The Nature Explore Classroom at
St. Luke’s Day School
Our story began years ago with the seed idea that care and respect for God’s beautiful world starts by connecting children and their families with the wonders of nature. Outdoor activity has been encouraged since our school’s founding in 1954 through generous outdoor space designated for children at St. Luke’s UMC in the heart of Houston, Texas. Over time, thoughtful enhancement of these age-specific urban playgrounds was funded with support of the school families, church, and greater community. In 2018, at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a conversation between a SLDS administrator and a Nature Explore representative was pivotal! We eagerly aligned our goals with this worthy organization to seek outdoor classroom certification!
Making the shift from playgrounds to outdoor classrooms is an exciting process! Implementing the specific Nature Explore activity areas and the practice of Gathering Time has taken us to a new level of intentional play-based early educational practice. Our teachers report a very positive difference in the way children relate to the environment, materials, and each other while playing outdoors. As they enjoy extended outdoor time, children engage in elaborate sophisticated play, exploring new ideas and merging concepts from multiple outdoor centers and open-ended materials. We’re experiencing a rich harvest of outdoor learning experiences!
• Three outdoor classrooms incorporate existing mature trees. A volunteer master gardener facilitated additions of colorful flower beds, sensory plants, tall grasses, rocks, logs, and stumps saturating our spaces with richly textured natural elements.
• Large pergolas and covered decks complement the architecture of adjacent buildings, providing a varied backdrop with a mix of brick, stone, concrete, and wood.
• Children’s artwork is a highlighted feature in each of our outdoor classrooms. The entrance to one outdoor classroom has a flower bed filled with Blessing Rocks. Children and adults painted rocks in a rainbow of colors as part of our Outdoor Classroom dedication ceremony.
• Hand-crafted wooden signs label each area and support the beautiful natural aesthetic.
• Personalized elements include a large bird feeder donated in memorial by the family of a beloved teacher, a playhouse constructed by a men’s Bible study group, and a large oval cedar table with attached benches designed, crafted, and installed by a SLDS parent. Wind chimes, donated from our Director’s collection, are hung in tall crepe myrtles offering whimsical sounds.
• Regional elements include “Luke the Lamb” a life-size concrete namesake, purchased from a Texas artisan and placed in our garden to delight the children. A native Texas squirrel statuary welcomes infants and toddlers to their sensory garden. Gulf coast seashells and Texas pine cones fill our loose parts areas.
• Importantly, our outdoor classrooms are managed by a passionate team of “Ambassadors”. These staff members receive training from Nature Explore and serve to facilitate intentional teaching, share feedback, coordinate schedules, recommend materials, and cultivate community support.
3471 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77027
3 Outdoor Classrooms