Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to host a Nature Explore workshop at my site, and invite attendees from all over our state. We had 60 men and women show up for a day of sharing ideas, promoting children’s growth through natural classrooms, and advocating for young children to connect with the natural world. I was impressed with the level of commitment all of the participants have toward children’s early education. We had attendees from over 6 hours away, in some cases, show up at 9am on a Saturday to gain additional knowledge about how young children learn, and how we as educators can promote hands on exploration of natural items.
I want to thank each of them for attending and helping me to grow my own network of professionals, because I am a firm believer in #teachershelpingteachers! The following photos are of the natural space I have created in my own classroom, both inside and out. Our outdoor classroom space was designed by myself and my talented staff, and has been a work in progress over the last 5 years. We are lucky enough to ALL believe in the power of a well organized environment; to combat behavioral issues, to promote learning in a hands-on atmosphere, and helping children connect to nature, so that they may continue to be stewards of our amazing planet.
Water in the sandbox is a daily occurrence; helping the children overcome sensory issues, develop mathematical concepts like volume (filling containers), pouring skills, spatial awareness, and engineering goals; such as diverting water so it travels toward their creation, creating a bridge to travers the space.
Succulents in the space help beautify our area, and add necessary living components. The children care for the plants by watering, weeding and replanting when necessary.
Indoors we have aesthetically pleasing shelves and containers to hold items. Combatting visual distractions helps the children focus on a single activity. Turning off the overhead fluorescent lighting and opting for soft twinkle lights and natural lighting helps the children feel more connected to the space as well.
Our sensory garden inside the outdoor classroom provides hours of skill building; from cutting herbs to add to our playdoh, to planting and harvesting the crop: children are able to see the life cycle of a plant from start to finish and create an all important connection between farm to table foods.
Creating a visible connection between play-based, natural environments and what the children are learning, is a key component to the success of the program. Parents are the greatest advocate for natural spaces, and when we educate them on best practices, how we are preparing their children for later academics and show case the life skills we are teaching, they are more likely to share that information with others, creating a sought after program in the community.
Encouraging children to interact with nature is something we feel passionate about, and the addition of our espalier apple trees has provided countless curriculum discussions surrounding what is happening to our bushes. When they were first put in, the trees were barren, and over the course of our year the children have been able to watch the transformation and addition of the buds, flowers, and pollinators who have been attracted to the trees. We have learned so much about bees, self-pollinating plants, grafting, and pruning just by watching a single tree bloom.
The following video shows that when we allow children to explore their space, take risks, and encourage their inquisitive nature that we can develop deep thinkers who are reaching their cognitive milestones much faster. This engineering game was developed by a 4 year old who, given time and space, had an entire group of children following his lead, standing in a self-imposed line, and taking turns. Our total involvement, as teachers, was to video the results.
I encourage each of you that have access to an outdoor space to begin to incorporate more curriculum activities in the area; stop thinking of it as a place for recess and begin to see the outdoor classroom for what it truly is: a remarkable teaching tool.