The Nature Explore Classroom at
Wilder-Waite Grade School
With the goal of being the first elementary school in Peoria to have a certified Nature Explore classroom, the staff, students and families of Wilder-Waite Grade School have been on a mission to make it happen!
Over the course of years, the nature classroom space has been designed and developed into an outdoor learning environment that promotes academic learning, social skills, appreciation of nature, and student responsibility and ownership of the space. With the financial support of the PTO and hours of sweat equity by staff, students, and volunteers, the classroom adjacent to the playground has become a place where students from preschool through 5th grade can work, learn, and play together to enjoy the many opportunities that the classroom provides.
With the majority of the maintenance (ex. spreading mulch, planting, weeding) completed by student work teams, students feel pride in the classroom and strive to maintain the classroom for the school community to enjoy. Each area has a student-sized shed of materials that supports the activities in that area which might include easel painting in the art area, creating music on the music wall, picking vegetables from the garden or using magnifying glasses in the science area to more closely observe an insect. Teachers also bring activities to the classroom and students can often be found reading or journaling in the sunshine.
In developing the classroom, a giant mature tree was the focal point for constructing the gathering area. With its ample shade, it provides a great space for students to gather for a variety of purposes. The deck is also used for dramatic play and music activities. Nearby the music wall provides numerous musical activities with pipes that are tuned to scale for music experiences. A large climbing log anchors the north end of the classroom nearby the building and messy materials area. The classroom is centered with a grassy knoll for gross motor movement or even reading and relaxing.
One of the greatest benefits of the classroom is for students who have a strong connection to nature to develop leadership skills. For example, when there was a concern over the behavior expectations in the space, a student team drove the effort to get permanent signage that would tie our school-wide expectations to the expectations of the classroom. On a daily basis, students are responsible for the sheds and chores such as watering plants and filling bird feeders and students take their responsibilities seriously. With this level of contribution to the space, students not only “co-own” and value the classroom, but their connection to the school community and their own confidence grows.
Looking forward, we hope to add a water source to the space as well as electricity for lighting for evening events. As a valuable component of our school, we know that the nature classroom will be a positive, dynamic space for many students and families for years to come.
10021 N Pacific Street
Peoria, IL 61615