The Nature Explore Classroom at
The Castle Preschool
Sometime in the early 1990’s I attended the Beverly Castle for preschool. One of my earliest memories in my life is of a very large metal slide that took a lot of courage to finally climb to the top and go down. It was an accomplishment for me and likely the first time I felt proud about overcoming a challenge in my life.
20 years later I returned as a teacher to this school and 10 years after becoming a teacher I became the director. One thing that has always drawn me to this school is the outdoor area. It is a jewel on the southwest side of Chicago. It has more free and open space, trees, and opportunity for exploration than any other school in the area, except those on a farm or in a forest preserve.
When I took over the school I started to transform the playground into a truly “outdoor classroom”. It was just about the most fun I have ever had and actually, the process is continuing. I am not sure if the classroom will ever truly be complete but in the next few years it will near its “final” product.
It started simply by determining how the space would be sectioned off and used by the children. This took a lot of observation and trial and error. Next, it was time to actually section off the spaces and make them unique. A local country club had an enormous pile of tree trunks, including a huge hallow section of a tree that I just couldn’t resist. We managed to get several sections over to the classroom and then it began taking shape. Next we needed to fill in the sand box, the pea pebble pit, plant the garden, and create the other sections.
We reused pallets to build a mud kitchen. We repurposed old tires, painted them, and then planted several different kinds of native grasses. Each year we are redesigning the water center because there are a myriad of ways that kids can engage with water and its fun to see what they like best.
This coming year we are going to make things more private by building a privacy fence. This fence will also allow us to add some smaller trees to our classroom which will give kids a small taste of being in a “forest” because they will need to navigate the branches and leaves.
Families are integral in our classroom and each year we plant during Mother’s Day and paint during Father’s Day. Our Nature Explorer’s Club is our summer camp in which kids are playing outside for almost the entire day, rain or shine. We love and cherish our outdoor classroom and welcome any and all to come out and see it, experience it, and play in it!
10244 S. Longwood Dr.
Chicago, IL 60643