The Marimba Makers

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12292905_1726467517581833_75188782_nThe first time Sean Murphy built a marimba, he was winging it. He’d never made an instrument—he really didn’t have woodworking experience at all—but, inspired to create a sturdy outdoor instrument that would work well in an outdoor classroom, he dove headfirst into the project.

“We’re artists, and we don’t say no to work,” he joked. Sean read books and took measurements of professional-quality instruments at the University of Memphis. He studied the math and physics of sound and shape, in order to tune the keys and string them for optimal vibration. He presented his demonstration model to the developers of the model Nature Explore Classroom at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, and when it was well received, Sean went on to create a 35-foot, four-section, 99-key marimba, which remains at the farm today.

Nearly a decade later, the art and science of marimba making are home court for Sean and his wife and artistic partner Anne Froning. Along with a shop assistant, the two produce handcrafted instruments for use in classrooms, parks and museums nationwide. The dynamic duo—founders of the company Being:Art—bring extensive and diverse experience to their artistry. They met when Sean was a musician and Anne was a dancer in an improv group in Memphis. Anne recognized Sean’s innate talent for teaching and drafted him to work with her in Memphis schools.

Meantime, Anne’s connections to Nebraska and the genesis of Nature Explore run deep.

“I was working with Kathlyn Hatch, an architect who helped Nancy and John (Rosenow) envision Nature Explore,” Anne explained. “I met her through the Memphis Aesthetic Education Institute. Kathlyn brought me in as a movement, dance and design consultant to work with her and the teachers at the Dimensions Early Education Programs in Lincoln. We worked with teachers and children, bringing concepts of design into the block area; that work grew into the Nature Explore collaboration with Arbor Day.”

By 2007, when the first Nature Explore Resource Guide launched, it featured Sean and Anne’s marimbas. Additionally, the two designed original experiential Nature Explore workshops for teachers, and spent several years traveling and conducting trainings until instrument making became a full-time business.

CaptureWhen students and teachers in a Nature Explore Classroom receive their marimba, they may not fully understand its special features. The keys are constructed from sustainably harvested Brazilian ipe wood, one of the hardest, densest woods in the world. Not only is it hearty and weather resistant, its density lends itself to high quality sound. Sean mills all of the wood, and each piece is cut and created to his time-tested specifications. He and Anne designed the frames and all of the components, and Sean created the harmonics of each of the keys and how they work together.

“To begin with, this took hours,” he noted. “But now, because we use the same wood from the same source, and the same measurements, there’s a certain amount of predictability.”

Capture 2While it used to take about 40 hours to complete one marimba, Sean and Anne no longer craft one instrument at a time. Now, working in small batches, they can complete up to 15 instruments in three to four weeks. It’s hard work—especially when temperatures inside their shop soar north of 100 degrees during the summer months—but it’s extremely rewarding, especially when they happen upon their creations “in action.”

“Once we took friends to visit the children’s outdoor garden at the Memphis Botanic Garden, for which we’d created a custom instrument. There was a little kid there with his mom, and he would run over and play the Kidimbarimba for a few seconds, then run off, then run back and play it again. He turned the playing of the instrument into a game,” Sean said.

Anne chimed in, “It turned into this really complex rhythmic sequence. By the end of a half an hour, he was full-on playing a complex composition. He was so focused that he could really attend to playing the instrument and it sounded beautiful.”

On a road trip, the couple dropped by the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, in order to visit a Nature Explore Classroom.

455_005“I remember that we showed up and the place was overrun with kids. It was like they’d never played outside before,” Anne said. “All these kids were crowded around the marimba. There were other loose instruments like shakers, rain sticks, and slap drums, too. While the kids were waiting turns to play the marimba, they started to play group improvisational music. That we’ve had a hand in kids improvising is really special.

“That’s what is so beautiful about Nature Explore Classrooms and the concept underpinning all the spaces,” she added. “Kids need to just mess around with stuff.”

