What’s New in the Garden

The leaves are changing colors and falling fast.  Animals are gathering food for the winter ahead.  Birds are taking flight.  And our kids are as busy as ever exploring autumn in the garden.  Check out what our third graders have been up to …












Getting Ready for Terrace Town

Terrace Town takes place Friday, February 28th and Saturday, February 29th downtown at Monona Terrace.  Come see the work of our creative third graders and check out the cities they’ve built — all from recycled materials and living plants!

You'll never guess where these plants are growing!

Look what’s growing on inside our children’s classroom!


That's right!  Right beneath a grow light hung beneath a white board!

A great place to hang a grow light! Who would’ve thought? Garden Parent Volunteer, Kurt Runzheimer, that’s who!

Our third graders waiting for their live "roofs" to grow for there Terrace Town buildings.

Our third graders waiting for live “roofs” to grow for their Terrace Town buildings.


Top 10 Things I’ve Learned in the Outdoor Classroom


This is a Top 10 list of what I’ve learned these past few years as a parent volunteer in the VHE Outdoor Classroom:

10. You can and must! be rough when breaking off overgrown tomato vines in late July in order for the sun to reach and ripen the fruit below.

9. I can hold in a scream when a vole unexpectedly darts across my path followed by an excited mob of children.

8. How to look interested instead of horrified, when a child dangles a worm in front of me and how to appear too busy to touch it at that moment.  Oh my, he is a big one, but I’m afraid I can’t play with him right now, I’m super busy, trying to pull these weeds out of this bed.

7. Some plants are weeds but some plants are actually seedlings that look like weeds.  And even when I weed an actual seedling instead of a weed, it’s ok.  I am forgiven.

6. How to thin a row of kohlrabi seedlings.  Seriously, I am a mother of three, a “grown-up” and I just learned about this.

5. Some plants will grow and some will not, and some with a real good healthy start will get trampled by little running feet. It’s ok.

4. Kids like to play with water.  Kids really, really like to play with water.

3. Kids’ sneakers will eventually dry; My sneakers will eventually dry too.

2. Mud dries and can then be flicked off just about anything, my favorite jeans, socks, the back of my jacket (I’m still not sure how I managed that one).

And finally the number one thing I’ve learned in the VHE Outdoor Classroom is that our kids don’t care if I know what I’m doing out there or not, that they are patient and more than happy to show me how to use this wonderfully wild space.  All I have to do is follow their lead.

Happy Summer Everyone!


From the Windowsill

Outside, the garden may be buried under snow, but take a look inside our classrooms and check out what’s growing on the Windowsill!

The 4/5 students of Mr. C.’s class and Mrs. Mahr’s are rooting coleus and pothos cuttings and learning how important it is for scientists to ask lots of questions when conducting an experiment.  Students were encouraged to work together to come up with reasons why some plants root in water and others do not.

Ms. Delgado’s K/1 kids did the same project, only our little scientists soon found out from their drooping cuttings that their north-facing windowsill isn’t providing the sunlight their baby plants need to grow.

In Ms. Ostertag’s 2/3 classroom, each of five groups of kids suspended a sweet potato (with toothpicks) in a mason jar filled with water.  These sweet spuds should sprout roots soon and send out twisty, twirly, curly sweet potato vines.

And off the windowsill, Ms. Ostertag’s and Ms. Mileham’s class are making greenhouses out of recycled milk and juice containers.  For the next couple of weeks, kids will continue working in small groups to build their greenhouses and plant in them.  They will get to dig in the dirt indoors!

As each container is filled with soil and seed, it is placed outside Ms. Ostertag’s window to soak up what sun it can in the snowy garden.  We just may get to see some green growing out there soon!

Special thanks to the teachers and parent volunteers who are keeping our VHE’s Windowsill alive this winter season!

Mary Michaud Wins Award, $1,000 for the Garden!

Mary Michaud, VHE Parent Volunteer has been named one of three winners of the Metcalfe’s School Garden Leader Awards for her commitment and leadership in bringing garden-based learning to the Madison area!  Thanks to Mary’s hard work our school will get $1,000 for our Outdoor Garden Classroom!

Just three years ago Mary shared her vision to create a sensorial space for our children at VHE and today, thanks to many volunteers encouraged by Mary’s lively spirit and enthusiasm, we have five raised beds, twelve loose beds, compost bins, a shed, two hoop houses and a 700 square-foot rain garden with more than 25 species of native plants and wetland plants!

Mary won this award because of the many volunteer hours she has spent collaborating within the community, researching and writing grants, securing funds and donated materials.  She has successfully grown our garden into a learning space where our children can use their bodies naturally to climb, pull, jump, reach, leap and crouch down low to see their natural world up close.

At VHE our creative teachers are weaving the Outdoor Classroom into their curriculum, taking their students outside for sensorial breaks.  Kids are learning problem-solving skills and studying math, science, literacy, art and music throughout the school day.  The garden has become a place to meet friends after school; to play a game of football or to run in between the beds and hide among the willow.

We are growing!  This year every teacher at VHE has planted in the garden with his/her class!

Our Outdoor Classroom is a very special place and thanks to Mary’s dedication, our kids know that the garden belongs to them and that they belong to the garden.

Congratulations Mary!

Good Night, Sleep Tight

The garden has been tucked in for the season.

On Saturday, October 20th, Van Hise families showed up in old jeans, t-shirts with holes, worn boots and weathered garden gloves and began pulling, raking and cutting down what was left of our Outdoor Classroom.  In the meantime, our children went on a garden scavenger hunt earning small prizes for each task completed such as: finding and tasting kale, identifying a Maple leaf, running up and down the hill, climbing through a willow tunnel and sampling autumn salad greens from one of the hoop houses.

It was a beautiful morning, the rain from the day before left behind giant mud puddles that just begged to be jumped in!  After helping the rest of our friends put the tools away in the shed and finish what remained of the cheese, fruit and apple cider, the kids and I returned home with soil on our sleeves and an appetite for a warm lunch.  We were outdoor, fresh air tired and feeling very good about the work we had accomplished together with other families for our school.  Two hours flew by and felt more like a successful playdate where the kids were so absorbed in play that the parents could finish a sentence and actually remember what they wanted to say next.