Students study butterflies at the Early Learning Community at Pacific University

Students study butterflies at the Early Learning Community at Pacific University.

Earth Day at Pacific's Early Learning Community

Everything's coming up roses at the Early Learning Community in Berglund Hall on the Forest Grove campus, where children age three to six learn about the world around them and our place in it.


For most of the world, Earth Day is April 22.

For the students and attendees of Pacific University's Early Learning Community (ELC), every day is Earth Day.

The ELC's aim is to teach through the principles of play, through creation, invention and discovery. A walk through the classrooms and learning areas reveals a combination of art, music and nature woven together in a way meant to appeal to young children.

Mark Bailey, education professor and director of the ELC, believes working in this atmosphere creates respect early in life for other students and for the great outdoors.

ELC Students sing "Head-Thorax-Abdomen" as they learn more about insects.


The outdoor classroom is especially impressive, with seven separate gardens that hold flowers, berries, a small orchard, and vegetables. Another flower garden is named the Butterfly Garden, a habitat the students are building for nearby butterfly and hummingbird populations. The Secret Garden is a sensory garden, planted with spearmint, wintergreen and lavender. "It smells fabulous when it's in bloom," Bailey says. Just next to it is the Music Garden, with several large wind chimes and two large percussion instruments that ring like bells. Bailey collaborated with Colorado artist Richard Cook to bring the instruments to life. In effect, all seven gardens please all of the senses.

As the designer of the ELC, Bailey made sure there was more than one set of doors that led outside. "There are seven growing areas in the outdoor classroom," he says. "We planted the berries during spring break last year, and they've just taken over. Hopefully one day they'll cover that fence—it's inevitable that the college students use that sidewalk there, too, so the berries will be for everyone."


Students help plant flowers and vegetables, and learn how to care for the school's gardens.

Students help plant flowers and vegetables, and learn how to care for the school's gardens.

"People really came together," says Rachelle Mejia, who teaches one of the preschool classes at the ELC. "Last year, the gardens outside were mud swamps." Students at the ELC, teachers, administrators and staff from the University all helped to dig out the clay and replace it with organic soil. All of the vegetation the students, faculty and staff have planted are native to Oregon.

"We're anticipating about a pound of red wigglers in a couple days," Bailey says. "It's all very exciting."

Students spend at least part of their day outside, sometimes gardening, sometimes exploring, and sometimes searching for birds and insects to study. "We planted a lot over spring break last year. Having the kids help with the work also builds respect for what we're studying," says Laurel Collison, one of the preschool teachers.

Even better, the work connects to everything else: paintings of praying mantises and insects hang inside the classrooms, and the students learn about how to research using books and computers. Sometimes a class might walk around the rest of the campus, searching for wildlife to observe. Squirrels in particular are a class favorite.


Early Learning Community kindergarteners use classroom technology to learn more about plants.

Early Learning Community kindergarteners use classroom technology to learn more about plants.

The curriculum is very loose. Students tend to gravitate toward what they are interested in. For example, one day, a boy brought a book about reptiles into his class. "We spent about two weeks after that learning about reptiles," says Aja Appel, ELC kindergarten teacher. "And just because one student brought in a book."

-- Jessica Cornwell

Jessica Cornwell '10, graduates this spring with a bachelor's degree in creative writing. She has been the editorial intern/Class Notes editor for the past two semesters for Pacific magazine.


Praying Mantises hatching in the ELC's Atelier.

Praying Mantises hatching in the ELC's Atelier.


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ELC students learn about music while visiting the Pacific University Jazz Band.

ELC students learn about music while visiting the Pacific University Jazz Band.