My Big Backyard, Part 2: The Core of Outdoor Classroom Design

by Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant

My Big Backyard 2About a week ago, we looked at Memphis Botanic Garden’s history, and at its amazing Certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom: My Big Backyard. This week we’ll discover a few of the many activities available in the outdoor classroom and in the Garden at large.

The Memphis Botanic Garden serves people of all ages through programs, events, classes, art exhibits, clubs, and even concerts. A day’s activities for children can be part of an ongoing program, or specifically tailored to the curricular needs of a visiting school group. Groups of older youth and adults meet for classes and workshops throughout the Garden areas. Parties and events can also be scheduled in My Big Backyard, and elsewhere on the grounds. A rich series of music concerts is scheduled for the Garden’s amphitheater, a recent addition. Memphis Botanic Garden truly has reasons for everyone to visit and become involved.

The Education Department supports a variety of programs and classes for children and youth. Programs for younger children are conducted in My Big Backyard. The Caterpillar Club, for preschoolers and their caregivers, meets in the Seedling Circle. This spring’s daily themes of the Caterpillar Club’s explorations include “Worms and Dirt,” “Snakes, Slugs and Snails,” and “Bugs, Bugs, Bugs.” Educational programs also access specialty areas in the wider gardens. Jungle Journey, for example, takes place in the Tropical Greenhouse. Even educators are served through classes dedicated to teachers of young children.

During school breaks and in the summer, camps serve children from ages four through twelve. And day camping isn’t the only kind of camping in this space. Overnight family camping is an innovative service provided by My Big Backyard. The goal is to keep overnight camping as simple and traditional as possible. Roasting s’mores over a campfire gives these campers experiences rare for today’s children and families. Imagine a safe and educational natural area for children, directly in the city, in which families can bond through overnight camping. It’s no wonder that the programming and diversity of experiences offered in My Big Backyard has attracted so many visitors and increased the Garden membership considerably.

My Big Backyard 1My Big Backyard demonstrates compellingly that a Certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom can contribute to the financial health of its sponsoring institution, while providing rich educational play experiences for children. It is also another example of a Nature Explore outdoor classroom’s flexibility. The core concept of the design is simple; a space in which nature inspires exploration and creativity in children, and that offers multiple outlets to express their wonder and learning. Guiding principles and activity areas ensure that the outdoor classroom can truly meet the goals of this core concept.

In My Big Backyard, Nature Explore design concepts are integrated vividly and creatively in ways that allow a variety of uses for the space. The Memphis Botanic Garden shows us the richness of experience that an outdoor classroom can provide for a whole community.