The Nature Explore Classroom at

Water Oak
Family Child Care Learning Home

Water Oak Family Child Care Learning Home’s journey to becoming a Certified Nature Explore Classroom happened organically.

All the elements were already there, I just needed to wade into the waters deeper and swim upstream against societal norms of what was expected in an outdoor space in a family child care learning home. I needed to put down the glossy catalogs that market their bounty of plastics.

The catalyst to my journey was watching a webinar hosted by the National Association of Family Child Care called Stumps and Pumps by Diann Gano. I repurposed our plastic jungle for sale on Marketplace and a celebration erupted inside my heart to never spend another Saturday afternoon with a pressure washer! The plastic jungle was replaced by stumps and planks. The stumps and planks are an ever-changing imaginative area depending on what book we have read or how the wood and planks are placed together.

We read a book on planes that inspired the children to construct a plane out of the stumps and planks. Another day, an impromptu teeter totter was formed by placing the ends of the plank on stumps and a plank in the middle. A balance beam is a classic but now the children mix it up with a stump in the middle of the plank so they walk up one side to then have it drop down as they walk down the other side. One child made an “arcade” where he had different things that you would do in different spots that differed from the traditional obstacle course. The top of the stumps sometimes are transformed into works of temporary art with chalk until the next rainfall. The most beneficial part of the stump area is having stumps that children are free to move around to change with their vision in their imagination. The children don’t lift up the stumps, they just simply turn them on their side and roll them.

Other areas that children explore is the ginormous sandbox that my dad built when my son Reis was born 11 years ago. Children never squabble over shovels as numerous large shells serve that purpose. I find that the children like to build on the diagonal seats that grace the corners of the sandbox. Rarely are they sat on. Water play in the sandbox brings a whole other element of creativity. The fascination of watching water disappear into the sand is a favorite and forming a castle from the wet sand with your hands, incorporating leaf windows and stick pillars makes for a very “castle proud” 3-year-old.

Our garden area is another favorite with our reliable bean plants. Our bean plants are an excellent real-life example to go with our books on how a seed grows. We experiment with other seeds that don’t always grow… Watering with a simple bucket and scoops allows children to watch the water sink into the soil.

I am grateful that I decided to wade in deeper and swim upstream towards my outdoor classroom vision.