Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Teaching and Learning Outdoors

After I went to a workshop down at Conner Prairie on bringing nature inside the classroom, many of us stayed for Teaching and Learning Outdoors. Conner Prairie was generous to make this available to educators! Heather Mead, Director of Education, came from Heritage Museums and Gardens to lead the workshop, looking at the basic philosophy of the Nature Explore outdoor classroom. I had been to another training on this before, yet didn't realize it would rely so heavily on the concept. Still, it was a good refresher, nice to make connections, and helped stimulate brain activity on the topic. Heather Mead helped develop an outdoor classroom at her museum and gardens. It sounds lovely! I'm excited to see what else Conner Prairie is doing as they have some great natural spaces and developing nature play spaces as well.

We looked at great examples of how the Nature Explore concept has been applied in various places, including Hidden Hollow, which is Heather's natural play area. Then we went outside, with natural materials in tow, and made our own "life cycles" in various impromptu areas for nature play. We had a few areas, such as a building area. With natural blocks, we made the life cycle of a butterfly, including bits of nature found nearby to add to our creation. Stumps from the area pushed together became our "tables".

Another group had scarves, outdoor fabric and musical instruments for a music and movement area. The did a whole scene of a storm. It was well interpreted with the music and movement materials, actions, and sounds. An impromptu entrance was also created! Bonus points for those who did that. 

The nature art area had "loose parts" play dough, paper, pipe cleaners, and more. They showed a life cycles as well. Each group could "present" what they created in their natural area. 

This was a good hands on way to explore the potential of natural play areas. We discussed several concepts, like having quieter areas separated, ways of to distinguish areas, management of areas, etc. 

I did a blog post over the weekend with natural play areas in the Michiana (central part of where Michigan and Indiana come together) over the weekend, pulling together some of the resources and examples that I've seen for natural play spaces. Warren Gartner form the Indiana DNR is making a list of natural play areas in Indiana, so if you know of others, send them his way (or mine and I'll pass it along). The Indiana Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights provides a great incentive for natural play areas.

I was intrigued with some of the options for natural play areas. They can be from 500 feet to 2 access. It might be an alley way in an urban area. A few concepts include having family involvement, defined spaces for different activities, a mix of spaces, simple names with signs, every area is visible, low maintenance, maximize beauty, personalize the space, and meet regulatory standards. Recommended areas include an entry features, large motor open area, climbing and crawling area, building area, nature art area, messy materials area, storage areas, and a music and movement area. Supplemental areas mights be water play, dirt digging, greenhouse, garden, pathways, etc. I loved how Hidden Hollow uses discovery boxes, changing up a manipulative with riddles on a monthly basis. I want to look into this more. While a review in many aspects, the workshop gave me more food for thought and renewed energy to continue developing something like this in the Elkhart area. I also appreciated the thumb drive with all the materials to explore!