What A Nature Explore Classroom Says to a Child
What does a Nature Explore Classroom say to a child?
A Nature Explore Classroom is nature arranged for children. The various activity areas and the overall designs draw investigations and expressions that are more varied than you’d find in an unstructured natural space. Loris Malaguzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy, said that children have a hundred languages. The difference between unstructured nature and a Nature Explore Classroom is that the outdoor classroom’s design and structure encourage children to express themselves in their many languages. The languages of art, research, drama, music, sharing, caring, building, playing alone—all and more can be expressed in these special spaces.
Any space designed for children should speak to them as soon as they enter. An amusement park will have different messages for a child than those conveyed by a museum. San Francisco’s Exploratorium, the brilliantly interactive children’s museum speaks differently to a child than does the Great America amusement park, not far from it. What does a Nature Explore Classroom say to a child? What does it say to children of different ages?
John is three years old. Alice is nine, and in the fourth grade. John likes to play with action figures, find bugs, ride wheeled toys, pretend he’s a pirate (among others), draw with crayons and build with blocks. Alice is interested in the cycle of life of plants, composting, and loves to climb. They both use the same Nature Explore Classroom.
Their well-stocked Nature Explore Classroom has a stage, building area, art area, path for biking, flower and vegetable planter boxes, (among other features and activity areas), a composting area, and lots of loose parts of various materials, shapes and sizes.
During John’s time in the outdoor classroom, he rides wheeled toys, builds block towers, and collects friends for a “bug hunt.” Alice, at a different time, looks through her area of the vegetable garden to find edibles, looks through a book to identify plants she doesn’t know, and climbs on stumps of trees with friends. Although John and Alice’s time periods are different in this Nature Explore Classroom, they need not be. Many of our outdoor classrooms, often those at nature centers and museums, host children of all ages whenever open.
And this is the beauty of a Nature Explore Classroom; it can truly speak to a wide variety of ages and interests. It speaks to the theatrical child who loves company in her play, as well as to the studious child, who might prefer to work alone. It speaks to the “hundred languages of children.”
But what does it say?
It says, “Come inside to play, explore, express yourself, and learn. Here, you can be YOU!”