From The Ground Up: See Your Space

By Heather Fox, Nature Explore Education Specialist 

This series will follow the creation of a Nature Explore Classroom as it develops from a concept plan into a reality. Heather is applying the theory she knows so well towards the less familiar territory of building, contracting and planting. We hope her experience will assist you on your own path towards a fully realized nature-rich outdoor classroom.

Boy with leafSeeing is believing. This is how we felt when we took the Nature Explore Classroom at Southern Heights Food Forest from a plan on paper to an outline in the soil. Our outdoor classroom was becoming a tangible reality.

For many of us it is difficult to translate a concept plan into a three-dimensional space. I have a slight advantage here.  As part of an educator/landscape architect design team, I frequently help people understand their Nature Explore Classroom concept plans. However, I am always accompanied by a designer and it is usually a one time “walk through” with the group. Then we are off to the next site, never to put the plan in the ground.

So how can we make this jump from plan to reality if a professional designer is not by our side? Here are a few lessons I have learned through the process:

1) Walking is key. I like to drag my feet through a proposed pathway or reach my arms out to contain the placement of an area. Being in the place with your full body makes all the difference. Each time I visited the Southern Heights Food Forest site (concept plan in hand) I walked the Nature Explore Classroom. It became part of me. Part of my understanding.

2) Share the vision with everyone. Just because I had a picture in my head, didn’t mean that others saw the same thing. This became very evident to me as I spoke with a variety of our shareholders. I shared the concept plan and vision with donors, church members, volunteers and contractors. I even made a special trip to the site to talk with the bobcat driver who was excited to know that he was contributing to a child’s development. My frequent messages sounded something like this: “Here you will find a messy materials area. It’s a place for children to build with their large muscles using things like tree stumps. Children need this. It helps them learn.”

3) Map it out and know it might change. For over a year we were working with a certain concept plan. We placed a grid over the plan, measured it foot-by foot on the ground and created maps for visitors. This map changed (a bit) when we learned of a new site requirement.

Today the bobcat driver is making his finishing sweep, and the Nature Explore Classroom is forming right in front of me. It’s tangible and it’s beautiful. I’m learning so much through this process, and I’m interested in what you have learned too. Please join the conversation and share in the comments below.