As a starting point in creating their outdoor classroom, Kids International began with their large open area which is surrounded by a nature trail.
After the decision was made to turn this large field into an outdoor classroom, areas were added one at a time, around the perimeter of the field. The center of the space was left free to be used as the large motor area.
Wooden plaques were purchased and the children were allowed to paint them however they saw fit. The names of the areas were added and the plaques were shellacked for durability. The sign at the entrance to the Outdoor Classroom was painted by one of the infant room teachers. To be sure that every area of the classroom is visible at all times, the center was left open for large motor activities and the remaining areas were placed around the perimeter. Sheer fabrics were used for visibility. A fenced garden area is connected to both of the playgrounds. This provides protection from a very large deer population in the area and to be closer to a water source.
A variety of natural materials were used in the design of the outdoor classroom. Several varieties of trees were planted throughout the space, as well as areas of Zebra grass and flowers. The children have access to tree cookies, gravel, sand, large stones, mulch, tree limbs, logs and a large area of grass. All of the elements in the classroom were chosen because of low maintenance and durability. Items in the Building Area and Messy Materials Area (stones, tree limbs, logs, tree cookies, etc.) are all durable enough to be outside, yet easy and cost effective to replace when the time comes. Most of the elements in the outdoor classroom were built using sturdy wood or recycled materials. Recycled elements include tractor tires incorporated into the Climbing Area, pots and pans in the Music Area, pvc pipes and paving stones in the Building Area, a pvc pipe easel in the Nature Art Area, and a 14′ wooden john boat that was turned into a sand box.
The Nature Explore Classroom is kept beautiful by sticking to mostly natural or natural colored elements. The brightest colors in the space come from flowers and the sheer red fabric that is hung over the Climbing Area. It was very important to Kids International to keep the open feel of the area and to blend as much “nature” into each of the areas as possible. The multi-level platform in the Climbing Area was built very close to a tree to make it feel more like a tree house.
Throughout the creation of the outdoor classroom the staff personalized and filled it with things that the children were interested in and/or helped create. Tree cookies were made from a tree that fell on one of the children’s houses during a storm. Building materials (paving stones and PVC pipes) were donated by parents that had them leftover from DIY projects. Several parents helped to complete projects, including child sized picnic tables, the climbing platform, and the Digging Area. Birdhouses were built and donated by one of the grandfathers and each classroom at the center created a unique wind chime that was included in the Music and Movement Area.
As a center, Kids International is passionate about teaching children and their families about the importance of outdoor learning and play. To help accomplish this goal, a Family Nature Club was started which included sprucing up the outdoor areas and attending the Maple Sugar Festival held at the local conservation area. The Club is also planning several nature activities that will take place over the next couple of months.