Project Wrap-Up

My last couple of weeks in South East Asia were focused on finishing up a “Greenscapes GreenscapesForSchoolsEGuidePage1for Schools E-Guide” that provides guidelines for planning and implementing green schoolyard projects. Included in the guide are case studies that outline proposed projects for each of the three schools I visited in my travels; International School Kuala Lumpur, Phuket International Academy Day School, and United World College in Singapore.  The intention is to provide an easily accessible introduction to the concept of ecological schoolyards and natural play areas, and to provide guidelines as a starting place for creating schoolyard ‘greenscapes’.

CaseStudyPlaygrndGardenOne of the biggest challenges for me in putting together the guide was finding a way to convey information in a concise format. With Kenny’s prompting from the perspective of an experienced teacher who knows about teachers’ time limitations, I whittled away and consolidated to come up with a guide that can be accessed easily, perused quickly, and at the same time encourages further investigation.

Kenny Peavy plans to make the guide available on his environmental education consultancy website and teachers at the Phuket school are anxious to share it with their colleagues and other educators at an upcoming conference.

My time in Southeast Asia has been invaluable and brimming over with new experiences. Visiting schools and spending time with teachers and administrators and talking with them about school ‘greenscapes’ has given me new perspective and generated many new thoughts and inspirations for my work in the future.

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Catching Up In Hindsight

It feels a little like cheating as this and the next few posts are in hindsight, but I want to take you through to the close of my big adventure.

Let’s see, after Singapore…

I headed back to KL for a few days. Kenny and his mother took off for Jakarta so I was solo for a bit. I took walks several days a week around the neighborhood.

Neighborhood sounds: Between 5:30 and 6:00 am the call to prayers from the nearby mosque, 6:30 or so at early light the cicadas sing and birds call, at full light street noise gets louder and the morning monkey procession comes down the street and exercise walkers are out. I’ve walked the loop around Kenny’s neighborhood enough mornings to know a few of the ‘regulars; humans, monkeys and some birds, that is.

DSC00593There’s a stream that comes down from the forest and flows through the neighborhood. On our first walk around the neighborhood Kenny had pointed out to me places where he took students to test water quality on the hillside above the neighborhood and below where water passes under a bridge and out into a more open area. He said they were impressed by the significant differences in water quality and flora and fauna in the two places, would be a good project to do monitoring over time.

My neighborhood walk goes around a golf course/tennis club and past a little neighborhood park. Signs in the park are all in Bhasa, so I don’t know what they say. There are some adult-sized exercise stations including a reflexology pad. DSC00597Pictures of the child-sized play area without the signs would give no clues about where in the world it is located. When walking by I have only seen a few kids kicking around a soccer ball and one parent and child on the diminutive slide and a couple of walkers cutting through.  It appears to be not very well used as a neighborhood park.

There’s a British Montessori ‘prep’ school on the DSC00632route, you can see in the picture that there’s the typical play yard there, b-o-r-i-n-g… with a nice open-air porch on one end of the building…

Joggers and bicyclists make the ‘loop’ multiple times passing me once or twice, but there are lots of leisurely strollers like me and dog walkers too.

DSC01739If I walk in the afternoon I usually see cars stopped to watch and feed junk food to monkeys. At a spot on the street near the ‘preserve’ there are people who bring crates of old fruit and packages of food to feed the monkeys, maybe they sell food to spectators in cars that stop to take pictures.  I’ve seen big groups of adults and families there.

On a taxi ride back to the condo from downtown the driver told me that at around dusk people go up to see wild pigs that come down from the forest in the same place. Myth has it that if you touch one it will bring you good luck. The driver said he took his mother up once when she wanted to win the lottery, but when she saw the pigs, she decided against taking the risk. I had noticed signs of the pigs rooting around along with lots of plastic trash. While out on a walk around dusk I witnessed the monkey-pig carnival – a huge DSC01793crowd in the street throwing all sorts of food, bread, fruit, whatever was in the car- to the monkeys and pigs. It’s pretty sad that people persistently ignore signs and information about feeding wild animals. I wonder how often someone gets bitten? Or will it take somebody getting seriously hurt to stop the feeding.

