When we saw this property we knew it was the perfect site for our nature-based, Spanish immersion, vegan preschool. The house was small, historic, and homey. It was located in a historic area. But most important, it had a nice little backyard with lots of potential. The vision was to create an outdoor classroom with similar elements you would find in your indoor classes. It needed a blocks area, drama, science, art, music, a cozy place, and sand/water....plus plenty of place for kids to run around. We also wanted it to have more natural playscapes and pockets of habitat. So we made sure to create those areas in our backyard, as when we first got there it was just an open lawn.
So we decided to use some tires (donated to us from Discount Tire), plants, and logs to help separate the areas. Thanks to seeds purchased from Native American Seed, some plants that were donated to us, plants dug up from my garden, and plants purchased from the local Native Plant Society of Texas plant sale, we were able to create some more natural barriers that were softer and more dynamic. We knew it was important for the kids to not only see nature, but to interact with it and know it. So we made sure to plant only natives, create native gardens that would attract wildlife, and to create edible gardens with vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
When we were designing our space, we wanted to make sure that it all had a purpose. So we set some goals for the outdoor learning area and some objectives to reach that goal. This is our main goal and objectives for our outdoor classroom. It is all about getting the children outside, moving, and connected.
Goal 1: Children will learn to connect and form a relationship with nature and care for the environment.
Objective 1: Lessons will be taught with a nature theme in all aspects of the program.
Objective 2: An outdoor nature classroom will be created where children can explore, observe, free play and learn.
Objective 3: Children will be outside for around 50% of the day in our outdoor natural learning area.
Objective 4: A native wildlife garden and monarch waystations will be created for hands on learning and observation.
Objective 5: Children will compost food scraps, use reusable items, use and make zero waste items, learn to make non-toxic cleaning chemicals, recycle, and incorporating other aspects to green our lives and school.
Objective 6: Children will build structures to create additional homes for birds, bugs, dragonflies, and toads.
Not only did we want them to connect to the native plants and nature around them, we also wanted them to form a healthy and positive relationship with plant based foods.
Goal 2: Children will learn to connect with and learn the benefits of plant-based foods.
Objective 1: A vegetable, fruit, and herb garden will be built for children to learn how to grow their own food.
Objective 2: Children will use their senses to form connections and learn about the plants and their nutritional and medicinal properties through exploration, cooking, and other activities.
Objective 3: Children will eat a low sugar, plant-based meal where different herbs and vegetables will be introduced to them seasonally.
Objective 4: Children will learn about a new vegetable/fruit plant weekly with live plants and activities and have a check sheet of all the plants they have tasted and eaten.
Objective 5: Children will learn about herbs weekly and taste and smell them. They will also learn how to make items from them such as teas, soaps, use essential oils, and spices.
In order to accomplish all of these goals we will plant native grasses, flowers, and shrubs and build birdhouses, insect hotels, and toad homes, to attract native pollinators, birds, and other wildlife to have it certified as a wildlife habitat and monarch waystation. This wildlife habitat will provide opportunities for learning and interacting with nature. We will grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs in a raised garden and pots where we will teach the children how to grow their own food, the different qualities of these plants, learn how to cook and use the plants, appreciate their flavors, and use the garden for other teaching and learning opportunities. We will also be creating a small dragonfly water garden in the front of the school and in the back where we can teach about water quality and aquatic insects. To allow children to move and interact with nature more physically, have more free play opportunities, and develop gross/fine motor skills, and their imaginations, we will also be bringing in some natural structures to create natural playscapes such as plant tunnels, log balance beams, rotting logs, stepping logs/rocks, sandbox, loose natural items, tools and a mud kitchen.
We are so excited to watch our outdoor classroom grow with the children and watch how the children interact with, design, and shape this area.