News, Projects  |  May 18th, 2017

A Natural Outdoor Classroom: The Design and Installation at Harrison Elementary

Creating Happier, Healthier, More Engaged, and Environmentally Conscious Students

It all started with Harrison Elementary’s PTA looking for a “big idea project” that would benefit the school for years to come. At the time, the school had also lost their beloved counselor to cancer. It was important to the staff that the project included a memorial to have a way to remember her. The PTA board got together with the principal, Dr. Andrea Haynes, over the summer of 2016 and came up with an outdoor classroom that would include a memorial butterfly bench in memory of Mrs. Beers! Part of the outdoor classroom funding came from a grant they received from the Men’s Garden Club of Omaha. After pulling together funding and selecting an underutilized space at the school together with landscape designer, Anne Houser, they were off!

A Natural Outdoor Classroom Design

The classroom design needed to follow ADA standards so everyone could access the space. With concern for allergies, Anne needed to create a design that would not increase the presence of bees, so basically that meant no flowers in the classroom plantings. “The task was achievable because we were pursuing a low-maintenance Nebraska Style garden,” explained Anne.

The design includes a wide, generous path made of limestone fines that guide you from the school sidewalk to the classroom.  The classroom was created with a double, staggered row of benches to accommodate up to 24 students and the teacher has their own bench facing the students. A beautiful butterfly bench was purchased as a memorial piece to Mrs. Beers.  The bench was placed in the grove of aspen facing outward towards the school yard.  A flagstone path leads you through the plantings to the bench for a quiet retreat.  The plaque pictured below indicates the dedication of the garden when  Mrs. Beers’ family broke ground for our work to begin.


The installation began in late fall of 2016 in order to utilize grant funding that was awarded. It was important to the school to maximize the funding to the fullest.

The Purple Polo installation crew consisting of Aaron Bryan, Dave Nelson, Alex Boston, and Dave Henley were meticulous when it came to the design measurements.

The completion of work in the fall included the limestone path, bench seating, flagstone path, and aspen planting along with preparing the beds for perennial planting in the spring.

Once spring arrived this year, our purple polos put the finishing touches on the outdoor classroom which included perennial planting, placement of the butterfly bench, and memorial stones.


Harrison Elementary has big plans for their outdoor classroom which includes outdoor educational activities related to Art, Science, Reading, and Writing. The outdoor space, therefore, becomes part of the classroom, rather than a retreat from it.

“Everyone loves the space!” said Principal Dr. Haynes. “I have had so many parents and staff say they feel the design is well done. The students love the idea of having a classroom outside and they are excited to be able to use it next year! The takeaway from everyone involved is that all of the benefits of our newly established outdoor classroom will add up to happier, healthier, more engaged, and environmentally conscious students.”

Interested in an outdoor classroom at your school? Contact Kinghorn Gardens at 402-457-6492. Our skilled Purple Polos are passionate about creating spaces that allow everyone to spend more time outside!

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