The Nature Explore Classroom at
The Music Settlement
The idea for the Center for Early Childhood’s Outdoor Classroom came to fruition in the fall of 2014. Using an open field adjacent to the playground, the plans were made to create a space that not only aligned with the standards of Certified Nature Explore Classrooms but fit the needs of our students.
The space had to be engaging, interactive, and be accessible in all weather, thanks to the snow that falls on Cleveland throughout the year! With financial support from the Early Childhood Parent Committee, the Hershey Foundation, PNC’s Grow Up Great initiative, and private donors, ground was finally broken.
The classroom features a magnificent entryway, separating it from the main playground area. Inside, local plants abound, provided by a local garden center. A stamped concrete path (or a racetrack for our speedy tricyclists) snakes around a hill in the middle, perfect for rolling hula hoops and tires in the spring, water play in the summer, and sledding in the winter. The most popular feature is our water pump – it is used to water plants, paint on the sidewalk, fill up our giant sensory tables, and even serves as tea for an imaginary dinner. Near the water pump is a rocky river bed, rock pit for digging, and stepping stones for gross motor exercises.
On the far side of our outdoor classroom, there are two gathering places and a stick house with climbing clematis. The stone gathering area is a great place for imaginary play, natural materials serve as props with sticks and branches for a fire pit, house, and shovels, ever-changing on the day. The other gathering area serves as our group time and science experiment area.
In the far corner of the Outdoor Classroom, we have musical instruments, which include an outdoor xylophone and some repurposed material instruments. We have large sensory tables, perfect for making small worlds and slime. The last area is a raised garden bed that currently houses gigantic sunflowers (a full classroom unit in itself in the fall), fresh herbs, and beans. Art projects are concentrated on the hillside, where a stacked stone edge is the perfect spot for chalk paint, sun prints, and spray bottle watercolors.
The Outdoor Classroom has become a favorite spot and a welcome respite from the high energy of the playground. Here, children can freely explore, play, and learn in a setting that encourages active engagement. The space is large enough for 30 children and their teachers to comfortably work together, with plenty to do for all children at all times. It also has served as a wonderful gathering spot for families during classroom parties. In partnership with University Circle Inc.’s Early Learning Initiative, we are a field trip destination for local centers. Early Childhood teachers facilitate activities and provide unique natural experiences for children within the limits of the city of Cleveland. Our Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom is an integral part of the play and arts-based curriculum in TMS’s Center for Early Childhood.
11125 Magnolia Drive
Cleveland, OH 44106