An Outdoor Classroom at Selby Gardens

April 11, 2019

SARASOTA, FLA. – April 11, 2019: Hands-on experiential learning outside of a typical classroom setting can lead to eye-opening moments for teachers and students alike.  Tracy Calla, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Senior Manager of School & Family Programs, and Katie Nickel, The Ringling’s School and Teacher Program Coordinator, trained teachers on the benefits of taking the classroom outdoors, the intersections of art and science in education, and adding outside-of-the box activities to standard curriculum. The 2-part professional development opportunity, that took place in January and March this year, was applied to their required continuing education credentials.

“We introduced the interwoven history of science and art, and the importance of observation skills in both disciplines. The teachers participated in multi-sensory activities that hone observation skills, and could be applied to future interdisciplinary lesson plans, especially during visits to our sites,” explains Calla.

Ten teachers from across disciplines joined the training sessions which focused on innovative activities integrating both arts and science in outdoor environments. These activities and observation techniques lend themselves to application at The Ringling Museum, Selby Gardens, and even in the school yard. Katie Nickel, School and Teacher Program Coordinator at The Ringling says “Taking students outside to learn, even if it’s just to observe the weeds that grow through the sidewalk, can have a profound impact on a student’s day. As students hone their observation and analysis skills, learning gains are seen throughout the curriculum.”

The first session was held at The Ringling Museum, with a focus on the overlapping nature of art and science, and utilizing an art museum’s collections to address both artistic concepts and scientific content. Nickel elaborates that “The program at The Ringling was an exciting opportunity to integrate the Bayfront Gardens with the Museum collection. The teachers practiced their observational and descriptive skills both outside and in the museum. One activity asked teachers to describe the way a tree feels while keeping their eyes closed, which was mirrored in the galleries by describing an animal in a work of art without saying what animal they are describing. Teachers will be able to apply these tactics in their lessons to challenge students to closely observe both art and nature.”

For the second session, Selby Gardens’ exhibition, Gauguin: Voyage to Paradise provided a framework to illustrate nature as inspiration for art, and how to use art ultimately as a scientific tool.  Within the Gardens, Calla and Nickel focused on capitalizing on students’ excitement and curiosity when teaching a class outdoors. While exploring the Tropical Conservatory, the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden, and the Succulent Garden, the educators were introduced to visual, performing and language arts activities that present access points to science content such as the scientific method, biodiverse ecosystems, and plant adaptations.

Arts integration, museum settings and outdoor excursions can be more difficult for schools that cannot afford field trips and for teachers who may be unfamiliar with teaching or planning an art or science lesson in an outdoor setting. With these gaps in mind, the project shared the importance of using the community’s natural surroundings, cultural activities, and museums as resources to enliven classroom curricula with exciting and meaningful experiential learning that can engage and spark curiosity in students.


About Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of epiphytic plants such as orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads and ferns and other tropical plants, with a focus on botany, horticulture and environmental education. For more information, please visit Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 900 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas. Regular admission is $20 and $10 children ages 4-17; members and children 3 and under enter free. Contact us at (941) 366-5731 or Get social with us on Facebook, Instagram and more by searching @selbygardens.

About The Ringling

The Ringling is a center for art, history and learning situated on 66 acres on Sarasota Bay. It is built on the legacy of circus entrepreneur, collector of art and financier John Ringling and his wife Mable. The Ringling inspires visitors with an acclaimed collection of Old Master paintings, explores with them the diverse cultures and art of Asia, delights them with the story of the American circus, and transports them to the Roaring Twenties during a tour of the magnificent Ca’ d’Zan mansion. The Ringling is also committed to exhibiting the work of an emerging community of living artists that moves beyond traditional practice and features dynamic and engaging contemporary visual and performing arts, including a diverse roster of theater, music and dance. The Ringling is the State Art Museum of Florida. Affiliated with Florida State University, it is one of the largest university art centers in the nation.