Alumni Summer Program and the Natural Environment

Each summer, PSA welcomes back a classroom of school-aged alumni for our summer program. For the school aged children, the summer means a return to the grounds they spent time on in their younger years.

We believe that the environment plays a huge role in all children’s curiosity, play and learning.  Being back at Preschool of the Arts, the alumni children have several natural environments on our natural playground that allow them to explore and investigate in ways that are different from when they may have been here last. The children have mastered areas such as the monkey bars, sand boxes and green bars, which has seemingly allowed them to discover their old stomping grounds in a new light and with new meaning.

Plants around PSA.

Children were curious to know about the types of plants on the school grounds and uses for the berries. Conversations with our environmental specialist and research in books allowed children to deepen their interest and find answers in natural ways. The sensory gardens at PSA allowed children to safely see, smell, touch and taste many plants.

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Natural materials as tools.

Teachers observed children using sticks and rocks during their play.  Children were seen using these materials to create designs, dig, break apart old logs, lift and move other sticks and build. It was interesting to observe that mainly natural materials were being used, even when shovels and other tools were available.Picture4Picture5

Community building.

The school aged children are coming from many different grade levels at several different schools throughout the city.  Their mutual interest in building helped create a sense of community early on.  Children knew that they needed the help of others to move larger pieces.  They showed their ability to communicate effectively to carry out their plans.

When children are working together to create something as a team, there is a lot of problem solving and communication needed.  Creating as a team also allows children to feel a stronger sense of ownership towards the creation and the school, and a sense of community with their peers.Picture73

Cooking play.

Children began to gather items from the gardens and surrounding areas to use in outdoor dramatic play.  Many times plants and berries were used for “cooking”. One day a bakery was created. Children asked for clipboards to write down recipes and list available items.

Student: We can make up our own recipes! Kate put a strawberry into a mint leaf and it tasted very good.
Student: I had an idea that we could go around outside the school and look for the food you can eat and have a picnic with those fruits.Picture8

Dramatic play with structures.

At Preschool of the Arts we encourage dramatic play.  Sometimes as children get older, they seem to lose some of the magic of pretend play. But when Copper Room children began to move their play into areas that they created for themselves, teachers observed dramatic play becoming more complex.  During dramatic play, children learn how to negotiate with and navigate the thoughts and ideas of other children.  They develop abstract thinking, practice problem solving, and expand their imaginations. This becomes even richer when done in an outdoor environment created by the children themselves.Picture9

Building on a smaller scale.

Once they had mastered the art of building large structures outside, we began to challenge the children to build with materials on a smaller scale. The first structures were built in the Art Studio with Ms. Lizzie. Later, in the classroom, children experimented with salt dough and materials gathered from outside to create another type of structure. It was interesting to note that some of the children were more likely to build inside (smaller scale) than outside (larger scale).Picture10

Literacy through our study.

Literacy skills were used during each part of our exploration. Copper Room children carried journals on nature walks, brainstormed ideas for their work and answered questions to help them reflect on what they were learning. After reading many books and field guides, Wilderness Survival Guides were created by each student.  These guides include pictures and words about edible plants, what to expect in the wild, packing lists, ways to build structures and potential dangers. Students enjoyed reading and sharing their ideas from their journals and survival guides.Picture11

Reflection by Mickey Willis and Rachel Smith