We couldn’t agree more.

 

Find more information on the Marimba and additional musical instruments at NatureExplore.org

Car Mittens vs. Snow Mittens

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By Diann Gano, Nature Explore Certified Classroom Owner: Under The Ginkgo Tree

DiannWhat do Nature Explore Classrooms do in the winter months? We go outside, of course! As great as the winter has been to us this year, it finally got even better. It SNOWED! As a guest blogger, I thought this would be a great chance for us to share how we approach this season with our students and their parents.

A few years ago, while carrying one of those huge, 18-gallon tubs full of Legos into my classroom, it hit me; Why do I fill my classroom with all these materials, but I don’t have the supplies we need when we go outdoors in the winter? And so my collection began. Our families have been great about handing down snowsuits, mittens and boots that no longer fit their children. I also grab that kind of stuff at any clearance sale that I run into. If we are going to be an outdoor classroom, we need the supplies to make it happen. If we supply the stumps, loose materials and make the time to be outdoors then we also need to have the appropriate clothing to make that happen.

We call bundling up, “Suit Up and Boot Up”! After making sure everyone has gone to the bathroom, the process begins. I am often asked, “How long does it take you to get everyone ready?” Who cares? Do we have something better to do? No! And it is an important process that teaches more than what could be learned in traditional circle time. For example, we learn sequencing and self-independence. A few years ago, I had a two year old that could “Suit Up and Boot Up” faster than her older counterparts. She was a pro! With so many children attempting to get ready at the same time, children learn to independently get ready on their own. Our children love to play in the snow, and they know that getting ready is part of the process.

We have also found that some outwear just works better than others, which brings me to my newly created vocabulary word. Have you heard about Snow Mittens vs. Car Mittens? Fleece and wool mittens are good for car rides but if you are going to sled, build snowmen, eat icicles or just PLAY in the snow you need SNOW mittens. Any nylon glove or mitten will work, but really great ones go up to your wrists. They allow you to play for longer periods of time and stay warm in the winter temperatures. I knew my vocabulary word was catching on when a four year old sadly walked in the door and announced, “I could only find my car mittens today.” Poor kid. Luckily, we have many extra pairs of snow mittens. I am on a campaign of sorts, and Nature Explore teachers are the perfect group to help me out.  Use my new vocabulary word (snow mittens) and be prepared for lots of learning and sensational snow play.

 

**This blog post was originally published January 2012 **

Looking Back and Counting Our Blessings – Part 3

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore program Writer and Consultant

Wrapping up our look back at 2015, let’s revisit two Nature Explore Classrooms and the individuals who helped make learning in nature possible.  

Enjoy!

With a Little Help From My Friends

Flavia Nazario and Kim Robinson, Care 4 Tots Learning Center, Killeen, TX

Care 4 Tots 1 Flavia Nazario had a problem. Committed to providing excellent services to children, she wanted to work on state and national certifications for her Care 4 Tots Learning Center, in Killeen, Texas.  To prepare, she needed consultations with Sherry Trebus of Workforce Solutions of Central Texas. Yet Sherry was requiring a Nature Explore Classroom be implemented as a condition for her services. But Flavia, an experienced educator, was not a “nature person.” She thought the Nature Explore designs for her space were “a little crazy,” and felt unprepared for the challenge.

So she called her friend Kim Robinson, a self-described “country girl from North Carolina.” Kim had retired from over thirty years as an early childhood teacher, and was running a very small day care business in her home. She didn’t really want to return to “work.” But she was very intrigued by the Nature Explore concept.

What happened next can easily be predicted. Nature person meets Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom concept, gets excited by the possibilities, sees the project into realization, sees how the children embrace the space, gets hooked. Flavia and Kim are now a team, and their children have a charming outdoor classroom.

