Nature Unplugged

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant and Writer

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The use of technology for information, entertainment, and communication is a given, worldwide. My smartphone’s navigation function, using a pleasant-sounding woman’s voice, guides me effortlessly through streets in unfamiliar places, to new destinations. As I drive, there’s often a CD playing in the background.

In 2010, during a visit to an elementary school in a jungle town on the Indonesian island of Bangka, a girl tugged at my shirt. “Mister, do you Skype?” she asked. At that time, Indonesia had the world’s fastest growth rate of social media adopters. Inexpensive “handphones” and data plans placed information, entertainment, and communication in children’s hands; even in the jungle.

As technology’s devices shrink, the scope of our world often does, too. Most of us probably feel that while devices can inform, entertain, and keep us in touch, technology often distances us from richer forms of direct experience.  We feel this, despite accepting ever more forms of technology into our lives.

Yet, would you believe that, in some conditions, nature actually prevents a simple technology from working? That, during one of the most critical periods of communication in a person’s life, anyone, graduate degreed or uneducated, young or old, can outperform digital technology just by being themselves?  What if I told you that nature can actually prevent technology from working at all while giving a five-year-old child the power to work wonders?

For the full, rich details of this assertion (and much more), please experience this extraordinary TED Talk; “The Linguistic Genius of Babies,” by Patricia Kuhl. It’s available here. (Thanks, technology!)

Kuhl and her researchers have discovered that babies who are 6–9 months old actively learn the specific sounds they’ll need in order to speak their native language. The babies start taking “statistics” on the spoken sounds they hear, differentiating them from other non-language sounds, storing them, and soon learning to form them into language.

During this 90-day window, American babies exposed to a Mandarin Chinese speaker will “take statistics” on these new sounds in addition to the sounds they hear in English. If they aren’t exposed to these extra sounds at this critical period, they won’t be able to differentiate them from other sounds when tested just a few months later. If they do hear Mandarin Chinese sounds, these babies are fully equivalent to their Taiwanese counterparts in recognizing them during the testing.

But there’s a catch. It’s not just hearing these sounds that make them stick, it’s hearing them spoken by a person. Babies who hear the same Mandarin Chinese sounds through audio or video don’t learn them at all. Meanwhile, babies exposed to a person speaking Mandarin for just a few hours a week over two months do learn these sounds. The actual person is the signal to the baby that the sounds the person is making are for language. In terms of language acquisition, during this period, the barking dog and Elvis on the stereo are just noise. So are those baby language enrichment CDs. Technology out. Nature in.

Until technology entered into the relationship between children and nature, nature did quite well by herself. The young child’s brain and body are designed to explore and discover. Unless influenced otherwise, children have an inherent affinity for exploring natural environments. Technology can sometimes enrich the child’s experience of nature, but it also has the power to impair this vital relationship. Could there be areas important to our development, other than language acquisition, in which technology might actually harm an otherwise natural process?

Consider two young children watching an anthill. One child looks briefly, then asks an adult to help him learn more about ants on the Internet. The other child studies the ants’ behaviors more closely, watching them longer. She’ll probably develop her own theories of the behaviors she observes, creating stories or drawings to convey her thoughts. She may then ask an adult to help her learn from a book or the Internet.

In the first instance, a transitory interest leads to reflexively consulting a habitual source of information. Reliance on technology has effectively short-circuited what could have been a far more enriching experience. For the second child, close observations are followed by creative hypotheses and artistic expressions, then by learning from other sources. No short-circuiting here.

The child fascinated with nature as an end in itself is participating in a wholly different experience than the child who is dependent on technology for answers to his questions. And, the child who lingers with the ants is more likely to develop an abiding appreciation of nature.

Nature’s power to enrich and transform children may be compromised when nature becomes just another experience that requires enhancement by technology. As with the baby learning language, sometimes nature by herself is what nurtures best.

Nature is the only environment in which anyone of any age can test himself or herself, and learn. The baby learns about textures, odors, and colors through contact with fragrant plants and flowers. He tests his tolerance for various sensations by exploring, then withdrawing from something uncomfortable or unfamiliar, followed by more exploration. The toddler both tests and improves her balance by running up and down a small hill. The elementary school-aged child learns caregiving by taking care of animals. Older children may develop self-confidence while gaining skills in camping or backpacking. People of widely varying ages test themselves and improve fitness in outdoor, nature-based sports. Mountaineering, skiing, paddling, and biking are just a few of the many activities that refresh our ties with nature.

