The Nature Explore Classroom at

Waterford School

Framed by views of the Wasatch Mountains, a traditional play structure, encircled by a sidewalk for trike riding, and flat patches of grass and trees, was our play yard for many years. Summer 2017, donors with a passion for inspiring nature connections in childhood, funded our Nature Explore training and the architectural plan.

Our grounds crew and landscape designers, John Hansen and Brad Butterfield, installed our state of the art Outdoor Classroom in two phases.

Phase I-A hand pump was installed next to the dirt digging area to establish a mud kitchen, enclosed by native plants. A grow box was established as a setting for bulbs, pumpkins, and sunflowers. A secret garden was created by setting flagstone steps among the plantings in view from the library atrium window. Tree stumps nestled in between the large bushes allow children private spaces to hide, look for insects and natural treasures, as well as spy on the birds at the feeders. A flagstone patio is our block building area. Big blocks for forts and structures, as well as table blocks for smaller constructions, are available.

The highlight of Phase II has been a tunnel hill. Two 5’ circular concrete tunnels were set in place with wood chip landings and soft surface artificial turf on top. The slope from “tunnel hill” to the base below allows for rolling, sledding, or boarding down the east side. A low rock climbing area on the west side provides hilltop access. The tunnels have become playhouses where imagination and design ideas have flourished. Long building boards fit perfectly within the tunnels, becoming tables, beds, or benches where friends gather.

Nearby, the giant cottonwood log structures invite climbing and exploration. Children grow in awe as they look closely at the bark and the wood underneath, showing evidence of insect life. The tree rings of the cross-section encourage counting and estimating the years it must have taken for these trees to grow so huge. Digging in the stone-lined sandbox under a shade sail, balancing on the tree stump pathway, and inventing tricks on tunnel hill, children are developing agility, confidence, and friendship and imagination during outdoor big body play.

Still to be developed are a more defined entrance showcasing student art, storage for woodworking and art supplies, as well as a prop box for storytelling in the amphitheater. At the dedication of the outdoor classroom this statement was shared with our school community:

As our students use this space day after day, it will become a stage, a laboratory, a castle, a ship, a wilderness, a country, a home. In this classroom, our students will learn to create, negotiate, test hypotheses, share, engage in dialogue, problem-solve, and collaborate. When I think about all that is taking place in this space, I am hopeful for our future, as these are deeply important lessons that our students are learning, teaching each other, and teaching us. Dr. Melanie Battistone, Lower School Head


1480 East 9400 South Sandy, UT 84093