The Nature Explore Classroom at

East Union Early Childhood Center

When we moved to this location, our outdoor space was an open area with a ditch and two drainage covers. We had some plastic equipment we used and a few trikes for the children to ride.


Over a five-year period, we have continually worked toward the outdoor space we wanted. Our space was strongly influenced by a Nature Explore Classroom that I had visited and sparked the creation of our outdoor learning environment.

The priority was a trike path with a covered bridge to ride through and store trikes. We added the sandpit; with the help of some high school students and parents, who brought in the big rocks for the border.

The dirt from the sandpit was piled to start our dirt-digging hill. Next, we added planter boxes for gardening. Our children love to garden. We added our creative dramatics stage next. We used this area for gathering, music and creative dramatics; it also gives us needed shade.

We then had a staff member donate a rocket ship made from a tree trunk, a bench made from a tree trunk, a boat made from wood and a mud kitchen. We used grant money for fencing to divide the outdoor space to allow children to be outside more hours during the day. We then added our water area and pea gravel for surfacing.  Another grant was used for the surfacing to build on with large blocks and climber. Next, we added our woodworking area, along with the messy parts area. We then added a nature art area along with our building tables. This year we have added storage and our hand pump with sluice.

We planted two apple trees and some bushes in our space.  We added bird feeders and enjoy feeding the birds each day. The dirt-digging hill has diggers with real shovels and the children love to use the dump trucks on our dirt hill.  In our woodworking area, we use real hand drills. The latest items we have been drilling are pumpkins. We go outside in the rain, snow, wind, cold and heat.  We love the outdoors and all the educational experiences it offers children.

We involved parents in the planning and creation of our space and they enjoyed the space with their child during Family Fun Nights. We encourage art with nature by providing a variety of nature items and make nature impressions with play dough.

We have found a decline in aggressiveness in our children and an improved ability to focus when they spend more time outdoors experiencing nature. The teachers have learned a different way of planning and four teachers in our program have chosen an area to oversee.

We are very proud of our outdoor space and want to thank the DEKKO Foundation, South Central Community Foundation, and Early Childhood Iowa. Without grant money received, we would not have been able to create this enjoyable environment for children to experience.



1916 High School Drive
Afton, IA 50830