Nature Transforming Teachers and Children

Josefina Navarro, Fourth Street Early Childhood Center, East Los Angeles, CA

4th-street-3Nowhere have we seen transformations inspired by a Nature Explore Classroom permeate an environment more deeply than that of the Fourth Street Early Childhood Center in East Los Angeles, California.  At the center of these transformations is Josefina Navarro, its Principal.

In a way, the outdoor classroom (then under construction) chose Josefina. Seeing it while walking in the otherwise nature-deficient neighborhood, Josefina knew that she wanted to work with children in this natural environment, which she thought would be a garden. She knew nothing about the school or its curriculum, yet dreamed of working there. She applied for and got the position of Principal, then went to work recruiting a nature-friendly staff. She learned the space would be an outdoor classroom and attended Nature Explore workshops with her staff. Yet little did anyone know of the transformations awaiting them.

During our interview, teachers spoke of how cooperative social skills that are taught at other schools are developed naturally during play in the outdoor classroom; of children making their own discoveries about nature and wanting the learning to continue inside; of the lack of fighting, behavioral problems and injuries; of children creatively adjusting teacher designed projects when outdoors.

One teacher told the story of a boy from a turbulent family who had very poor impulse control. He would hit teachers and kill insects outside.  After growing to be a caretaker for plants, he grew calmer and more social outdoors, then inside. Following his own transformation, both at school and home, he then tried to calm his mother, reeling from a divorce, by inviting her to the outdoor classroom.

Teachers also spoke about their own transformations. One long-time early childhood educator spoke about having to forget everything she’d learned about teaching before starting at Fourth Street, because children’s learning and behaviors were very different now.  Other teachers spoke about learning to teach less and scaffold children’s own discoveries more.

4th-street-1-Yet another transformation is that of the surrounding community. Initial opposition to the space turned into strong support once people saw the outdoor classroom in action.

Josefina said, ”It’s very famous, this outdoor classroom.  It’s like a hidden treasure in this community.”  We couldn’t agree more.  Fourth Street is a treasure to its community, and an inspiration to us all.

 

These were just a few of the many people we spoke to in 2015. As we begin 2016 we are excited to meet, celebrate, and learn from more of this amazing Nature Explore Certified Classroom Network.

Natural Wood: Lessons and Gifts

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By Jim Wike, Landscape Architect, Nature Explore program

392_058“It’s all trying to turn back to dirt.”         I remember hearing this as a young boy regarding wood used outdoors. In many ways wood is the optimal material to use in an outdoor classroom because of its beautiful natural qualities and versatility. Wood creates countless learning opportunities for children, but it also comes with its own set of challenges.  Yes, wood wants to decay. We may have an impact on how long it takes to decay, but decay it will. So what might we know about wood that could help alleviate some of the concerns we may have? Here are a few points to consider.

  1. Understand your tolerance for maintenance

Be frank with whatever group is responsible for maintaining your outdoor space. Selection of materials, location of wood objects and types of coatings can have a big impact on necessary maintenance. Understand time available and skills possessed when making material choices.

  1. Select a species

Some lumber is more resistant to decay than others. You have probably heard of redwood or cedar but other species may not be so well known. Cypress, Black Locust and Osage Orange are also decay resistant but may be less readily available. You may know of others. One thing I recommend is checking into what wood species have been used historically in your area for fence posts, sign posts or other direct bury applications. These species may not always be the best for finished lumber, but they may be handy for furniture legs, bridge stringers, raised beds, fencing and edges or borders.

  1. Consider location

Moisture levels and ultraviolet light intensity are primary factors affecting wood longevity. If the location of the wood object can be under cover it will last longer than if it’s in a totally open location. Understand that it is not improper to have wood objects in the open, it’s just that they will need increased care.

