The new favourite place to be for students and teachers in Portlaoise Educate Together National School, is not in their classrooms but outside in the garden.
The Laois school's handy caretaker Eamon Lennon who in the past built a Harry Potter theme library complete with hidden passage and staircase, has done it again.
He built raised vegetable gardens, wooden benches and a blackboard in their grounds.
The school has also received support from the talented lads in Portlaoise Men’s Shed who also built some raised beds.
Two classes, Ann’s Junior Infants and Brid’s 5th Class will plant, maintain and harvest 32 different plants, flowers and vegetables.
They got funding to help pay for the project from Laois Education Support Centre, as part of its Community of Belonging initiative. That involves local educators fostering and nurturing integration in Portlaoise through projects in local schools. The Community of Belonging was launched in 2020 by the Laois Education Support Centre in conjunction with the Teaching Council of Ireland.
It is perfect timing with Covid-19 helping everyone realise the health benefits of learning in the fresh air.
Teacher Rozz Lewis said her pupils love being outdoors.
"The children were shocked when they saw our outdoor classroom! It really improved the learning experience and the children loved feeling and messing with the soil," she said.
“The outdoor space has become the most attractive place to be. Teachers and students in Portlaoise Educate Together NS are now seeing the reality of this during the pandemic. The Summerhill Campus is very fortunate in that we have many green areas to learn in but now we have an outdoor classroom haven.
“Eamon Lennon our caretaker put together a plan and designed a real classroom environment in the outdoors. We were also very lucky for Laois Education Centre to fund a new gardening project. In conjunction with the Men’s Shed, we received two beautifully constructed raised beds along with training from a local landscaper and gardener, Alice Gorman,” she said.
“The children are really benefiting from this type of work and it really is the best type of learning as it covers every curriculum area in a fun, informal way,” Rozz said.
Michael is in 5th Class.
"I really like the outdoor classroom because when it is sunny we can use it. It's really helpful while covid is going on. I really like the vegetables idea because we might be able to bring them home," he said.
Oliver is also 5th Class.
" I love being outside with fresh air and all the nature sounds,” he said."
Student Hannah is also delighted.
"I think the outdoor class is a great idea. It will be great for sunny days. Hopefully the raised beds will grow some lovely plants," she says.