DSC01679On my walks I noticed people coming out to the street from a little pathway. I asked two women one morning about where the path went. “Up the hill to the lake.” I ventured up the path the next morning that went between two house next to a stream and then went uphill. The pathway was steep, but had rope handholds alongside it. When I got up to the top there was what looked like an old reservoir or something. A sign posted there told of a recent ‘robbery’, it was enough to convince me to head back down.  I did go back up with Lisa, a DSC01667teacher from ISKL, and her dog Pluto and another day with Natasha and Amanda and her dog Ulu. It was a nice hike up to a small lake that seems to serve for water retention and maybe flood control.  It was Sunday afternoon, lots of people out hiking.

While hiking with Lisa she pointed out some pitcher plants that grow on runners along the ground and up over shrubs and small trees, a fern that grows in hexagonal patterns, and a blue-green fernlike plant growing on the hillside.


Amanda & Ulu at Lake


Lisa and Pluto

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Seeing Singapore

Singapore is a big bright and shiny city! I covered a lot of territory, I only wish I’d had a little more time…

DSC01116On a visit to Clarke Quay on the Singapore River, a renovated and spiffed up historic district, we walked along the water front where there are bumboats tied up. Until the 1970’s the bumboats carried cargo from ships to warehouses on the banks. Now electric bumboats ferry tourists up and down river and warehouses and shophouses now house trendy shops, pubs, bars, and restaurants. We ducked under the awning of a brew pub for a beer and to wait out an afternoon rainstorm.

Where there’s water to play in…who can resist?DSC01114

A walk along Orchard Rd., a famous shopping mecca, was a bit overwhelming especiallyDSC01417 when coming out into the glitz from the LRT station below. Orchard Road = Hyperactive Singapore.  So many lights, so many people–overload for a Vermont woods woman!

DSC01326 DSC01328An evening in the Arab Quarter, Kampong Glam, was relatively peaceful and full of color and crazy wall murals. This is one of the conservation districts where shophouses and other buildings have been renovated. It’s now full of local designer boutiques, restaurants, and cafes, but its Maylay and Middle Eastern essence shows through. We had a nice Middle Eastern meal at a sidewalk table.

DSC01329This sign that I noticed while walking to Kampong Glam became the familiar landmark I used to find my way back to the hostel.

DSC01344 DSC01368I spent a good part of an afternoon at the Botanic Gardens in the Ginger Garden and the Orchid Garden. Amazing! I could have wandered for hours more and would have done so had it not been for a long downpour complete with a roaring thunderstorm with spectacular lightning. Thankfully I got to the orchid garden pavillion just as the bottom fell out. When the thunder and lightning subsided, I took off my shoes and sloshed my way through streams of water to the visitor center.  When it was all over, I found my way to the LRT station.

I hooked up with friends of mine from New Orleans who were visiting Singapore at the same time as me. We did lots of walking around. Among many things, we saw a great exhibit at the Singapore Art Museum which is housed in the restored historic 1855 St Joseph’s Institution, a Catholic boy’s school run by the La Salle Brothers.

In our wandering we also took in part of Little India, passed by Mosques, Hindu temples, Catholic Churches, Colonial Buildings and old shophouses and stopped to sample some interesting fare along the way.

DSC01418DSC01439My last night in Singapore we went out from the hotel where my friends Ben and Libby were staying near Chinatown to catch New Year’s Festivities. We passed by the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, but missed the chance to go inside.

We walked through a beautiful Hindu Temple, what amazing colors and characters! DSC01441 DSC01443

We stopped at a puppet stage and followed puppeteers into a Chinese Temple across the street.

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This is the year of the Snake! DSC01457

We fell in with the crowds and walked along a main thoroughfare that was blocked to traffic and got within viewing distance of a great huge performance stage and decided to go to a less crowded side street to find a spot to sit and eat. DSC01480 Wow, there was a lot going on!DSC01481DSC01431

What a city! Clean and safe. I headed back from Chinatown to the hostel just before midnight without a worry. When I got up to the street from the LRT station it only took a few minutes before I located the Bird’s Nest sign landmark to find my way back to the hostel. Though I missed seeing fireworks, I could hear the booms bouncing off buildings on my walk back.

