Bits 'n Pieces: 'Backyard Field Trip' inspires

By Stover E. Harger III, Columbian neighborhood news coordinator

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For an imaginative kid, all it takes to go on an adventure is a little inspiration.

Hough Elementary School's new "Backyard Field Trip" outdoor area was created to provide that inspiration, while staying centered around environmental education.

Meant to capitalize on the intrinsic imagination of children, the spot provides a wealth of features so kids can entertain themselves. It also has enough sitting spots to accommodate an entire classroom.

At the Backyard Field Trip, students can hop around on "lily pad" logs, dance on a small wooden stage or whatever else their young minds can dream up. It's all tied together with a nature theme; stepping tiles display a poem from the point of view of a tree and a "discovery garden" highlights a number of different plants.

Young students described the project with words written on pieces of wood displayed on the stage: Wildlife, Adventure, "Beautyful."

"Technology is great in it fills a lot of academic needs, but there's a lot of research showing that access to nature — especially in an urban area — really does promote brain function," said Hough parent Jane Tesner Kleiner.

Kleiner volunteered to lead the school's "Green Team" in designing the area. As many as 60 students joined the team and chose to forgo recess time every few weeks to brainstorm what shape the space should take.

On Oct. 5 it all came together when about 80 helpers spread bark dust, planted hundreds of flower bulbs, set up seats and much more. Vancouver Public Schools facilities staff did a bunch of the installation work and community sponsors, including the Hough Foundation, chipped in with donations of money and materials.

"It is truly a community project and a community space," Kleiner said. "Hopefully it will continue to grow over the years."

Traditional field trips are not as common as they once were, said Hough Principal Eva Unger, because of tight budgets and time it takes to make them happen. That means children are spending more time between four walls, hearing about the world instead of experiencing it firsthand.

"They wanted something that would give them the feeling of a field trip that was right here," Unger said.

Kleiner said the kids are already embracing their new outdoor area, but one of their initial hopes for the space was quashed in the name of safety and logistics. When polled about what they would like to see built, students were adamant there should be a zip-line.

But a principal has to draw the line somewhere.

"I said 'probably not,'" Unger laughed.

Now that the first phase is completed, Kleiner said she and the Green Team will start figuring out what's next. Early ideas for phase two include a maze, waterless "river" and fort.

"If the kids have anything to say about it, it'll probably be a tree house," Unger said. "I said 'yes' as long as it was 4 inches off the ground."

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.