  1. Know your coatings

As with the selection of species, choice of a coating can have a big impact on longevity of wood objects in the landscape. White pine or spruce, which would normally decompose rapidly if not coated, can last a very long time when properly treated. A few options include prime and paint, oils, varnishes, and stains. Primer and paint are usually associated with softer woods. Oils are typically hand rubbed which takes time and usually needs to be repeated a couple of times a year. Soy based oils are showing some promising results and are non-toxic. Be careful with linseed oils as they can blacken in sunshine. Spar varnish is nice on hardwoods and can be durable. Stains are usually easy to apply and also can be durable. They are generally most effective on softer woods. Above all be careful with toxicity issues. Do your research carefully. Seek sage advice on coating selection and save yourself time, money and disappointment.

Parting Thoughts…

*Give careful consideration to species selection and be aware of the sustainability impacts of your choice.

*Keep a simple 4-way wood rasp (looks like a file) in your backpack along with small sheet of 100 or 150 grit sandpaper. Use it to take  care of rough spots before they become bigger problems.

*As part of your daily walk-thru look for insects (the mean ones!) and eliminate their early nests before they cause larger problems.

*Let loose parts such as tree cookies and log sections remain uncoated. Their natural process of decomposition provides wonderful  learning opportunities (turning back into dirt).

Have fun with wood!

 

Looking Back and Counting Our Blessings – Part 2

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore program Writer and Consultant

We continue to be fascinated and blessed by stories arising from our diverse Nature Explore family.  While readying for new stories in the new year, we’ll continue to celebrate highlights from blog posts of 2015.  Sherry Trebus ensuring the development of outdoor classrooms throughout central Texas.  Allison Welch making an offer her local school board couldn’t refuse.  These are stories that inspire us.  And we hope they seed you with fresh ideas for your own great work with children in nature.

 Worms Lure New Members

My Big Backyard, Memphis Botanic Garden, Memphis, TN

Memphis Botanic GardenWe are thankful for the visionaries at My Big Backyard.  They proved that an intentionally designed outdoor space for children, powered by a dedicated and expert staff, and featuring innovative programming, can be wildly successful both educationally and financially.  Before Memphis Botanic Garden added the outdoor classroom, its membership consisted largely of seniors and individuals.  That changed.  After several months of activities in spaces such as Seedling Circle, Backyard Bluff, Wormville, and Treetop Adventure, the Garden’s membership soared 300%.  And area children’s time in nature soared as well.

A Seed Planted in a Class of One

Allison Welch, Murray, NE

Allison WelchAllison didn’t have a lot of competition for her kindergarten teacher’s attention.  In fact, she had none.  The only child in her class (in a school of about 13), Allison received a lot of attention from a teacher who wove nature into activities throughout the school day.   After-school hours were spent largely outdoors, too.  These influences, along with her learning from Nature Explore, inspired Allison while she was President of her local Parent Teacher Organization.  She raised $20,000 in seed funding, and had an outdoor classroom design in hand before meeting with the school board for approval.  Cougar Hollow, the Nature Explore classroom at the Conestoga Elementary School now hosts children and families for classes, activities; even parties.  And Allison is the outdoor classroom’s Coordinator.  Her whole community is reaping the rewards of Allison’s learning in that kindergarten class of one.

Exponential Growth Starts From the Power of One

Sherry Trebus, Workforce Solutions of Central Texas, Killeen, TX

Sherry TrebusAfter a military study found that the majority of childcare services in central Texas were below national standards, Sherry Trebus took action.  Killeen, Texas, is home to Fort Hood, one of the largest military bases in the U.S.  Its staff and soldiers deserved improved services for their children.  Workforce Solutions, a state agency, was tasked with addressing this critical need.  Sherry is the point person on this project.

Sherry assists Central Texas childcare programs in preparing for certification, both state and national.  She knows that daily outdoor connections with nature provide essential learning experiences for children.  Any program that engages her services is required to develop a Nature Explore Classroom.  Program by program, teacher by teacher, child by child, Sherry is making a tremendous difference in the quality of childcare services in Central Texas.  For her outstanding work, Sherry, and Workforce Solutions, were awarded the Arbor Day Foundation’s 2015 Rachael Carson Award.

