Jen Frederick recalls that when she went back to teaching at Plainfield Elementary School after being home with her children for a number of years, “it was very important to me that I was carrying on the culture of place-based learning that had impacted my own children so profoundly.”

“Students from Plainfield have always left Plainfield Elementary School with love and appreciation of nature and their environment. I know that as the middle school science teacher a lot of that responsibility now falls on me to make sure that this love and care is nurtured through their middle school years.”

Jen says she does this, “by making sure that there are opportunities to get outside for education, but also to just play. Students who have fun experiences outside connect in different ways to their community.”

“As an adult, thinking back on my childhood experiences I can see the direct correlation between what I value as a science teacher, adult, and parent, to the experiences I had as a child. My own sense of place is directly related to my experience playing and exploring different places.  I want my own children and my students to have this same respect, love, awe, and wonder to their places that I do!”


A Culture of PBEE

The history of place-based ecology education (PBEE) is long and rich at Plainfield Elementary School (PES) in terms of both time and sustainability. There are so many experiences that students have had over the years. Their campus is a natural fit for bringing students outside and students are taken outside and into the community for a lot of different experiences:

  • Kindergarteners- Play at Kindergarten Mountain, grow plants and plant a garden for Stone Soup in the fall, and have Forest Morning one day a week where they play and create
  • First and Second Graders- Participate in the Stone Soup experience, Tend the garden, Map the Community
  • Third and Fourth Graders- Travel to different places in the community, complete a pond unit, hike to French’s Ledges behind the school, and do a Plainfield and Meriden Tour every other year with their looping social studies curriculum.
  • Fifth and Sixth Graders- Complete a stream unit where they follow the stream around their campus and analyze the geology, flora and fauna, abiotic and biotic factors and the energy that enters and exits the stream, the relationship from where they are to where the water goes, and the geologic history of the land.
    • Sixth Graders have a 3-day trip to the AMC Highland Lodge to focus on environment and relationship to self and community
  • Seventh and Eighth Graders- Complete a tree diversity project, do VINS Science Symposium, and tend the school compost

There are also a number of collaborative PBEE activities across the school like the all-school hike in the fall, the FAST program, and the K-4th graders participating in Four Wind’s Nature Program that engages community volunteers.

Philosophically, the PES School board, administration, teachers, students, and families think that the natural environment enriches our students’ lives. However, Jen says that, “as a traditional classroom teacher, I was initially a little apprehensive about taking the students out because classroom management is different outside. After a few adventures, we came up with a great routine so that the kids and I knew what to expect. Each student has a “job” outside in addition to making observations on their own data collection sheet. This provides some structure for them.”

Grades five and six do a stream study that lasts most of the year and is connected to the science curriculum in a lot of different ways. “Watching them connect with the environment and share really neat discoveries not only builds their love of our area” Jen reflects, “but also brings the learning to the forefront of the experience.”

“I absolutely love watching the kids have ‘a-ha moments’ where they connect their experience outside with something we have learned in class. I love watching the students connect to their environment and share with others. I love watching them giggle and have fun, but also kneel next to the stream and look contemplatively through a hand lens.”