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UWC Singapore

DSC01229United World College Singapore a Nursery-Grade 12 school, is set on a very new urban campus in Singapore. Buildings are state of the art, designed for energy efficiency  and planned with green space around the perimeter. Singapore real estate is at a premium, the buildings designed for a capacity of over 3,000 students, surround a central plaza and go up 6 stories.

On a dizzying tour with Dena and a couple of the grounds and facilities staff we were told
DSC01232about infrastructure systems and green space gardens. Gardens include a European and Thai herb garden, Rain Garden, Teen Garden, ‘Junior’ Garden, ‘Infant Garden’,  and a series of zones with a wide variety of trees planted as part of an ‘Adopt a Tree’ program.

DSC01265Students on the Campus Improvement Team work with Dena and grounds keeper Ronald to grow and plant on campus. There is an ongoing effort to get students involved in planning and planting new areas including a new ‘Science Garden’ outside on the 5th floor.

UCWS is in the midst of reviewing and revising curriculum and learning principles at the same time settling into their second year on this campus.

We met with Mike, Middle School Principal, Mary,  middle school curriculum, and briefly with teachers Andrew, high school physics, David, primary, and Primary (Pastoral) Vice Principal, Karl.

At the start of the visit, conversations centered on defining ‘outdoor classroom’ and ‘natural play space’. By the time our visit ended, gears were turning and many ideas were generated about connecting outdoor time and spaces with curriculum and learning principles and best ways to utilize and add to already existing green spaces on campus and beyond while encouraging teachers  to use them to enhance lessons and experiences. As Karl said in a walk around campus, “You’ve planted the seeds, I can see now that there are many things to think about and pursue.” Karl wants to add a chicken coop to the teen garden among other things and spoke about simple changes that would make garden spaces more accessible to students and to classrooms.

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International School Teachers in Phuket

I stayed with teachers Emma and Erin while visiting PIADS. Though this is their first year

Erin and Emma at Home

Erin and Emma at Home

at PIADS, they have both been in Thailand before at an international school in Bangkok. They came to Phuket from Tokyo and are happy to be in a place that has some green space. International School teachers are a very worldly bunch.

Emma is the Program Coordinator for the Junior School and ESOL teacher. Erin is an Early Childhood Teacher; both are very enthusiastic about creating a more natural play-learning area in and around the Early Childhood Center.  They are both outdoorsy and live in a home with an outdoor kitchen and shower.  They have two adopted street kittens that spend the day in Erin’s classroom on Thursdays.

DSC00853Erin has brought lots of nature into her K1 classroom for a ‘Sharing the Planet Unit’ parents helped to set up a garden table with plants and digging tools. There are big leaves and seedpods out on a table that children use for looking at patterns, tracing shapes, painting…

The ECC classrooms open onto a lovely open-air courtyard that has some trees and plants but no DSC00980exposed soil; the entire courtyard is covered in brightly colored surfaces. Good for riding trikes, but not so good for tumbling on. There’s a water play area and a lovely quiet reading shelter. We talked about pulling up some of the hard surface to expose soil and make room for sand play and a more natural water play area. Key things that must be considered here are the need for shade from the sun and shelter from rain; hence the covered walkways and shade sails over the courtyard.  Shoes are left outside the classroom doors and walking barefoot in the courtyard seems to be okay. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some sand and grass to wiggle toes in?

James is a grade 3 teacher who has been at PIADS for 3 years. He, like Emma and Erin has taught in several different countries.  His class just recently returned

Emma and James at the Park

Emma and James at the Park

from a 3-day field study, they stayed in a camp and visited a turtle conservation project, did some beach cleanup and learned a bit of coastal ecology. They gave a presentation at assembly during which time they told of their experiences that included morning jogs and yoga on the beach and releasing turtles into the surf.

