The Nature Explore Classroom at
Long Island Children’s Museum
Long committed to hands-on learning, the staff at Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City added a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom they call Our Backyard, where children can begin building lifelong relationships with nature.
In Our Backyard, the museum designed the learning space to flow naturally from one activity area to the next. Natural barriers such as boulders, trees and planters aesthetically divide space into regions where children can develop new skills, like building or weaving, in an outdoor environment.
Children will discover a seemingly endless array of activities – all infused with learning opportunities — in Our Backyard. Artfully named areas also provide the young person with a clear understanding of their functions: Build a Bird Nest, Spin a Spider Web and Feel the Heat let them know exactly what to expect. In other areas, they can dig sand or gravel, immerse themselves in the vegetable garden, or transport objects in wheelbarrows.
A skilled Master Gardener designed the various gardens with flowers, vegetables, and plains grasses that are native to this environment and will flourish within the exhibit’s micro-environment. “Green” materials – both recycled and reused – are mainstays in the classroom’s concept.
Hempstead Plains, one of the few natural prairies on the east coast, provided several of the plants in the classroom. These plants open the door to helping visitors understand their local environment and develop a deeper appreciation of conserving rapidly shrinking resources.
Carefully tested prototypes led the museum’s staff to final decisions about what resources were most durable in this outdoor setting. The designers also encourage children and their families to sweep gravel, weed the garden and scoop sand, incorporating basic maintenance into the learning experience.
Children thrive in its intimate spaces where simple, often intuitive activities encourage imaginative play and scientific discovery. Perhaps most powerful of all the influences in the classroom is the simple beauty that only nature offers. In every corner and crafted into each activity are features that inspire visitors of all ages to look more closely at their natural world – and then continue exploring beyond these gates.