 Nature Transforms a Boy, Photos Transform His Family

Corinne Carr of Special Blessings Child Care, Emporia Kansas

Corinne CarrCorinne Carr believes passionately in nature’s power to heal children labeled with “behavioral issues.”  She has seen “problem behaviors” dissolve when children are immersed in nature.  She knows that this labeling is very harmful, as it determines how the adult sees the child, and influences how the child sees himself.

Corinne once admitted to her home-based childcare program a boy described by his struggling mother as a “free spirit.”  She correctly predicted that his behavior would be challenging.  Yet she soon found that when he played freely in the Nature Explore Classroom, first thing upon arriving, he calmed for hours.  During his focused and social play outdoors, Corinne texted photos to the boy’s mother.  Seeing this transformation unfold in her child, mom then made time in nature a part of their busy family life.

If Corinne’s name sounds familiar, you’re probably remembering our 2013 blog post, “Inspired to Inspire Others.”  Her childcare business may be small, but Corinne’s heartfelt and creative work inspires us hugely.

Learn more about our Certified Nature Explore Classroom network here.

Nature’s Icebox – Ideas for Play in a Cold Weather Outdoor Classroom

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By Heather Fox, Nature Explore program Education Specialist 

434_032

Winter is in full swing, transforming many outdoor classrooms into snow dusted wonderlands full of new possibilities and challenges. When children have an opportunity to explore nature every day, they develop a personal understanding of the seasons. Here are a few ideas to encourage exploration and discovery in the outdoor classroom should your seasons include a winter wonderland.

 

 

Cold Canvas

Take advantage of the low temperatures and add colored ice cubes to your Nature Art Area. I have seen children create structures and patterns out of the ice cubes and use them as a type of paint as they melt into a white canvas of snow.

Winter Writing

Encourage children to trace designs on newly fallen snow. Use wooden spoons, fir branches or pinecones as tools.

Down, but not out

Try adding used Christmas trees to your Messy Materials Area. Children will build forts, design their own pathways and explore trees from multiple perspectives.

Saunter like a Snowflake

Have you ever wondered how a snowflake might feel as it dances through the air? Take advantage of the winter weather, step outside and experience it. Mimic their movements and joyfully participate. Use questions to help guide children to use their whole bodies to communicate what they know and feel.

*What might you look like if you were a snowflake?

*How would you move?

 Melting Mosaics

Winter landscapes hold less color than Spring or Fall. Create some color and experience the effect of melting with this activity. Combine salt and tempera paint to create a colorful melting mixture. Allow the children to paint snow or ice and explore the properties. Encourage the children to use many words to describe what they are seeing.

Tool Tutorial

Get out your child-sized tools and help children use them. Snow and ice create a different medium and a new challenge for children. This type of heavy work can help ground and focus. The movement also keeps them warm and healthy.

Illuminating Ice

Freeze natural items like seedpods or berries in containers of clear water. Pop out and string nature’s beauty from the trees in your outdoor classroom. Ask children to observe the ways in which the birds and animals react to your creations. Have them notice how the sun shines through and sketch what they see.

What types of activities work in your cold weather outdoor classroom? Please take a minute to add your great ideas and inspirations in the comment section below!

Joy, Mystery, and Love

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“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder … he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” —Rachel Carson

Thank you for all you do to help children rediscover the joy and mystery in the natural world. We wish you a year filled with all these things and more.

Happy Holidays from the entire Nature Explore Team!

Looking Back and Counting Our Blessings

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant  

2015 has seen tremendous growth for Nature Explore; with many new outdoor classrooms constructed and many new friends made.  Most importantly, our growth indicates that the mission of “nature for children—every day” is gaining wider acceptance.  More teachers are seeing their work with children transformed.  More children are feeling recognized and appreciated as the explorers they’ve always known themselves to be.  More parents are realizing that indoors needs balancing with outdoors.  More funders are embracing the crucial importance of nature for the lives of our children.

