Lake Harriet Lower Elementary’s gym was swarming with little pollinators Friday morning. With bee antennas bobbling on their heads, students sat in rows on the floor and listened patiently as Principal Angie Ness welcomed them to their first all-school assembly of the year. They were gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the school’s outdoor learning gardens.

Ness shared that she was inspired to bring an active-learning space to her school after a trip to Sweden where she saw children playing in similar spaces.

“We want to be playing in our land,” Ness said. “Natural playgrounds enable children to move freely around the environment, enabling them to explore, run, jump, climb, crawl, feel, smell and more. Also, with play comes opportunities to learn outside.”

Ness told the student they get to be scientists right outside.

“This gives us and our teachers a chance to go outside and bring the science standards to life,” Ness told the audience, which included families and members of the press.

Retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page read the students “Bee Love (Can Be Hard),” a children’s book he wrote with her daughter Kamie Page about overcoming the fear of bees.

“If you respect bees, they will respect you,” Page read from the book.

Before he started reading, Page told the children he was disappointed they weren’t outside and that he didn’t have a pair of bee antennas to wear. After he finished reading, a child brought him a pair of bee antennas and the swarm of pollinators were set to head outside to visit the new outdoor learning gardens.

A Lake Harriet Lower Elementary student brings Justice Alan Page a pair of bee antennas at the learning gardens celebration on September 15.

“I’m so happy,” Page told the audience.

As the students-turned-pollinators files outside, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Nathan led them in a round of themed-folk songs. “This Land is Your Land,” “John the Rabbit,” and “You are My Sunshine” were big hits with the crowd.

Lake Harriet Lower Elementary teachers Derek Carlson (far left) and Nathan Tensen Woolery (center, with guitar) lead the students in “This Land is Your Land” and other folk songs before the ribbon cutting at the Lake Harriet Lower Elementary learning gardens on September 15. Principal Angie Ness and Alan Page observe on the far right.

Once Ness cut the ribbon, the children eagerly piled into the natural playground area, most excited to walk over the bridge.

Students, teachers, and family members walk across the learning gardens’ bridge at the ribbon cutting ceremony on September 15.

The generous space includes an open area for play and multiple areas with plants, including raised vegetable plots. The learning gardens don’t have an official name yet, but Ness is asking the students for ideas.

Plants throughout the learning gardens at Lake Harriet Lower Elementary.