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Children Need Nature: Joining State Standards with Natural Learning

childrenneednature-01-300x212By Nicole Brin, Assistant Director of Early Childhood Education

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.

pumpkinseedcounting_nb_10-30-17 (1)The inaugural Kindergarten class here at Nature Preschool is deep into its third month of school. If you walk into the classroom you will notice the book corner, art studio, block area, science and math manipulatives, and many other learning centers typical to an Early Childhood classroom. pumpkinseedcounting_nb_10-30-17More likely however, you will be drawn to the more homey aspects of the room–the number line made from acorns and sticks, the wall of photographed discoveries, or the shelf of beetles, millipedes, and other nature treasures. Just like the preschool classes, the (self-proclaimed) Mighty Oak kindergarteners operate on an emergent and inquiry-based curriculum and spend a large portion of their day outside. Kindergarten at the Schuylkill Center is designed to be an extension of the Nature Preschool experience, while integrating the skills and concepts being taught in kindergartens all over Pennsylvania.

So… how does that work? How do the Mighty Oaks enjoy these experiences while still being ready for first grade come June? A large part comes from the way in which the program is approaching the learning standards. Recognizing that the most meaningful learning happens organically and from natural interests, the teachers first take note of which developmental areas are being met as a result of their study of interest. Continue reading

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Elemental powers

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art and Liz Jelsomine, Exhibitions Coordinator

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.

Tim Prentice, Yellow Zinger 2-925x616“I imagine a line in space. I build it straight and true and offer it to the wind.

The wind plays with it like a cat with a length of yarn. The wind is the artist.”

Yellow Zinger, Tim Prentice

Tim Prentice’s Yellow Zinger was part of an outdoor exhibition at The Schuylkill Center in 2010 called Elemental Energy: Art Powered by Nature. 

Elemental Energy brought six artists/teams from around the country to present outdoor sculptural installations that engaged a natural element – wind, water, sun – to create a dynamic or kinetic artwork. Each piece created sound, movement, or both, using only the energy they harness from nature.  Continue reading

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Roxborough’s Kay Sykora is the 2017 Meigs Leadership Awardee

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

On Thursday, November 16 at 7 pm, the Schuylkill Center presents our highest honor, the Henry Meigs Award for Environmental Leadership, to an old friend and Roxborough neighbor, Kay Sykora.

Susan Beard PhotographyFounder of the incredibly successful Manayunk Development Corporation in the early 1980s, Kay has over the last 30 years pioneered and tirelessly championed the Schuylkill River Trail through Manayunk and Roxborough, leading the effort to transform the canal towpath into the River Trail, now one of Manayunk’s most-loved amenities. She played a key role in the planning efforts that led to the Manayunk Bridge’s reinvention as a multi-modal trail beloved by thousands of bikers, runners, and walkers.

She also founded Destination Schuylkill River to re-connect Manayunk to its river, has been involved in restoring the canal, and is equally passionate about making the towpath a more vibrant and enticing community amenity. She has been a leader in the Central Roxborough Civic Association and co-founded Roxborough Green, a community tree planting and gardening project.

Susan Beard Photography“I am deeply honored by the recognition for the work we all have done,” Kay said.  “I say this because I feel that I am more a facilitator for the people who care about trails, nature, and greening.  If people didn’t care the work never would have succeeded.” Continue reading

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The Norristown Program: Mentoring the next generation of environmental leaders

By Damien Ruffner, School Programs Manager

In February of 2017 the Schuylkill Center entered a partnership with ESCC, or the Extended School Day Center. A vital program in Norristown, Pennsylvania that provides before-care and after-care for the youth in eight elementary schools in Norristown. Our partnership allows education staff to work with two of these schools to enrich their education while providing mentorship to students.

This Norristown mentorship program is something that is very near and dear to my heart. Not only is it one of the largest and most ambitious outreaches we have done, but the program brings environmental education to an underserved community and reaches a very diverse audience, especially Hispanic and African American students. In essence, the program is simple: during the school year we go twice a week  to Hancock Elementary and Marshall Street Elementary in Norristown, after school as part of the community’s extended school day program. That program, offers themed crafts and games as well as homework help to improve academic performance.

