The Nature Explore Classroom at
Carbondale New School
Carbondale New School has a distinct advantage. Their playground is very large and almost all grass and woods. Each area is large enough for many children to participate in the available activities, and the areas have a distinct space between them. Cut logs, creek rocks, pavers help to physically define each of the areas and the music and movement area is contained within a gazebo with a wooden walkway.
Each class, from ages 3-13, was allowed to name two to three of the areas. The age differences of students are reflected in the names chosen: Grassy Plain, Magic Tree House, Little Muddy, Danger of Falling Boards, Colors of the Wind, Nothing But the Beat, Harmony Gardens, Lollipoppi Sparkle Jumpi Land, Lock It Up, Keep It Safe, Mt. Dirterest, Sandy Island, Exercise Enterprise. Some are more complex than others, but staff and parents found it important to allow the children the freedom to choose names. Signs for each area were created by one of the parents using creek rocks. The name was painted on and then they were sealed with lacquer. These natural signs can be easily replaced or added to if needed. With a relatively flat property, there are no areas hidden or covered from view. In fact, from the top of the Magic Tree House, a person has a panoramic view of the playground.
Consisting of mostly grass and wooded areas, the playground needed only specifically placed additional trees, bushes, flower planters, native plants and grasses added to increase shade and beauty. Various sizes of tree stumps, recycled boards, tree cookies and old wooden blocks have been placed within the space. Children are encouraged to dig in the sandpit using sticks and to decorate with rocks, leaves, and other natural materials. The dirt hill is a favorite for all ages, because; well, because it’s a dirt hill! The areas in the classroom are understandable to even very young children attending the school. Paint was used to decorate trees, tree stumps, and several of the wooden structures to add additional colors and to help further define areas. With the backdrop of an arboretum and the almost exclusive use of natural materials, our outdoor classroom is truly an oasis.
Carbondale New School is a parent-owned corporation that requires volunteer hours for each family and additional service to the school is highly emphasized. Parent workdays are routinely held in which parents and other family members spend the day completing school-improvement projects. These parents were responsible for consulting with staff, designing the areas, securing materials, and then construction. Flyers were distributed over the Spring 2013 semester to educate approximately 45 families regarding the nature of an outdoor classroom.
Regular corporation meetings will highlight the classroom. They are currently working on a relationship with Green Earth, Inc. of Carbondale, IL. Green Earth is a non-profit land conservation organization whose mission is to preserve natural areas for the benefit of the people of Carbondale. This newly formed collaboration may provide educational experiences for the staff, students, and parents regarding native conservation and to secure additional new plantings and landscaping consultations.