The Nature Explore Classroom at
Early Childhood Center
Developing the plan for an outdoor classroom began many years ago when working on my Master’s thesis; revolving around children’s exposure to the natural world, and the adult’s role in sharing the love of the outdoors.
As I worked on my thesis, I began my quest. I started visiting schools with natural play areas (mostly a few hours away) to see their outdoor play spaces. It was inspiring and interesting. I was intrigued by what various centers had, and how the children used the spaces. I was always thinking about how I would develop a space for children if given the opportunity. I was fortunate enough to get to go to The Outdoor Classroom Institute in Nebraska a few years ago. This was when I knew I needed to take the risk to create my dream to build the space I wanted for children to enjoy. I wanted it to be peaceful, natural, inviting, interesting, and to peak children’s desire to play and explore.
When I left my job of 12 years to return to open a Group Family Child Care, (coincidently where I got my start some twenty-five plus years ago) I knew an outdoor classroom was a priority in my new center. The playscape was developed in stages, as money would allow for each area. In addition, the children within the center could actually test the materials and the play space. I could observe what worked, and what did not.
The materials and inventions began with an idea I would draw for or describe to my husband. He took my ideas and expanded them into a MUCH better plan, and built them for me!
While there are a few more things I would still like to do, I feel so pleased with the creation of our outdoor classroom. What we could do indoors, we take outdoors. The children can run, climb, explore or just relax. The space reminds me, and was created in part through the inspiration of places I played as a little girl or wanted to! In almost a year’s time, I have watched the then youngest child grow from an infant in the playscape, to an active toddler navigating his body with skill, confidence, and pride.
Currently, our space consists of the following:
An inviting entry, which is covered by a pergola with vines allowing us outside in almost all weather conditions. This is a multi-use space for caregivers to snuggle babies, children to sit at the science area, including our “gadget wall,” use sensory tables, block play, or switch to use ride-on toys. We have sloped hills to run and chase, and a large bridge, a 12-foot teepee, partial in earth hill slide, balance beam, music wall and gathering area, large chalkboard easel and art area, water walls which lead down into the mud kitchen with a working water pump! We have flowers, shrubs, and tree stumps for hopping, and a working garden with vegetables and fruits the children care for.
I thank my husband for the never-ending help; the donations of materials to refurbish, my staff, and the beautiful children who love, share and explore our outdoor classroom. May we all grow and enjoy our beautiful space together! I feel so honored to finally become a part of the Nature Explore community!
Deborah Falasco, Owner/Educator
Highland, NY 12528