Last summer the outdoor space went through major changes; from a park like space to a true outdoor classroom. The old monster climbing structure and much of the accompanying rubber tan bark, better suited to school age children, was removed and preschool friendly components were added; grassy area, brick bike path, dramatic play area, low level climbing spot and a GIANT mud kitchen. The result is a space where children are engaged daily- challenging their minds and bodies during play.
The outdoor classroom is Nature Explore certified and promotes creative thinking abilities, STEM education, and a Reggio inspired feel, involving our local community during construction. We have many movable parts, including the black tube, donated by a local construction company. The children love that they can roll it around as well as build walls, out of brick (donated by a landscape parent), that will stop it from moving when they want a place to hang out. We use authentic materials, encouraging a small sense of risk; promoting a child’s understanding that we trust them with real materials.
Outdoor Classrooms with movable parts do not have to break the bank for design options. We asked a local electrical company for the spool, re-purposed an old ladder as a climbing option and attached a scaffolding plank, donated by a painting company, for a small low level climber. We also have an additional scaffolding plank that the children can move around; currently it sits on top of two donated motorcycle tires and is used as a balance beam.
The old dresser mirror was found at a local thrift shop, and has been securely attached to the fence in the dramatic play space. The dramatic play stage was built out of pallets, by a handy parent, and is awaiting some planter boxes along the sides. We plan to grow trellis beans this spring to further enclose the space, reminiscent of a secret garden.
Encouraging a love of gardening is easy when we include the children in the decision making process. They wanted to plant things that smelled good, and were purple. We included Lavender, Sage, Rosemary and Brussels Sprouts in our winter garden, and have been documenting growth each day; patiently waiting for harvest. The children are encouraged to use the herbs in their play, cutting sprigs that become part of a Playdoh forest, mud cake, or even a beautiful bouquet to share.
Thinking of the space as an additional learning environment, rather than a place for recess, has given the students a rich academic component that touches their very souls. Meeting children where they are in the learning process and encouraging them to try new things sets them on a path of success and understanding before they attend traditional school age classrooms.