Looking Back and Counting Our Blessings
By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant
2015 has seen tremendous growth for Nature Explore; with many new outdoor classrooms constructed and many new friends made. Most importantly, our growth indicates that the mission of “nature for children—every day” is gaining wider acceptance. More teachers are seeing their work with children transformed. More children are feeling recognized and appreciated as the explorers they’ve always known themselves to be. More parents are realizing that indoors needs balancing with outdoors. More funders are embracing the crucial importance of nature for the lives of our children.
We are heading towards the day our mission goes mainstream. The day may be close when anyone thinking of creating an outdoor space for children sees a nature-rich environment as the preferable option. Your work brings this day closer.
In this and the next few posts, we’ll look back at people we met this year, and rediscover the richness of their work on behalf of children. We’ll revisit Alison Welch, who attended a rural school with only 13 students, and Josefina Navarro, Principal of a school deep in East Los Angeles. We’ll check out a Worm Hotel (small), and revisit Central Texas (very, very big).
Community Grows in an Outdoor Classroom
Jil Jaeger, Grace School, Houston, TX
Jil Jaeger teaches two year olds at the Grace School in Houston, Texas. She told us of children whose behaviors in the manufactured playground transformed when they received their outdoor classroom. The natural environment inspired many options for creative play, as repetition and routine gave way to explorations. Curricular STEM learning is brought to life in the outdoor classroom, too. Soon, parents began lingering with their children in the outdoor classroom during afternoon pick-up. Spending this time with their children, parents also spent more time with each other, and with Grace’s teachers. A closer school community was one of the unforeseen benefits the Grace School received from its Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom.
From Outcast to Interns
Beth Fryer, Teddy Bear Day Care and Preschool, Traverse City, MI
Beth had been “scoffed-at” by colleagues who accused her of spending too much time outdoors with her children. Then she discovered the difference between being outdoors, and having an intentionally designed outdoor classroom. Now Teddy Bear’s “Worm Hotel,” and “Chicken Shangri-la” attract not only engaged preschool nature-lovers, but Beth’s formerly skeptical colleagues as well. Not only has she earned the long-overdue respect of her colleagues, Beth is now requested for workshops and presentations, and trains interns from the local college’s teacher education program. Lucky children. Lucky interns, chickens and worms.
A Home of His Own Making
Pam and her son Mark, a secure, undisclosed location
For fully half of Mark’s short life, his family had been on-the-run from his extremely violent father. Mark’s uncontrollable behaviors endangered both himself and his family. Yet when Pam and her two children found secure housing, with an outdoor classroom on-site, Mark’s behavior transformed. Finally having an environment that compelled him, he quickly developed the motor and social skills that had been unattainable before. Pam, having learned to love the outdoors during one of her own emergency childhood placements, understood the importance of nature for Mark, and is delighted with his transformations. She says the Nature Explore Classroom finally gave him the environment he so desperately needed: a home.
Cultivating Our Next Generation of Nature’s Stewards
The US Forest Service, throughout the US
We are very thankful for Mary Wagner, Rick Cooksey, and our many friends at the US Forest Service. While providing a wealth of largely unseen resources for us all, the Forest Service has also provided seed-funding for Nature Explore Classrooms. As a nation, we are indebted to the Forest Service for programs such as research, conservation, fire-fighting, and the maintenance and operation of our National Parks. For many years, a variety of their programs have been directed towards children and families. Now, generous funding from the Forest Service ensures daily experiences in Nature Explore Classrooms for our future environmental stewards.
Learn more about our Certified Nature Explore Classroom network here.