James takes his class to the nearby national park regularly, his students have been working with park rangers on trails and with the rangers help have put up signs identifying many of the trees there.

We took a walk on a park trail with Emma and James and in our time there saw some very interesting looking insects, plants, and spiders and checked out a little stream.


Dan and Kenny at the gardeners’ garden

We walked with James and Dan, Middle School Principal and  School Curriculum Director who is another well-traveled educator. We checked out a playing field, nursery program play area, gardens and potential outdoor classroom  ‘hang out’ spaces that they feel could be ‘naturalized’.  Dan is eager for ideas for transforming existing garden and open spaces and wants to learn more about ways to best link outdoor activities to curriculum.

Extra-Curricula Garden

Extra-Curricula Garden

There’s lots of good energy and beautiful outdoor  space at PIADS and a group of teachersthat have an infectious enthusiasm that has and will continue to make things happen. Here as at other schools the challenge is how to best engage all teachers and students in making plans and implementing projects.

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At the Beach in Phuket


After visiting PIADS we had a couple days on Nai Yang Beach. I walked with Kenny and PIADS teacher, James to check out potential camping places in the national park there and a route for an upcoming grade 5 trip that may include some kayaking.


Nai Yang is a relatively undeveloped beach in DSC01084Phuket, though there are a few big hotel resorts that have been built since the 2004 tsunami. It is a very pleasant, fairly low-keyed tourist beach. Nice swimming and easy enough to find reasonably priced rooms even in ‘high season’. This time of year the water is fairly calm.



One of my favorite things while at Nai Yang was walking to the local night market. So many interesting things to see. We did a little taste testing and I bought some mangosteens and another funny, tasty fruit that I don’t know the name of.


I did a tourist thing and rented a chair on the beach the last day we DSC01100 were there and spent the day swimming, reading, and walking. Like vacation. Some pretty interesting people watching between the tourists and the vendors selling all sorts of stuff from clothing to brooms and jewelry. I can’t help but wonder how many tourists really pay attention to what makes this place unique. And how many would not suspect the possibility of a tsunami.

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Travels Beyond KL

Let’s see where did I leave off…

Returned to Kuala Lumpur last night from twelve non-stop days of travel to Phuket, Thailand and then Singapore – two very different and interesting places.

PIADS buildings are connected by outdoor walkways. Lots of neat,tidy green space in between...

PIADS buildings are connected by outdoor walkways. Lots of neat,tidy green space in between…

In Phuket we visited the Phuket Academy International Day School (PIADS), a fairly new school that started with a primary school and now goes from Nursery through grade 9. Next school year grade 10 will be added, the following year grade 11 and so on.

Kenny has been organizing and leading environmental education programs for PIADS to places away from campus.


Early Ed Centre Courtyard Playspace

Teachers and administrators we met with are keen to ‘naturalize’ play spaces and create outdoor teaching/learning spaces on campus with the ultimate goal of connecting students to the natural world at school to what is around and beyond the school. We spoke about linking classroom and outdoors by ‘greening up’ play spaces in and around the primary school area and  about creating an outdoor classroom for middle and upper grades. The challenge is linking being outdoors to curriculum. Sounds familiar…

There’s plenty of outdoor space around the school, but not much in the way of naturalDSC00925 teaching-learning-play spaces. There is a national park within walking distance where James’ grade 3 class spends time and other classes visit on occasion.



PIADS is part of a complex that includes a meditation retreat center and a well-appointed sports complex that includes training facilities for professional and olympic triathletes, to which  PIADS has access for swimming and other sports.

On a short walk beyond the sports complex we discovered a fairly easy access to a stream. DSC00820

Teachers and principals we met and brainstormed with were quite enthusiastic, open to new ideas and eager to move “past potential and on to implementation”. I am working on a couple of concept plans for PIADS that will be ‘case studies’ included in the “E-Guide for Planning Teaching-Learning Spaces for Schools.


Proposed space for outdoor classroom


Do-it-yourself natural play area outside primary grades building

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