Looking Back and Counting Our Blessings – Part 3
By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore program Writer and Consultant
Wrapping up our look back at 2015, let’s revisit two Nature Explore Classrooms and the individuals who helped make learning in nature possible.
With a Little Help From My Friends
Flavia Nazario and Kim Robinson, Care 4 Tots Learning Center, Killeen, TX
Flavia Nazario had a problem. Committed to providing excellent services to children, she wanted to work on state and national certifications for her Care 4 Tots Learning Center, in Killeen, Texas. To prepare, she needed consultations with Sherry Trebus of Workforce Solutions of Central Texas. Yet Sherry was requiring a Nature Explore Classroom be implemented as a condition for her services. But Flavia, an experienced educator, was not a “nature person.” She thought the Nature Explore designs for her space were “a little crazy,” and felt unprepared for the challenge.
So she called her friend Kim Robinson, a self-described “country girl from North Carolina.” Kim had retired from over thirty years as an early childhood teacher, and was running a very small day care business in her home. She didn’t really want to return to “work.” But she was very intrigued by the Nature Explore concept.
What happened next can easily be predicted. Nature person meets Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom concept, gets excited by the possibilities, sees the project into realization, sees how the children embrace the space, gets hooked. Flavia and Kim are now a team, and their children have a charming outdoor classroom.
Nature Transforming Teachers and Children
Josefina Navarro, Fourth Street Early Childhood Center, East Los Angeles, CA
Nowhere have we seen transformations inspired by a Nature Explore Classroom permeate an environment more deeply than that of the Fourth Street Early Childhood Center in East Los Angeles, California. At the center of these transformations is Josefina Navarro, its Principal.
In a way, the outdoor classroom (then under construction) chose Josefina. Seeing it while walking in the otherwise nature-deficient neighborhood, Josefina knew that she wanted to work with children in this natural environment, which she thought would be a garden. She knew nothing about the school or its curriculum, yet dreamed of working there. She applied for and got the position of Principal, then went to work recruiting a nature-friendly staff. She learned the space would be an outdoor classroom and attended Nature Explore workshops with her staff. Yet little did anyone know of the transformations awaiting them.
During our interview, teachers spoke of how cooperative social skills that are taught at other schools are developed naturally during play in the outdoor classroom; of children making their own discoveries about nature and wanting the learning to continue inside; of the lack of fighting, behavioral problems and injuries; of children creatively adjusting teacher designed projects when outdoors.
One teacher told the story of a boy from a turbulent family who had very poor impulse control. He would hit teachers and kill insects outside. After growing to be a caretaker for plants, he grew calmer and more social outdoors, then inside. Following his own transformation, both at school and home, he then tried to calm his mother, reeling from a divorce, by inviting her to the outdoor classroom.
Teachers also spoke about their own transformations. One long-time early childhood educator spoke about having to forget everything she’d learned about teaching before starting at Fourth Street, because children’s learning and behaviors were very different now. Other teachers spoke about learning to teach less and scaffold children’s own discoveries more.
Yet another transformation is that of the surrounding community. Initial opposition to the space turned into strong support once people saw the outdoor classroom in action.
Josefina said, ”It’s very famous, this outdoor classroom. It’s like a hidden treasure in this community.” We couldn’t agree more. Fourth Street is a treasure to its community, and an inspiration to us all.
These were just a few of the many people we spoke to in 2015. As we begin 2016 we are excited to meet, celebrate, and learn from more of this amazing Nature Explore Certified Classroom Network.