' Garden, 502 Troy Drive, Madison, WI

Held in the award-winning Troy Kids' Garden, this dynamic professional development course for K-12 teachers/community educators emphasizes hands-on, inquiry-based instruction. Course topics include: youth garden planning and design, funding and resources, recommended tools and supplies, organic gardening methods, outdoor classroom pedagogy, garden-based nutrition and cooking, nature study and games, program evaluation, art in the garden, and more!

Cost is $175. 1-2 semester units of graduate credit available at additional cost of $70 per credit.

Learn more and register here.

Upcoming Events (Visit our events page for more! Have an event to share? Email us!)

Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture
March 3 - July 9, 2017
Milwaukee Public Museum

Learn about the science, culture, and systems of food. Learn how taste works in the working kitchen, cook a virtual meal, see rare artifacts, and peek into the dining rooms of famous figures throughout history. Visitors will examine the intersection of food, nature, culture, health, and history—and consider some of the most challenging food issues of our time.

Check out the full calendar of events here.

Professional Development in Environmental Education Series
June 3 - August 14, 2017

The Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education announces its summer Professional Development in Environmental Education series. Select from a number of one-day workshops to enhance your integration of environmental education, connect your curriculum to standards-based activities using the outdoors, and advance your utility of place-based resources to engage learners. Workshops have a cost of $100 each and credit is available for individuals attending two or more workshops.

Check out the list of workshops and register here.

Troy Gardens Day Camp
June 19 - August 11th, Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Calling all 7-11 year-olds in the Madison area! Come play and grow with us at Troy Gardens this summer! We will explore the winding prairie paths, build forts in the forest, grow delicious food and prepare healthy snacks together in the garden.

Click HERE for more information and to register for a weekly session.

Grant Opportunities (Visit our grants page for more!)

2017 Carton 2 Garden Contest
April 12, 2017

Your school can get started by collecting at least 100 empty cartons from your home, community, or cafeteria. After gathering cartons, it’s time to design and construct purposeful garden items and structures using them. Open to public and private schools, contest winners will be selected based on their implementation of an innovative garden creation featuring creative and sustainable uses for repurposed milk and juice cartons.

Learn more and get ideas from past projects here.

Watch Us Sprout
April 15, 2017

The Watch Us Sprout program will provide funding to start a new school garden or expand or support an existing one. Anthem will donate a $500 grant to schools to buy garden materials such as seeds, dirt, boxes for raised beds, gardening tools, etc. In addition to funding for garden materials, grant recipients may also receive take-home seed packets for students to enjoy and other health promotion materials. Grants will be awarded on a first come, first served basis, but are limited to the following counties: Brown, Dane, Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, Kenosha, La Crosse, Marathon, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Portage, Racine, Rock, Sheboygan, Waukesha, Winnebago, and Wood

Learn more here and apply here.

Teachers' Outdoor Environmental Education Fund
May 1, 2017
Applicants must be a current K-12 teacher for a Wisconsin public school. Projects must include environmental education activities for students with an outdoor component. Successful proposals will have an environmental curriculum basis with outdoor activities and field experiences. Applicants must match the requested funds on a 1:1 basis with other funds, which may include in-kind services or donations. Volunteer hours should be calculated based on the federal minimum wage for general work ($7.25 per hour).

Potential projects include butterfly gardens to teach about pollinators.

Learn more and apply here.

Tasty Tidbits ... of wisdom, fun, and information

Veggie Instruments!

No, really, these people have made amazing sounding instruments out of vegetables like carrots and broccoli. You have to see it (and hear it) to believe it!

Garden Joke of the Month

Why do melons have fancy weddings?

Click here for answer

Success Story: Lakeview Elementary School

Music brings educational opportunities to the garden

At the Wisconsin School Garden Network, we are building a space to share ideas and experiences related to garden-based education. This month's story exemplifies how sharing ideas can lead to innovative garden features and enhance educational opportunities for everyone.

