The Nature Explore Classroom at
Under the Oak Tree
The first time that I looked at a Nature Explore Resource Guide, I knew that it was a perfect fit for our program.
After I attended a Nature Explore Workshop, the children and I immediately began designing a new layout for our outdoor classroom to inspire adventurous play and thoughtful wonder at the beauty of the world around us. The transition has been so rewarding. Our new outdoor environment has even changed the interactions between the children, including their social skills; such as group problem solving and cooperation.
A favorite area of our outdoor classroom is the garden. The children achieve a sense of ownership by collaborating on what to plant in our garden each spring. Then the children work to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, and water them. The children also gain a meaningful understanding of patience while they carefully pull weeds until they eventually see the results of their planting. Then one day, there in the soil, they discover a few little green sprouts. It is truly an awe-inspiring event for the children-one that causes excitement with little dances of delight.
The children continue to carefully tend the plants as they grow and excitedly bring their parents into the garden to show them the plants progress. Pure joy and excitement erupt when a tiny green pumpkin is found growing within the opulent vines. The richness of the experience is hard to match. The children talk to each plant. Aiden will say, “Hello, pumpkins, how are you today?” I include information about our garden in the monthly newsletter. The families have been an invaluable resource as they carefully observe our garden and lend their advice about issues that arise, such as over-watering. Our outdoor classroom has grown to include a wider community with our neighbors allowing us to pick berries from their patches. We are already discussing what we would like to grow next year.
Another important aspect of our outdoor classroom includes the wildlife that is found there. The children are educated to honor and respect all living things that they discover. The children feel competent as they help fill the birdfeeders each day. They never tire of the visiting birds. We often have squirrels that visit the feeders too. The children will endlessly giggle at the squirrel’s crazy antics trying to reach the precious seeds. The children are always encouraged to watch out for insects and be careful not to harm them. I love the wonder on a child’s face as they examine a praying mantis. We have made sure to include plantings that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The children are always on the lookout for a new animal visitor.
Our outdoor classroom will never be finished; it will continually evolve as we discover ways both to enhance children’s learning and to create areas of enchantment. In fact, our wish list already boasts of a dry creek bed and a large hollow log for balancing…and we continue to dream of what we want to do next. It truly is a never-ending adventure.
Chantelle Simmons, Owner/Director
201 East Barnes Street
Bushnell, IL 61422