Sunday, November 3, 2019

Outdoor Classrooms in Action

Nature Explore in Family Child Care

Nature Explore is an organization that promotes research based outdoor classrooms.  The idea of an Outdoor Classroom is that children learn best when allowed to experience things fully while learning.  The old sitting in a classroom learning doesn't work well for many children.  I was one that was constantly moving something.  I remember one time being observed by the teachers while on stage for Pilgrims and Indians play. Being an American Indian I was barefoot.  Wiggling as usual they noticed my toes wiggling around the chair leg.  They were laughing and noting that the Indians would have to have shoes on.  While that is funny as a teacher, I still remember it to this day.  I was embarrassed.  Usually I could wiggle my toes for something to wiggle because it is less distracting than other things like tapping on a desk, moving all around, or whatever.  That silly story being said, children need to be free to move as they learn and not feel judged.  They need to experience different textures, smells, sights, and even tastes.  We have mint and thyme that can be tasted if they wish.  Usually they go for the mint.  

As a nature explore certified outdoor classroom the outdoor area needs to be set up as if it were an indoor classroom.  Not meaning with shelving dividing areas, or carpeting, but having defined spaces to work/play.  For instance, you can use natural things like trees or bushes or planting beds to define areas, or maybe edging of some sort.  We use trees that were already in our outdoor area and bushes and planting area to define areas.  We have two copses of trees, one little garden area that the children call the forest due to the snowdrop bushes, and natural boundaries.  In one copse of trees we have dump trucks and an extra pile of mulch for the children to explore, dump, pour and push around.  They are going to play with mulch anyway so I gave them an outlet.  It's much better than throwing mulch and landing in someone's eyes.  In the other copse of of trees we have our music area in it and branching out from it.  The big block area is on one side of the dump truck area because it is good to drive the trucks on the logs as well as stack them or stand on them, etc.  The block table for small and medium tree cookies is on the other side of the copse of trees.  So, the group of trees holds one things, and creates a boundary for two other things.  
Big logs to move are great for those that need extra sensory input.
Nature blocks add more challenge to building

The climbing area is in the back of the playground with a wonderful climber designed and built by my husband, assisted by our son.  It has a rock climbing wall, stairs, and a tire climber all to access the platform on the top and a slide.  Prior to this we had a plastic climber with slides.  Now this has more possibilities for play and more children can play at one time.  It also has enough space underneath that we added drums and other music items to play and sometimes it becomes a store counter.  

The spaces you might include in a nature classroom, just like you might have in a regular classroom, would be a music/movement area, blocks or building area, nature art or art area, water area, mud kitchen area, a dramatic play area, a reading area.  I have been seeing some really cute little houses kind of like a bird house, but it is enclosed and is for storing books.  I'm not sure that would work in our damp Florida outside area, but it is a great idea. For our reading area we use a simple small blanket and a cloth bag of books just set out on a shady grassy area.  It doubles as a safe place (place to calm down when overwhelmed).  The building area was already mentioned,  and the music area briefly.  The "forest" area has snowdrop bushes that are quite beautiful to look at as they turn pretty pinks and whites on the tops of the leaves at the top.  They are just tall enough to be just over the children, and their stems/trunks are thin enough that they can make them sway if they wish.  The wind chimes from the music area are spread over to the forest area even though it is divided by the trike trail.  Also, we just added River Rock Stepping Stones Pavers through the forest area for more sensory fun and exploration. 

Previously we had a fancy mud kitchen that looked like a little kitchen.  However, the ants decided to make a nest inside the plywood on the sides.  Now we have two stumps holding up a cedar live edge plank so the bugs won't like it.  Additionally I poured polyurethane on the cedar plank to protect the wood from the sun.  The mud is in a simple plastic long low container so the kiddos can mix the dirt with water to make mud, mix it for pies, cakes, or whatever they desire for pretend play.  Put in a few sticks and it becomes a birthday cake to share. So many possibilities. The dishes are in another bin for storage.  Both bins can store underneath the plank.  The mud kitchen is adjacent to the fairy house/play house which is simply made from branches we found and wove together.  They are tied at strategic places.  We decorate the branches with yarn of multiple colors, which we get to redecorate periodically as squirrels like to take our yarn for their homes.

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