Connecting all the Pieces in a Nature Explore Classroom

By Diann Gano, Owner/Director of Under the Gingko Tree — 
As we enter our sixth year of our Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom, I often find myself reflecting on how our program has grown along with the little bodies that visit it each day. Discovering Nature Explore was like finding that one puzzle piece in your 5000 piece puzzle that connects all the sub groups together. For us, it is the perfect puzzle piece. Each piece brings us more continuity, more flow, more direction, more growth. Just like the big puzzle sitting on the table, it draws us back in to add more pieces or re-arrange another section to try a new idea.

As we remove more and more of our old ideas, our vision and our passion return to our classroom puzzle.

There are less plastic pieces and more natural materials. We discover that we don’t need all the extras. The earth gives us what we need to learn. Rocks and leaves, pinecones and acorns replace play food, art supplies and cars and trucks. Those pieces are still in our program, they just aren’t as important as they once were. Imaginations grow as the children discover a rock or an acorn work quite well, as they use them for money, or a soup ingredient or a cell phone. The environment looks calmer and less cluttered. More natural. This is the perfect environment for little brains to grow and learn in every day.

This fall, we will find ourselves without two of our favorite little friends as they leave us for kindergarten. Always bittersweet. Always sad, but always exciting. They leave with letter recognition that came without worksheets or flashcards. They can find a letter in nature daily, be it in the form of a tree, a twig, a rock, or a water print on the ground. They will leave with the social skills of spending hours and hours outdoors discovering and problem solving with their friends. They leave with hours of risk taking adventures that will find them full of ideas and confidence to take on new risks in kindergarten. They leave us full of imagination and creativity and critical thinking skills. They leave us with kindness towards others and the earth. They will leave.

They will return. They will return on school breaks and summer days. They will return to their puzzle world the same way we return to the big puzzle on the dining room table. They will add new pieces and new ideas and new skills. We love this big puzzle. Always changing, always growing. We are in no hurry to complete this puzzle.