An Outdoor Space for All Seasons
The Frances Jacobson Early Childhood Center’s outdoor classroom is a unique learning environment that instills a true sense of wonder in our students about the world in which we live. The classroom has transformed our urban school setting into a peaceful oasis that provides a myriad of educational opportunities for our students in science, math, art, music, language arts, and much more. For example:
- In the Grow area, our organic sensory garden enables children to understand where food comes from and allows them to experience textures and smells by planting, harvesting, and using various herbs. The food products we harvest are used to make delicious treats.
- The Discover area has a digging pit with a "mud kitchen” where the children can mix delightful concoctions using found objects, such as leaves, acorns and crabapples, as well as search for hidden treasures, such as earthworms. Exploring small insects helps to foster the important value of caring for all living things. Treasure hunts give the children a chance to discover objects, make close comparisons, and notice differences in items found in nature, such as bark, leaves, pinecones, rocks, feathers, etc. Mathematical thinking is encouraged as the children sort, sequence and categorize these items according to different characteristics.
- The ever popular hand pump encourages children to engage in water play. Using various materials like pipes and gutters students experiment with the effects of gravity.
- In the Construct area, children create large structures using heavy blocks, sticks, tree cookies, and large pipes to learn about math, engineering, balance, and depth perception. As they navigate the imaginary pirate ships, grocery stores, and rockets created, they not only have dramatic play opportunities, but they gain design and engineering skills and learn cooperation necessary to complete each project.
- In the Groove section, children use their imaginations to create music on a large marimba and other instruments and are encouraged to develop music, art, dance and the reenactment of stories inspired by nature on a beautiful stage constructed for this purpose.
Our children are encouraged to thoughtfully explore their natural surroundings, and through active, hands-on learning, students begin to develop an awareness of the interconnectedness of all living things. Nature affords our students a multitude of opportunities—whether building an ice igloo or following small animal prints in the snow to seeing the first buds on the trees in the spring or learning to identify different bird songs. It is so powerful to witness children (ages 1.9 to 6 years of age) designing, planning, creating, observing, engineering and learning through nature, and we believe that spending time outdoors year-round is critical, as it brings a sense of wonder and joy to children and helps to foster imagination, creativity, and powers of observation as well as promoting a positive environmental ethic.
We are so fortunate to have this wonderful outdoor classroom, where our young students learn about the natural world and have the capacity to explore and grow in so many ways. Not only does our Outdoor Classroom provide infinite learning opportunities for our students, but enormous joy and pleasure as well!
Each season provides ample play and learning opportunities. Next time you're looking for a way to enjoy the outdoors, try one of these seasonal activities.
- Bring animal figurines or other toys out on a sunny day. Place the animal on the sidewalk or a paved driveway and trace it's shadow with chalk.
- Surprised by a spring shower? See what happens when drawing with chalk on a wet sidewalk.
- When the sun comes out, look for reflections in the puddles, and draw what you see!
- Go on a treasure hunt in your neighborhood and find interesting items from nature. Bring them home and create a beautiful mobile or collage.
- On a hot and sunny day bring a bucket of water and thick paint brushes outside. Have your child “paint the house” with water and watch what happens to the wet surface when hit by the sun.
- When at the beach collect and explore the different shells that you see. Research to identify the small animals who inhabited these shells when you get home.
- What a wonderful time to gather the fallen leaves with child sized rakes. Children not only enjoy raking but jumping, rolling and frolicking in a pile of leaves.
- Gather some of those fallen leaves and research with your child in order to identify which trees they came from.
- Bring leaves inside and use crayons to rub their designs through paper.
- Gather sticks and make an outdoor maze which cars and small toys can “race” through.
- Bring water color paints outside and give children brushes to paint on the snow.
- Fill spray bottles with food coloring and water, and children can make beautiful designs in the snow.
- Fill a bowl with bubble soap, bring it outside and have your child blow, observing how the bubbles freeze in cold weather.
- Search for animals prints in freshly fallen snow, photograph them and do research with your child to identify the source.