Building a Living Willow Shelter with Jonesport 2nd-Graders

by Hazel Stark
Co-Founder/Co-CEO/Naturalist Educator

“Someday, I want to build a fort outside at school!” When four 2nd-graders had that same wish at Jonesport Elementary School this year, Transforming Rural Experience in Education (TREE), which aims to bring all students’ “Somedays” to life (among many other great things), reached out to Maine Outdoor School to help. 

With our experience in facilitating outdoor shelter-building with children and our nature knowledge, we had an idea: why not have these students work together with their class to make a sort of fort that will last at least as long as they are students in Jonesport?

Joe Horn, MOS’s other co-founder, got to dreaming up the ideal “fort.” By cutting shoots of living willow shrubs, sticking them into wet ground, and weaving them together, we could all make a living shelter on the playground that students could watch grow as they went through school. 

Jonesport Willow Shelter.jpg

We began by facilitating a short teambuilding program with these students, knowing that practicing their teamwork skills in small groups first would help them be successful at building something big and permanent in large groups later. They worked with a partner to build tiny shelters in the woods for a local animal of their choice--snowshoe hares and foxes were popular options, though they had to decide how to agree on one animal to focus on, which was sometimes challenging. Some chose randomly by playing rock-paper-scissors to decide while others simply let their partners decide. 

They agreed that working together could be hard, but they decided on some ground rules to make it easier: communicate with each other, be kind and respectful, and look around you to make sure you don’t hurt anyone.

On the “big day,” when Joe and I arrived at school with a bunch of willow shoots strapped to the car roof, students were ecstatic to build the living willow shelter. It took nearly three hours of concentration, where students met all sorts of STEM goals and collaborated effectively with one another. Check out the video of the project here:

When asked what they learned after the project, students shared:

I’m excited about when leaves cover it!
  • Cut willow branches grow!

  • Helping, working together, and sharing jobs are examples of teamwork

  • It’s fun to help!

Now we will watch to see the willow shelter grow for years to come on the Jonesport Elementary School playground!

This Someday program was entirely funded by the Cobscook Community Learning Center’s Transforming Rural Experience in Education (TREE) program, which you can learn about here.

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