The Nature Explore Classroom at
Holy Family Catholic Academy
Holy Family Catholic Academy (“HFCA”) is located on 20 acres in Inverness, Illinois, and serves more than 500 students enrolled in preschool through Grade 8. Recently named as a Candidate* in the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, HFCA is committed to developing life-long leaders and thinkers grounded in faith.
Prior to meeting with the Nature Explore program, much of the property close to the school building was designated as a retention area and often became flooded and muddy. A cross section of stakeholders including teachers, staff and parents met with representatives from the Nature Explore program in July 2014 and began to re-imagine the space. Together we envisioned an outdoor classroom that complemented HFCA’s innovative curriculum, and exposed students to a broad and balanced range of disciplines that goes beyond textbooks and beyond the classroom.
The Concept Plan developed by the Nature Explore program promotes creativity and collaboration, while also nurturing the mind, body and soul of our students. Equally important, the students are challenged to care for God’s creation, a major tenet of Catholic Social Teachings.
In the fall of 2014 we began efforts to fund the outdoor classroom and the professional development of our teachers. We created an “Outdoor Classroom Wish List” and also applied for and received two awards from the Illinois Schoolyard Habitat Action Grant program which we used to create our Rain Garden and Pollinator Garden. Our implementation plan was jump-started by a generous donation from an anonymous member of our community after reading an article about our unique learning space in the Daily Herald Newspaper. Word also spread to alumnae of HFCA, and two former students approached us with Eagle Scout projects. With their help we were able to add to our Music and Movement classroom as well as provide Plexiglas planters for our Sensory Garden.
Our students are the biggest advocates of our Outdoor Classroom. Not only do they enjoy the space, but they provide countless hours of service, including building our Gathering Space, planting gardens, and spreading mulch. Their excitement spreads to their parents who continue to donate time and resources to help fund our project. Katie Bird, volunteer and parent of four boys, states, “Holy Family’s outdoor classroom is such an amazing place! As a former science teacher, and brain-based learning advocate, I know the importance of experiential learning. I am delighted that my children not only learn through nature, but benefit from being in nature.”
HFCA’s Outdoor Classroom is a living and evolving place to learn and play. Our future plans include restoring a native prairie, building a boardwalk with a weather station, and adding a water feature.
Principal Kate O’Brien, states, “Our Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom meets the International Baccalaureate goals of developing students’ natural curiosity, promoting an independent spirit to explore new roles and ideas, and reinforcing the importance of intellectual, physical and emotional balance needed to achieve personal well-being. It is truly a unique space to play and learn.”
*Candidate status gives no guarantee that authorization will be granted.
Deb Atkins, Director School Development
2515 Palatine Rd.
Inverness, IL 60067