Many, in the closing years of life, turn to gardening for exercise and relaxation. Gardening often has a poignant way of recapitulating for the elderly mature expressions of the small child’s experience with nature. Here is a gentle activity that may unite exercise, texture, odor, color, planning, taste, observation, caretaking, and more through a simple communion with nature. Which technology, thing, or environment can yield so much for so many so simply? So naturally?

As Kuhl demonstrates, sometimes nature has designed us to remain unplugged.  The next time you think of children spending time in nature, when their experience could in any way be connected with technology, consider pausing for a moment. Will this connection between nature and technology truly enrich the child’s experience, as some of these connections can? Or, will the proposed connection actually impair the child’s potential to form a transformative, lifelong relationship with nature?

Nature isn’t subject to blackouts, or to running out of battery power. Not only are batteries not included, they’re not needed. Leave them home when you bring children to an environment that holds the promise of engaging their intellect, emotions, spirits, and bodies like no other.  This is a promise best delivered unplugged.

Nature Explore at NAEYC 2014

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By Cory Kibler, Marketing Assistant with the Nature Explore Program

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Once again, Nature Explore was honored to send team members to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Conference and Expo Nov. 5–8 in Dallas, and it was a joy to interact with so many advocates for early education.

By all accounts, the conference was a success—our booth and our sessions were well-attended; we reconnected with old friends and made new ones; and, best of all, we were amazed by what we learned.

30 million. That’s the number of words a child should hear by the age of three to achieve successful literacy in their lives. However, it’s not easy; these words have to be heard at school and at home. That means it’s everyone’s job to impart language to our children. The good news is that, when children are engaged in outdoor classroom activities—building, moving, making music, creating art, exploring, and interacting—the words come freely. In an outdoor classroom, children have direct experiences with new concepts and vocabulary words. For example, a child is much more apt to learn the concept of plant growth after caring for the plants themselves.

Three years. That’s about how long we’ve been noticing a major shift in the enthusiasm and acceptance of outdoor learning environments. In other words, educators are looking at the research, observing outdoor classrooms for themselves, and looking outside traditional models to find solutions for behavioral issues, child health and wellness, and a host of other challenges. And, more and more, these educators are finding that outdoor classrooms tackle these issues head-on.

Plentiful. That describes the number of connections we forge (and renew) each time we visit NAEYC. Our dedicated network of partners includes Keep America Beautiful, Alliance for Childhood, Community Playthings, Lakeshore Learning, Project Learning Tree, Bright Horizons, Workforce Solutions, Collaboration for Children, National Head Start, the NAAEE Natural Start Alliance, and several more.

One. It only takes one thing—one idea, one educator, one parent, or even one child—to change the way we talk about education. If you have an idea of how to better connect our children with nature, start a dialogue; talk to your peers, tell your administrators, or reach out to us to begin a conversation. It may very well lead to real change.

Join the conversation. What have you learned recently about children and nature?

Trust the Child

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant

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You’re sitting at a table with three or four of your clients, discussing your proposed plans, getting nowhere.  Nothing but pushback.  You know that most people have varying difficulties accepting change; but this is different.  Feet dug-in.

What do you do when you know that your proposals would make worlds of difference to your clients, but they just can’t see it?  The old truism that people feel safer with what they know than venturing into the unknown applies here.  If your clients could just see what you are talking about…  What can you do?

If you are Tammy Beeman, owner operator of Grow With Me Home Childcare, in Lorain, Ohio, and your clients at the table are the children you serve, you let them see what you are talking about—in photos.  She did, and once the children “saw” what she meant by “outdoor classroom,” they understood quickly.  Parents came on board in a flash, and eagerly provided much of the work in getting Tammy’s now-certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom in place.

Shortly before her planning session with the children, Tammy had attended a workshop, where she was introduced to the Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom concept.  At this point Tammy had been providing home child care services for over a decade. She immediately embraced the outdoor classroom concept and intuitively understood the profound changes it would bring to the children, and to her.

Tammy’s first thoughts on discovering outdoor classrooms were, “I wanted it so badly.  I wanted to get rid of all the plastic.”  She understood that play with natural materials resonated with her own childhood, which had been filled with self-directed explorations in nature, supported by parents who gave her the freedom to solve problems on her own.  She trusted her own experience as an inspiration in creating an environment for the children.

As we’ve seen by Tammy’s involving the children in the planning of their outdoor classroom, she also trusts the children to have good ideas.  After reviewing photos of outdoor classrooms on Pinterest with the children, she used their ideas while developing the space.  Parents were instrumental in building the classroom, and all have been pleased by the results.