The program is arranged so that students can participate when they want to, choosing to join in. We didn’t want to take these young students away from precious game playing or lego building (this kind of play can be just as vital to their development as formal education is). Last year, every day more students chose to join us for environmental education activities. Continue reading

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At the Schuylkill Center, #NatureWelcomes everyone

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director 

Across the country, debate is raging on a wide number of increasingly political issues: health care reform, immigration, foreign policy, nuclear deterrence, the role of social media in politics, energy policy, public lands, climate change, and endlessly on and on.  The stakes in these arguments only rise by the minute and by the tweet.

While these issues heat up, California is on fire, Houston (remember Houston?) still recovering from a flood, Florida coming back online after its hurricane, and Puerto Rico, well, Puerto Rico is a hellish nightmare of too many people having too little access to basics like water and electricity.  Puerto Rico looks to be a public health powder keg set to explode.

One thing is clear: we need nature. Now more than ever.

All of us need nature.  In these overstressed times, nature heals.  Literally.  Every day, new studies show that time spent in a forest walking, or even just even sitting, elevates our mood, calms our heart rate and breathing, and relaxes us.  Simply seeing green is restorative, but even better, trees release chemicals into the air that our brain is hardwired to respond to: a
Japanese researcher sprayed pine aerosols into a hospital nursery, and the blood pressure of newborn infants lowered immediately.  They’ve never even been in a forest before, and their bodies responded to pine scent.

Nature heals.

What is equally clear is that not all people have access to greenspaces like the Schuylkill Center.  Studies also show that parks are a public–health benefit to the neighborhoods near them—an entire neighborhood is healthier when a park is close by. No park nearby, and the community suffers. Continue reading

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LandLab: Introducing our artists in residence

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Even though I haven’t myself had a first day of school for a few years, in the fall, I still get a back-to-school-esque twinge of anticipation.  In this season, you can feel something new coming in the air – something to be learned, something to gear up for – and I find it to be the most exciting time of year. This year, one of the most exciting new things for the environmental art program is the beginning of the second offering of our LandLab residency at the Schuylkill Center.

LandLab is a unique artist residency program that integrates artistic creation, ecological restoration, and education.  A joint project of the Schuylkill Center and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), LandLab offers resources and space here at the Schuylkill Center, on our 340-acres of woods and meadows for visual artists to engage audiences in ecological stewardship through scientific investigation and artistic creation. LandLab residencies will create innovative installations that prevent or remediate environmental damage while raising public awareness about local ecology. It’s a way that we bring different parts of our mission work together – artists working with people to engage with our land in a meaningful and restorative way. Continue reading

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A playground for artists, Part II

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar. 

The Schuylkill Center asked six artists from the former co-op Nexus to respond to the history and physical space of Brolo Hill Farm site at the Schuylkill Center for the show Ground Play from September 19th – November 28th, 2010.  Read our August post for a profile on the other three artists from this show.

IMG_9230Jebney Lewis was among one of the artists that considered agricultural and cultural conditions that once existed at the farm at the time it was active.  Working with mathematician Todd Parsons and fiber artist K.R. Wood, Lewis explored concepts of environmental shift by repurposing readily found forms and objects in the natural landscape.   Continue reading

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Playing with place: Looking back on Sau Pines

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by Aaron Asis, Making in Place artist

Back in May, Sau Pines was created to celebrate the spirit of the Pine Grove — as part of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s Making in Place exhibition — which featured the work of 14 different Art in the Open artists.  

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The installation itself consisted of a series of visual tree wraps to highlight some of the unique environmental characteristics of the Pine Grove.  A series of matching colored timbers were also distributed throughout the Pine Grove to activate visitor interaction within the context of the broader landscape of the Schuylkill Center throughout the season.  And the universal consensus is that the work was both well received and well used all summer! Continue reading

Ghosts and Shadows

Shadows in the Forest

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.

Marisha Simons attempted to catalog human impact upon the environment in her installation, Ghost Forest. Ghost Forest was part of the show Ghosts and Shadows from September 6th, 2008 – January 2nd, 2009 presented in partnership with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists and guest curated by Warren Angle.

