Please welcome Kristin from Exploring the Outdoor Classroom! I am super excited to share with you all what she has to say and she was gracious enough to guest post for me while I am on vacation!
I am thrilled to be the guest author for Greening Sam and Avery! My name is Kristin and I am the Outdoor Curriculum Coordinator at a preschool in Southern California. We are proud to be a recognized demonstration site for the Outdoor Classroom Project. I am also the author of the blog “Exploring the Outdoor Classroom.” I have a BS in Early Childhood Education (Age 3 – Primary) and I have been working in the field of ECE for over 15 years. I am the mother of two sweet and active boys, ages 5 & 8. I love to explore the outdoors and I have a passion for sharing nature with children.
Abbie asked that I write about the “Must Haves” for the Preschool Outdoor Classroom. Though Outdoor Classroom will be unique it in its own way, there are certain components that are essential to creating a well-prepared, intentional, and child-focused environment.
First Things First: What is the Outdoor Classroom?
The Outdoor Classroom (aka “the playground”) is a learning environment where teachers provide a selection of thoughtfully planned activities filled with social and cross-curricular learning opportunities. The yard is designed to support the positive development of the whole child and provides dedicated areas for natural, creative, cognitive, quiet, and active play. These activities extend BEYOND the typical play structure that is found on most playgrounds. Strangely, most schools pour thousands of dollars into these structures, but research shows that when given other choices, children spend only 2% of their time on the structure!
What does the Outdoor Classroom Look Like?
Though each center will be unique, according to Nature Explore (a collaborative project of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Research Foundation), each Outdoor Classroom should include a welcoming entrance, and areas dedicated for each of the following activities: large-motor, climbing/crawling, “messy-materials”, building and construction, nature art, music and movement, and gardening. Other areas may include: swings, wheeled toys, sports, dramatic play, sensory activities, sand/dirt-digging, loose parts, water, caring for animals, language & literacy, and art. Basically, everything that you would have inside the classroom, you would find outside as well! This is not to say that each experience will be available every week, but there should be a variety of changing activities for the children to explore and enjoy. The joy of the Outdoor Classroom is that the outdoors provides a larger and less constricted space for children to learn. According to Eric Nelson, founder of The Outdoor Classroom Project, “everything that can be done indoors can be done outdoors; however, not everything that can be done outdoors can be done inside.” Activities can be louder, messier, and they can use more of the child’s whole body. For those children who tend to go “stir crazy” or who are particularly energetic, the Outdoor Classroom is their time to shine as they can experience learning in the environment that suits them best.
What are the Must Haves in the Outdoor Classroom? (a few of my favorites, anyway!)
Gutters, PVC pipes and connectors, tires, sheer fabric, natural items, logs, large rocks/boulders, stepping stones, tree cookies, boxes, ropes, mats, tarps
Tricycles (assorted sizes), chunky 2-wheelers, wagons for pulling friends, rick-shaw-style trikes and scooters
Sand, Water & Dirt Digging:
Buckets, shovels, sieves, cups, wooden spoons, measures, beakers, pots and pans, muffin tins, Tonka-style trucks, funnels, boats, gutters, PVC, plastic tubes, siphons, etc.
Anything from Goop, Gak, corn seeds, colored rice, beans, play-dough, clay, leaves, dirt, to mud bins with plastic bugs and worms. Be creative!
“Mud Kitchen” style (this is the most child-directed approach): tree cookies, metal pots and pans, wooden spoons, boxes, tires, bins of natural items such as pinecones, rocks, shells, shiny stones, feathers, etc.
“Thematic” style (this would be designed by teachers to develop a particular theme or idea): thematic scenes complete with props. For example, a Farmer’s Market, Old Country Cook-Out, Post Office, Dinosaur Dig, Science Lab, Flower Shop, House, or Restaurant. The possibilities are endless if you put some creativity into it!
Sports & Gross Motor:
Assorted balls, rackets, basketball nets, cones, teacher-made goals, boxes, bowling (milk-jugs work well!), bean bags, buckets
An area set apart for designing with natural materials and textures (pinecones, stones, feathers, etc.)
Music and Movement:
Have a dedicated space for children to sing and play musical instruments. I highly recommend adding beautiful sounding instruments such as an Orff, real drums, or rain sticks.
A play structure, slide, large plastic tubes, boxes, boards, & tires. Try to add loose parts that will allow the children to create their own crawling and climbing structures.
Language and Literacy:
Create a writing center filled with paper & drawing tools. For variety, add glue sticks, hole punches, envelopes, stickers, strips of paper, stencils, paper cut-outs, and natural collage items. Create a quiet space for children to curl up with a good book (on a quilt under a tree, in an old bathtub filled with pillows, or even at a table). Also, add clipboards around the yard for taking “Nature Notes”
The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to creating the perfect Outdoor Classroom. Add to it, change it to add interest, beautify it. Make it green. Add splashes of color using flowers and nature. Make it fun. Make it magical. Make it for the children. The children will thank you for it!
Thanks again to Abbie for letting me write for her blog this week. Please stop over and visit me at: Exploring the Outdoor Classroom (http://exploringtheoutdoorclassroom.blogspot.com)