The Nature Explore Classroom at
Harding University Partnership School
Our Outdoor Classroom is the result of dedication and commitment to enriching the educational experience of children through teamwork, planning and community fundraising. Awarded a long-term grant through First 5 of Santa Barbara, we were able to bring this proof of concept to the Santa Barbara Unified School District. Through this grant and a generous grant from the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, we have transformed a dilapidated courtyard into a nature based learning environment with areas for building, creating art, nurturing plants and pollinators, climbing and balancing, performing through music and play and discovering the beauty of nature. Our site is now fully functional and the funding is moving to enhance another SBUSD school. We are so grateful for our community partnership and our local philanthropists!
Harding’s Outdoor Project of Education is the acronym HOPE for a reason. Harding serves a student demographic that is 78% socioeconomically disadvantaged. Families living below the poverty line are less likely to have access to green spaces, or to spend time exploring nature. Through our design rendered by Nature Explore, we have witnessed first hand rapid gains in academics and in language development. This project has not only enriched learning but has supported social and emotional wellness while building autonomy, student voice, inquiry and wonder!
Our Outdoor Classroom has a unique feature in that it was designed to go hand in hand with our STEAM lab, one supporting the other. Since 2021, students have built owl boxes, musical instruments, and fairy houses. They have painted rocks to decorate and personalize the space, and have even built a sophisticated drip system to water over 100 native plants that surround our school. Our older students support the younger students by checking out Nature Explore kits for students to build and collaboratively explore during unstructured recess play bringing elements of the Outdoor Classroom into the larger recess area. What you see now at our school is students who are 100% engaged, working with each other to do their best work, always creating something that they are truly proud of.
Harding is an authorized International Baccalaureate World School. As we grow along with our Outdoor Classroom, we have begun to build this space into our units of inquiry. Several units under the theme of “Sharing the Planet” are a natural fit. Through the intentional plan of Nature Explore, our space is rich in plants that support pollinators. Our Preschool classrooms observed the complete cycle of metamorphosis, setting a newly hatched monarch butterfly into the world. Our Outdoor Classroom is rich in plants that support the five senses. There is sage, mint, tall grasses and citrus trees that support our Kindergarteners as they explore smell, touch, sight and taste!
Through our partnership with the University of California at Santa Barbara, we have launched a research project to measure the effectiveness and impact that the Outdoor Classroom has had on our young students. Preliminary findings show an increase in opportunities for social emotional learning, fine motor development, and nature connection.
1625 Robbins St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101