Ghosts and Shadows

Simons was one of the artists selected to produce site specific installations because of their work’s poetic sense of place. Each artist set up a dialogue with the natural and human constructed landscape at the Schuylkill Center’s Second Site location, Brolo Hill Farm, a once working 18th century farm. Artists mined specific references to place and sensations of past and present. Simons’ resulting airy tapestries flowed in the wind, reminiscent of plants and animals that once thrived before human impact on the environment. Ghosts and Shadows was the first exhibition to be presented at the Schuylkill Center’s Brolo Hill location.

Of Ghost Forest, Simons wrote in the exhibition’s brochure:

“I have created a visual representation of a selection of endangered and extinct plants and trees, and I invite the viewer into a forest of ghost plants: translucent silk panels that move when the viewer walks past, delicate images floating above the ground, no longer planted in the earth with a subtle epitaph sharing the plant’s history.

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My hope is that the viewer will experience Ghost Forest by walking amongst the trees, spending time with the images in an imagined place where once they might have dwelled, and engaging emotionally with the idea that each of us have options about the impact that we make upon the environment with the daily choices that we make.”

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Plants and People Connect through Art

Photo courtesy of Vaughn Bell

Photo courtesy of Vaughn Bell

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Most people know that we rely on plants for the food we eat and the air we breathe, but the interconnections between plants and people actually go much deeper and are more nuanced. Scientists continue to discover the complexities of how plants take in and respond to information, even communicating with each other through underground networks and chemical signals.  Human systems powerfully influence plant communities, locations, and health – and they also exert a powerful influence over us.  

Yet, despite the intricacies of the plant-human relationship, plants are often overlooked, even compared to other aspects of the natural world. Studies have demonstrated and revealed the concept of “plant blindness,” in which many people literally don’t see plants at all, as they become the equivalent of ecological wallpaper.  We surround ourselves with representations of plants (they are all over our interior decorating, and certain kinds of plants are elevated in our traditions around holidays and significant milestones), yet we have little connection with the plants themselves, knowledge of their qualities, or their significance in our lives.

The Schuylkill Center’s fall gallery show features artists who explore the relationships between plants and people and the places they inhabit and move through – revealing and encouraging these oft overlooked anthro-botanical relationships.

Ellie Irons Invasive Pigments project investigates the origins and uses for plants that are often uncelebrated or even reviled – the plants we call weeds or invasive plants. Irons has been creating watercolor paint from the wild plants she finds near her studio in Brooklyn, and her watercolor maps help show the way these plants have moved globally in response to human systems.

Rachel Eng makes the connection of our reliance of plants not across space, but across geologic time. In unfired clay, Eng rendered plants from the Middle Devonian period in the Appalachian region that we know today as Marcellus Shale gas, then photographed them in Pennsylvania landscapes threatened by Marcellus Shale drilling. These foreign, extinct plants remain with us in the coveted form of natural gas, yet are rarely part of that highly politicized conversation.

Vaughn Bell’s Metropolis provides an immersive view of a representative sample of the Schuylkill Center forest, yet provides a wholly new perspective on these plant communities. Rather than looking down on the plants, or up to the tree tops, Metropolis puts the viewer at eye level with plants, equalizing this physical relationship. This shift in perspective allows for a more empathetic connection, seeing the world from a plant’s vantage point. The experience is multisensory, however – the dramatic smell and humidity change drives home just how much plants shape their own environments, and shape us.  Metropolis’ form alludes to a city skyline, further connecting the ecological and urban systems that tend to be considered as separate.

The Environmental Performance Agency (EPA) is a new artist collective named in response to the proposed defunding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Deploying yet subverting the trope of a government bureaucracy, the group engages in a variety of practices centered on plant/human relationships, with urban weeds as mentors, collaborators, and stewards.

The artists in Anthrobotanical help us to see plants more clearly, and more in connection with ourselves.  Scientists have discovered the mechanisms by which stands of trees merge their roots to share nutrients and resources,  to modulate and protect against extreme weather conditions –the community becomes the priority over individual competition.  We may do well to remember the extent to which our own roots are tied up with plants.

Please join us to celebrate the opening of Anthrobotanical with a reception on September 7th at 6 p.m. Enjoy light refreshments in the gallery and a guided tour of the exhibition. Anthrobotanical  will be on view through December 9th.