Tell us how you incorporate children’s ideas into you outdoor classroom and for more about Tammy’s experiences see next week’s post. Trust The Child Part Two.

 

Boosting Family Engagement in a Nature Explore Classroom

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“The more families become involved in the day-to-day experiences in of the outdoor classroom the more their level of excitement deepens.”

Keeping it Growing: Sustaining Your Outdoor Classroom

Families come to us with a wealth of experiences and interests. They are their child’s most lasting and valuable teachers. Programs that find ways to work with parents and other relatives to make decisions and support all children see great returns in family engagement. They develop relationships with enthusiastic parents who are ready to share their time and resources.

Our Certified Nature Explore Classroom network shared some of their best Family Engagement ideas with us. This is just the beginning of a long list of ways a Nature Explore Classroom can enhance the lives of families and encourage program, community and family connections. 

    1. Host an event in your Nature Explore Classroom. The Child Development Center at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida holds an annual fall open house. Families are invited to take a stroll through the Garden Area or build a castle in the Building Area. During the event, families learn about each other, meet their children’s teachers and see — first hand — the great benefits of playing outdoors.

     

    1.  Develop routines with families. Dimensions Early Education Programs in Lincoln, Nebraska schedules part of their outdoor classroom time during drop off and/or pick up. Families are encouraged to spend time with their child as they transition into or out of school activities. Some parents even make time every day to water a special plant or tidy their child’s favorite play space.

     

    1. Highlight Nature in the Community. St. Francis Episcopal Day School in Houston, Texas established a Families Club as a way to connect families to nature and build community. They have grown a strong pool of parent volunteers who are eager to help with construction and ongoing maintenance of the outdoor classroom.

     

    1. Keep Communicating. When programs share stories of children’s powerful learning that is happening in a Nature Explore Classroom, they build an appreciation for nature and the outdoor classroom itself. Highland Plaza United Methodist Preschool in Hixon, Tennesee uses their website, newsletter and Facebook page to highlight experiences and share information. Informed parents provide support. They help children arrive with appropriate weather gear, donate supplies and volunteer their time. They are also more enthusiastic about the program and can be counted on to tell their friends and neighbors about the program.

 

How have you fostered family engagement in your school, program or center? What ideas have helped parent engagement soar in your Nature Explore Classroom? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Lifelong Relationships With Natural Materials

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant

392_058 You already know that profound, whole-body learning can be achieved when children play with natural materials. Objects such as stones, water, acorns, shells, pinecones, rocks and branches offer learning adventures that evolve as children grow.  Sensory-rich experiences, open-ended imaginative play, and what is traditionally viewed as academic learning are major features of children’s use of natural materials.

Plastic toys may be used until their form or function no longer interests the child.  They offer a period of play, and are then left behind.  Natural materials are never truly “thrown away.”   Their function to a child may evolve over time.  Experiences with natural materials, beginning in the world of play, long outlast the period of play offered by plastic toys.  Natural materials may change in form, break down or decompose, but they always return, in some form, with the potential to draw us into further experiences.

 Yet the deeper value of natural materials lies beyond their educative value.   They hold potentials for drawing us into relationships that may evolve over a lifetime.

Let’s take stone as an example.

Stones are ideal educational aids for intuitively learning the fundamentals of math and physics.  With small stones children learn many aspects of counting, classification and ordering (based on size, color, pattern etc.).  Concepts such as weight may be experienced at a basic level during play with stones of varying densities and sizes; simply by carrying them, or by more complex play involving construction and balance.

 These early understandings become internalized foundations for later learning.  Formal introduction of beginning math and physics concepts will be complemented by the fun, intuitive, whole-body learning from earlier play in nature.

Stones also have many functions in imaginative play.  They can form parts of a model house, or represent people and pets in a house.  They can be transformed into virtually anything by active imaginations.

Many children love to collect stones based on qualities that are personal to each child.  You may remember the blog story of the shy, withdrawn boy in an urban school, whose private stone collection from the school’s Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom earned the interest of his classmates.  Stones for this boy built a bridge to peer relationships.  Then there was the story of the mother annoyed with her son’s stones found in his pockets before laundering.  After he brought a new collection home in a pillbox, and described each stone’s special quality, she grew to cherish his insights and joined him in his collecting.  Again, a simple natural material leads to new depths of interpersonal experience.

The many valuable roles stone can play in a child’s life may be just the beginnings of a lifelong relationship.  The child who climbs or plays on rock may recall those experiences in later years as treasured memories.  This child may also grow to love rock climbing and camping.