We are heading towards the day our mission goes mainstream.  The day may be close when anyone thinking of creating an outdoor space for children sees a nature-rich environment as the preferable option.  Your work brings this day closer.

In this and the next few posts, we’ll look back at people we met this year, and rediscover the richness of their work on behalf of children.  We’ll revisit Alison Welch, who attended a rural school with only 13 students, and Josefina Navarro, Principal of a school deep in East Los Angeles.  We’ll check out a Worm Hotel (small), and revisit Central Texas (very, very big).

Enjoy!

Community Grows in an Outdoor Classroom

Jil Jaeger, Grace School, Houston, TX

Grace_1Jil Jaeger teaches two year olds at the Grace School in Houston, Texas.  She told us of children whose behaviors in the manufactured playground transformed when they received their outdoor classroom.  The natural environment inspired many options for creative play, as repetition and routine gave way to explorations.  Curricular STEM learning is brought to life in the outdoor classroom, too.  Soon, parents began lingering with their children in the outdoor classroom during afternoon pick-up.  Spending this time with their children, parents also spent more time with each other, and with Grace’s teachers.  A closer school community was one of the unforeseen benefits the Grace School received from its Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom.

From Outcast to Interns

Beth Fryer, Teddy Bear Day Care and Preschool, Traverse City, MI

Teddy BearBeth had been “scoffed-at” by colleagues who accused her of spending too much time outdoors with her children.  Then she discovered the difference between being outdoors, and having an intentionally designed outdoor classroom.  Now Teddy Bear’s “Worm Hotel,” and “Chicken Shangri-la” attract not only engaged preschool nature-lovers, but Beth’s formerly skeptical colleagues as well.  Not only has she earned the long-overdue respect of her colleagues, Beth is now requested for workshops and presentations, and trains interns from the local college’s teacher education program.  Lucky children.  Lucky interns, chickens and worms.

 

A Home of His Own Making

Pam and her son Mark, a secure, undisclosed location

butterflyFor fully half of Mark’s short life, his family had been on-the-run from his extremely violent father.  Mark’s uncontrollable behaviors endangered both himself and his family.  Yet when Pam and her two children found secure housing, with an outdoor classroom on-site, Mark’s behavior transformed.  Finally having an environment that compelled him, he quickly developed the motor and social skills that had been unattainable before.  Pam, having learned to love the outdoors during one of her own emergency childhood placements, understood the importance of nature for Mark, and is delighted with his transformations.  She says the Nature Explore Classroom finally gave him the environment he so desperately needed: a home.

 

Cultivating Our Next Generation of Nature’s Stewards

The US Forest Service, throughout the US

RMNPWe are very thankful for Mary Wagner, Rick Cooksey, and our many friends at the US Forest Service.  While providing a wealth of largely unseen resources for us all, the Forest Service has also provided seed-funding for Nature Explore Classrooms.  As a nation, we are indebted to the Forest Service for programs such as research, conservation, fire-fighting, and the maintenance and operation of our National Parks.  For many years, a variety of their programs have been directed towards children and families.  Now, generous funding from the Forest Service ensures daily experiences in Nature Explore Classrooms for our future environmental stewards.

 

Learn more about our Certified Nature Explore Classroom network here.

Nature Inspired Learning at Home

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant 

392_058Many of you consult our Resource Guide (both online and in print) to purchase nature-rich materials for your outdoor classrooms.  While these products have been field tested in Nature Explore Classrooms, and we often state that they are for outdoor classroom use, we know that they serve children’s learning just as well at home. Especially when they are accompanied by a doting grandparent or engaged parent.

In past years we have met friends of Nature Explore, who were inspired to create intentional outdoor play-spaces at home.  Home-based spaces such as these are perfect locations for products from our catalog.