Terri Felton is the music teacher at Lakeview Elementary School, which has a long-standing tradition of garden-based education. A few years ago, Felton attended Community GroundWorks' Growing Minds course (see Announcements above!), held in the Troy Kids' Garden in Madison. There, past the vegetable beds and the outdoor kitchen, she first saw the Mulberry Music Grove – a music installation in the form of an A-frame strung with pots and pans.

The installation was inspired by the Tree o' Tunes in the Life Lab Garden Classroom in California. Community Groundworks Education Director, Ginny Hughes, has seen the music area give kids additional ways to connect with the garden.

"Music is such a natural way for people of all ages to engage in the garden," says Hughes. "Our smallest visitors love to bang (often loudly!) on the colorful pots and pans, while older children create complex rhythms together."

After the week-long Growing Minds course, Felton wanted to build a music area of her own in Lakeview Elementary School's forest, next to its garden. She and the school's art teacher, Sebastian Vang, designed an A-frame that could support pots, pans, and other recycled materials – similar to what she saw at the Troy Kids' Garden. Students even got in on the action, designing their own instruments.

The new music area required some trial and error. Early iterations did not hold up to the weather and heavy use. But the experience was enriching for the students who built the instruments and it helped Felton determine which materials would be long-lasting.

Over time, a more permanent music area came together thanks to Vang and help from UW Law School students participating in a community volunteer day. Felton and Vang separated the up-cycled instruments into two A-frames: one for plastic instruments such as buckets, and one for metal ones like pots and pans. They created chimes by hanging PVC pipes of different lengths from a large tree, which also supports a series of 2x4s cut to specific lengths to create different pitches – essentially a large xylophone.

With these instruments as her inspiration, Felton developed outdoor music curriculum for Lakeview's kindergarten through fifth grade student body. "We go out right away in the fall, around the third week of school," Felton says. "The first class is mostly about exploring…Half the kids can go to the metal instruments and half can go to the plastic ones. I prep them to think about which instruments are going to be the loudest or make certain sounds, and why."

Younger kids whack away at metal pots and plastic buckets using old mallets donated by local high schools. Older students are exposed to more complex concepts, exploring how length and pitch are related. In addition to the tree-mounted 2x4 xylophone, kids can experiment with a set of boomwhackers (large plastic tubes of different lengths that can be whacked against the ground to make sound). "We're doing a lot of physics of sound," Felton explains.

Felton also up-cycles Mason jars. "I have a crate of Mason jars and I fill them with water and try to tune them to a scale. We hypothesize about which is going to have a lower pitch – jars with more water or jars with more air."

By weaving together what she has learned from her own experiences in the outdoor classroom with inspiration from other local gardens and parks, Felton has created a rich environment for students to interact with music and nature. But children don't need physical instruments – or even a formal garden space! – to bring music lessons outside. Students at Lakeview also spend time just listening to the sounds around them in the garden and thinking about their origin. They identify "nature sounds" and "machine sounds" and then create dances to act out what they've heard.

Read other Wisconsin school garden success stories

Share your garden story #wischoolgardens

Every garden is ripe with stories.  Maybe it is one about the day the first shovel-full of soil was turned over and the garden was underway.  Or about that time a brave rabbit dared to sample lettuce amidst a class of kindergartners partaking in a garden lesson. Each story has the potential to connect others with your garden program. Send us your story idea, or read our garden storytelling brief for tips on collecting and sharing thestories that make your garden program so special.  

Getting Started with School Gardens

Just starting a school garden? We're here to help. Check out these free resources, developed right in Wisconsin. Or, send us an email with your questions! 

Got Dirt? Garden Toolkit: Simple, step-by-step guide for starting a school garden
Got Veggies? Nutrition Education Curriculum: Aligned with state standards
Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening Free online training with chapters on planning, planting, growing, and harvesting a garden with kids. Approved for continuing education hours for child care providers (1.5 hours of Registry credit).

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