In some cultures stone is regarded as art, and has the power to inspire profound life-long connections.  For centuries, the Chinese have used found stone as statuary, both indoors and out.  One Chinese art form prizes stones, of any size, that exhibit an ideal balance of shape and pattern.  My friend, a retired Chinese-Indonesian businessman, loves to wander areas where rocks of this quality are likely to be found.  His collection ranges from small stones on shelves, to table-top rocks, to the multi-ton boulder he had moved from the lowland jungle to his mountain home.  For him, rocks are art, spirit and tradition.

 The potentials for lifetime relationships with the natural world are seeded in early childhood—the earlier the better. Start planting these seeds today.  It’s never too early to begin exposing children to nature.  Daily connections are best.  The child whose early play experiences involve extensive engagement with natural materials is primed for later schooling, and ripe for lifelong relationships with the natural world.

For many detailed examples of learning across many domains through play with natural materials, please see our book: “Growing With Nature: Supporting Whole-Child Learning in Outdoor Classrooms,” available through the Nature Explore website

Everyone is a Learner at the 2014 Leadership Insitute

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant

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“Even better than last year’s Leadership Institute,” is the thought voiced by many returnees. One first-timer told me, “From now on, this is an annual event for me.”   People left last week’s Nature Explore/Outdoor Classroom Project’s annual Leadership Institute with new and renewed friendships, inspiration, and valuable ideas that can be put into practice in the service of connecting children to nature.

Everyone is a learner at the Leadership Institute.  Everyone from workshop presenters to first-time attendees has ideas to share with others; both in workshops and during informal discussions. True wisdom about connecting children with nature is not held by any one individual.  It resides in the ongoing dialogue between us all.  Our dialogue reaches its most productive level during Leadership Institutes, where ideas of people at all levels of experience intermix.

This is the “secret” to why the Leadership Institute just keeps on getting better every year.  The program is an evolving blend of the “tried-and-true” workshops and the entirely new presentations.  My favorite example of the “tried-and-true” is the conference-long Designer Track, and my favorite new feature was the “Sharing our Work” series of brief presentations of many individual projects.

The “tried-and-true” designer track included experienced landscape designers mixed with outdoor classroom operators and teachers.  Sam Dennis, Professor at the University of Wisconsin, and Douglas Godfrey, Parks Planner for Boulder, Colorado’s Department of Parks and Recreation mixed with Andrea Blaha, Trail Specialist and Naturalist at Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s Indian Creek Nature Center, and Lisa Oltmans, a Teacher at St. Paul Lutheran School, in Beatrice, Nebraska.  The Nature Explore team facilitated the group’s process of developing three new, full outdoor classroom designs. They  were based on the natural features of one outdoor space at the Arbor Day Farm, and on the widely varying requirements of three imaginary clients.  All designs were presented to the entire conference on the last day.  Collective wisdom, shared with the entire conference, was this group’s gift to us all.

During “Sharing Our Work” presentations we learned highlights of many diverse outdoor classroom settings.  Although individual voices are the mainstay of the many workshops, these presentations, augmented by photos, was the chance for the entire group to hear these voices.  And one of these voices powerfully transported us all on a journey into the heart of nature, and into abiding human connections.

Rebecca Kreth and Peggy McCloud, both of Tacoma, Washington, presented on activities with the Puyallup Native American Tribe’s Grandview Early Learning Center, and on the local culture surrounding it.  Peggy, a Puyallup, brought a painted drum and a woven basket to the podium.  After talking about her tribe’s culture, Peggy placed her hands on the decorative basket, and the magic began.  She told the story of a young Native American basket weaver who had not yet “found her own design” for her work. Tribal women take her into a forest, and tell her that she’ll find her design by continuing alone.  The young woman moves in fright through the forest, having no idea what the elders meant.  She soon meets a series of animals that question why she is there.  Through these dialogues she experiences her people’s vivid and living connection with nature, and begins to find her “own design.”  As she emerges from the forest we all discover that the women had been waiting for her all along, and welcome her back to the community, now ready to share nature-inspired learning.  Few eyes were dry as Peggy left the podium.

Isn’t this story’s dialog, between nature and man, the story of the Leadership Institute itself?  Over a hundred and thirty of us left our daily lives back home, journeyed into a nature rich setting for three days, engaged in many dialogues, then emerged with new ideas to inform our own ways of connecting children with nature.