Sandy and Roger West built an outdoor space at their grandchildren’s home.  Said Sandy, of her two grandsons, “Before, you couldn’t get them outside. Now, they love being outside. They love being dirty; they dig; they are constantly wanting to be outside.”

Heather and Kipper Hesse constructed a space in their backyard for their three girls.  Having seen the benefits of nature for her children while they attended the Dimensions preschool in Lincoln, Nebraska, Heather went on a mission.  She was involved with other parents in the advocacy that resulted in a Nature Explore Classroom at her local elementary school.  She then brought the idea to the Saint Matthews Episcopal Church, also in Lincoln, which now features an exquisitely designed outdoor classroom on its front lawn.

If you are thinking of creating an intentional nature space, our At Home with Nature book will help you adapt the Nature Explore Classroom Design principles for home-based projects.  Yet any natural space, in any season, holds a wealth of learning opportunities.  Tools designed for close observation of natural materials (available here) are appropriate year-round.  Get inspired!  Our free Nature Explore Resource Guide will inform your thinking about nature for children, plus it displays our products.

27265adf_0021x_02Yet please be aware that these products and designed spaces have been known to produce behavioral changes in many children.  As with Sandy West’s grandsons, your children may develop a heightened interest in the outdoors.  They might find that exercising their imagination and curiosity is addictive.  They’ll probably want to go outside more often.  They’ll probably ask questions that you’ll need to research with them.  They’ll develop close observation and research skills that will generalize to other areas of their intellectual lives.  They’ll get more exercise, too.  So please think carefully before considering a purchase from our catalog.  The side-effects of play in nature are often irreversible, and may last a lifetime.

One final note: all our field-tested products are powered by imagination and curiosity.  No batteries needed.

From our Nature Explore family to yours — we wish for you a warm holiday season, filled with togetherness and time together in nature and continued outdoor adventures with children.

 

Sharing Through Recertification

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By Lana Gilson, Nature Explore program Outreach Coordinator 

DSC01301_1Each year we ask each of the Certified Classrooms  in our network to share with us how they are sustaining, adding to, or have changed their Nature Explore Classroom throughout the year. Through a short recertification application, they have the opportunity to showcase their site with rich stories and photos. Their original web page content and photos, found on our website, remains the same, and the new stories and photos are available with just a quick click on the recertification ribbon.

Through yearly recertification and their designated web page on www.natureexplore.org, our network of classrooms “share”.  They share hundreds of ways they are connecting with families and their communities.  They share all the unique ways they are developing their space to meet the needs of their staff and children.  They share inspirational stories from everyday learning and connections with nature that wouldn’t happen anywhere else.  They share how their classrooms are leading them to other certifications, such as becoming a Monarch Waystation, Wildscapes Habitat Restoration site, or National Wildlife Federation Wildlife Habitat. They share stories of their transformational journey to certification in front of large groups at local and national conferences.  They are accepting awards and being recognized for their work in creating beautiful spaces and amazing learning opportunities in their outdoor classroom.

In addition to celebrating successes, challenges are also shared.  Our research shows that recertification is extremely beneficial in helping sites create sustainable practices, keeping up their outdoor spaces, and ensuring continual growth. It also helps develop a commitment towards maintenance: care of plantings, components and equipment, and taking care of hard earned investments. It aids sites in developing programming, family involvement, and celebrating volunteers and partners.

Recertification also helps keep the contacts of the Certified Classroom network current so that we may send and receive information to help in the mission of connecting children and families to nature each day.  Most recently, our network of Certified Classrooms was asked to participate in a national research study.  The feedback from this amazing network was critical, and the research administrators let us know that they had never experienced such an incredible response rate.  Thank you!

Our Nature Explore consultant/writer continues to make contact with recertified classrooms for interviews, informing our network about great practices through blog posts and articles. Thank you for all your amazing work to connect children with nature each day and allowing us to help you celebrate your success each year!