Pre-School Playground: A Nature Explore Classroom
At any given recess, Key’s Pre-Schoolers can be seen engaged in a variety of projects and activities now available in their outdoor classroom. In one corner of the playground, next to the Pre-School gardens, students are digging in the “Messy Materials Area.” Others are hopping along stepping stones made from recycled “tree cookies,” making their way toward a small footbridge constructed by Upper School students on Earth Day 2010.
Bright and colorful scarves hang from the outdoor stage where students engage in imaginative and expressive play. An “Open Area” provides a grassy lawn with ample space for jumping, running and gathering. The new “Building Area” is outfitted with an array of wooden blocks and the “Nature Art Area” is always alive with students gathering around a specially designed table, where they create works of “nature art” rivaling those of Andy Goldsworthy.
The transformation of Key’s Pre-School playground from a well-appointed play area to a carefully constructed Nature Explore Classroom began in 2009 with the installation of the “Stage” and continued throughout the summer of 2010. “Partnering with the Nature Explore Program (NEP) in the development of the playground was an incredible opportunity for Key,” said Pre-School Head Susan Rosendahl. “The concept of creating an authentic environment for children to discover and explore the wonders and mysteries of nature on a daily basis was very exciting to us. The curricular opportunities for learning through active engagement are rich and we are also taking note of how the children’s social interactions are being shaped—friendships are forming organically as students gather side-by-side to investigate a common interest, be it creating pinecone art or digging in the Messy Materials Area. I am thrilled to see the faculty’s carefully designed concepts become a reality.”
Supported by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the American Society of Landscape Architects, NEP represents a collaboration between Dimensions Education Research Foundation and the National Arbor Day Foundation. The researched-based concepts for Nature Explore Classrooms have been developed to create effective spaces to support children’s learning in the outdoors. Dr. Rosendahl and Kindergarten teacher Wendy Waymouth first learned about the research during the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, held in Chicago in November 2008.
Pre-School parents, teachers, facilities staff, and Upper School students participated in the transformation. From weekend builds to Earth Day projects, the goal was to provide the Pre-School students with discrete activity areas in which they could discover, observe and interact within the natural world—whether examining plants and bugs, creating nature art, or performing on the open air stage.
“I welcomed the opportunity to take a moment away from home remodeling to build creative playground components,” said Mike Nye, father of Stella ’24. “But the best part about working on the playground is seeing my daughter and her friends playing on what I have built.”
“Our faculty is excited that our many years of research and collaboration with our Nature Explore partners has resulted in such an engaging variety of outdoor play and learning spaces for our students. It‘s a pleasure to see the joy on their faces as they exercise their bodies and minds, and delight in outdoor learning,” said Kindergarten teacher Wendy Waymouth.
“The idea of incorporating elements of nature into a Pre-School’s outdoor play area is simple genius, and a striking example of the careful thought that goes into experiential learning at Key,” said parent Kimberly Elek. “It takes but a minute of quiet observation to see that our children are being inspired and encouraged to look to the riches of nature for meaningful play. This new Pre-School playground is a precious gem—an outdoor classroom integrated beautifully and subtly into our campus.”
This re-envisioned playground space, serving as an effective extension of the classroom, will benefit Key’s Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students for many years to come.
Article from The Key Review 2009-2010