If you have attended past Leadership Institutes, please return next year for renewal.  We need your informed voice.  If you haven’t, please join us.  Your voice, and ours will be enriched.

Learning without Limits with Nature’s Loose Parts

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By Heather Fox, Dimensions Educational Research Foundation

26402 Arbor Day FoundationImagine a shoreline after high tide speckled with seashells, kelp and driftwood. The beach, filled with treasures more tantalizing than anything found in a department store, encourages children—and adults—to explore, create and imagine.

With no specific set of directions—and powered only by a child’s imagination—an assortment of conch shells might be gathered and classified, or used to transport water and mold the archway of a sand castle. Nature’s collections can be harnessed to create infinite play possibilities. Architect Simon Nicholson refers to items that are moveable and adaptable as “loose parts,” and encourages educators to provide children with a variety of these kinds of materials. He contends that, “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kinds of variables in it.” Sand, water, rocks and shells provide variability and intrigue, which is why we can play for hours by the seashore.

Parents, grandparents and educators want children to grow up exploring, creating and imagining. We know that these play activities lead to independent, creative thinking, adaptability and empathy—the exact skills we hope to foster in future generations. Nature’s loose parts can be found in any region, during any season. Just look around for seedpods, pinecones, sticks, rocks or flowers.  It’s learning without limits, brought to you by nature. Read  more from Simone Nicholson’s The Theory of Loose Parts, then post your own ideas and comments here.

Growing Nature Advocates

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant

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For years, Brett Dabb, Director of the Learning Center at Warren Village in Denver, Colorado, has been thinking of connecting children with nature.  He has long studied the benefits of time in nature for both children and adults.  He is getting closer to his ultimate goal of creating Denver’s first “forest preschool,” in which children will be outdoors as much as possible.  So when he learned that the Learning Center would be getting a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom, Brett was delighted.   More importantly, he was prepared to inspire and mentor his staff to maximize the holistic benefits of the outdoor classroom for the children.  Yet thinking beyond the children, Brett clearly sees the transformational potentialities for the outdoor classroom for families, and for the entire Warren Village community.

The Warren Village Nature Explore Classroom has replaced the traditional climbing structure that had been the totality of the school’s playground — and none too soon for Brett.  When children see a playground with traditional equipment, “they innately know how to interact with that space,” he says.  Not so with a space filled with nature and natural materials.  In place of an unchanging playground, the children now delight in the learning opportunities of a constantly changing environment.  How will the children negotiate the growing plants, the natural breakdown of certain materials, modifications of play required by changing weather and seasons?  “This space creates the foundation for them to develop competence, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking skills,” he says.  Social-emotional skills and teamwork are also developed outdoors.  “If they need to navigate or negotiate something they might need a friend’s help… Those are life-skills that young children, especially the population that we work with tend to lack in their development.  I think this space will lend itself greatly for them to further hone that craft.”

As noted in our first post about Warren Village, the Learning Center uses the Creative Curriculum.  It is a child-centered approach in which the children’s interests drive a variety of projects.  Each room is divided into interest areas — much like the Nature Explore Classroom — including an area for reading, science and art.  In these interest areas children can explore the subject as they wish.  Tables in the center of the rooms may have materials placed by the teacher to support projects in subjects the children are exploring.  Teachers create the environment, yet children determine how they will interact with the materials.  “The space turns into whatever the children want it to be,” said Brett.  The child-centered emphasis and richness of materials of the indoor environment will now be matched by the children’s outdoor classroom, and Brett is interested in deepening the association by connecting curriculum indoors, such as science, with teaching in the outdoor classroom.  Brett’s ideas for involvement with the outdoor classroom even extend to Warren Village’s Board of Directors, and beyond.  He recently brought some of the natural play materials to a board meeting.  “I pitched this to the board last month, and they were thrilled — playing with the loose parts as children do.” On the day of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, one of the board members brought a large plastic pail filled with pinecones he had collected with his family.  Both pail and cones are now in avid use by the children.  Social Workers involved with Warren Village families were included, too.  “I presented it upstairs to our family advocates who support all 93 of our families.  They were very excited about it.”  Children, teachers, board members, social workers and families — all members of the Warren Village community are being involved in the outdoor classroom experience.

To Brett, time exploring nature is important for many aspects of children’s learning and brain-development.  He believes this so deeply that he will, before long, bring a true forest preschool to Denver.  He also knows that in a fast-paced world, in a community where stable housing is a recent living situation, time in nature can be a rare opportunity to leave daily stresses behind.  To him, the outdoor classroom is for adults and children, teacher and student; a universal area for learning and respite.

Brett feels fortunate that Nature Explore found his school.  We are all fortunate to have, in our growing Nature Explore family, such a thoughtful and passionate advocate for nature’s varied benefits for everyone.

 

The First Step in a Transformation

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant

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An existing playground’s days are numbered.  It was a typical playground with soft flooring, and a multi-use, ruggedly constructed steel climbing structure.  “While it looks like fun when you first see it, the kids get bored really fast,” said Carie Cagnina, Assistant Director of the Learning Center at Warren Village in Denver, Colorado.  “There are only so many ways you can use it… There’s a lot of hiding when they’re upset…  It’s hard for teachers to see them or to get to them sometimes because of the design of the play structure.”  Some older children don’t engage with the space, and congregate in one area.  “Their play often turns pretty violent pretty quickly because they don’t have enough.”

Now, children are learning from their teachers about a “new playground” they will soon have.  But this playground will be different.  Rocks, flowers, new trees, musical instruments, climbing and art areas — and more — will soon be in place.   A playground that does not “have enough” for children, will be replaced by a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom that will have something for everyone- teachers and parents included.

The children grow excited, and talk about the new “classroom” that will soon be awaiting them outside. One day a transformation begins. The old playground structure is removed.

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Flooring is ripped apart to reveal the long hidden dirt underneath.

 

 

 

 

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Flagstones are chipped into shape for a path.

 

 

 

 

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Trees and shrubs are planted.

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After careful measurement, a musical instrument is placed in the earth.

 

 

 

 

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Large planter boxes are built and treated.

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Irrigation lines are placed, to feed each plant.

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A mother, whose excited children have told her about the plans, drops by to take photos.

 

 

 

 

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For now, it is the space that is transforming.

Further transformations coming soon…

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Join Us On The Journey

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant

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Thanks to the generous support from the US Forest Service, families of Warren Village, in Denver, Colorado, are about to embark on a journey into nature.  Warren Village is transitional housing for single parent families.  The traditional playground and large metal climbing structure that had been part of the Learning Center’s outdoor space is now being replaced with rocks, logs, wooden benches, a performance stage, a flagstone path and a variety of local plants, new trees and more.  This natural oasis will be richly supplemented with other field-tested materials from our Resource Guide such as colored scarves and art table and slap drums.

Warren Village houses ninety-three single parent families, and has approximately three hundred child residents.  Parents must have at least 50% custody of their children to qualify.  Of the Learning Center’s 106 students, most live upstairs, although residents are not required to send their children.  The Learning Center follows the Creative Curriculum, which is a child-centered and project-based approach to learning.  The Infant Program serves children from six weeks to one year; the Toddler Program serves one through three year-olds; the Preschool Program serves three to Five year-olds; and their after-school program serves five through ten year-olds who attend the local elementary school.  Recognized for its rich learning environment, the Learning Center is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and received a four-star Qualistar rating.  Its reputation attracts children not living in the Warren Village housing, who comprise about ten percent of the student body.  Greta Horowitz Learning Center’s commitment to quality education and the rare diversity of the children it serves rendered it richly deserving of the US Forest Service’s heartfelt award.

During the past few weeks, there’s been a definite buzz at the Learning Center.  The children are excited and ready.  They’ve been telling stories of how they’ll use their new “tree house.”  The teachers are ready.  One asked if she could hold classes all day outside.  Parents are ready, because their children have been talking about the approaching Outdoor Classroom for weeks.  Patricia, a parent, told me that she can’t wait to spend evening time with her four and six-year olds in the space.

The Warren Village and Greta Horowitz Learning Center communities are ready and eager to begin their journey.  But this is a journey with a difference–because you, the reader, can join them.  Over the next several months we will be documenting and blogging, in words and photos, the course of Warren Village’s Outdoor Classroom, and the transformations we know it will inspire.  We invite you to join with us to meet Brett Dabb, the Learning Center’s Director, who has been studying nature-based education for years.  Join with us in meeting Patricia, mother of two, a Warren Village resident who is now studying Graphic Design, an education made possible by stable housing for her family.  Join with us in meeting the children, teachers, school volunteers, and others who will experience transformations large and small.

You’ve probably been with our Nature Explore Community Blog for a while, and have read overviews of many wonderful outdoor classrooms.  Those of you who have our books understand the theory and practice of what we do, and have felt the passion of our mission.  Now is the time to chronicle, in depth, the story of a single Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom.

For the children, families, educators and friends of the Warren Village community, a journey is about to begin.

Join us.