This year, the Green Room is piloting a mostly outdoor program. They have an indoor classroom for inclement weather, but they are spending the majority of their time outdoors. There are numerous studies that show how outdoor learning can immensely benefit preschool development and learning. Who knew getting muddy could actually making kids more creative problem solvers?
As we thought about designing our outdoor classroom, we recognized that it would be important to include each component of a regular indoor classroom – but transform it for outdoor use! In this way we planned for a gross motor space, fine motor and art area, dramatic play area, eating space, group meeting space, tinkering space and library area.
Even early in the school year, we can see the impact the outdoor classroom has on the children. Reducing traditional not-open-ended toys and allowing children to be in a natural environment drastically reduces conflict over sharing and turn-taking, while increasing problem solving skills. Instead of having a play kitchen, for example, children are using rocks to create a stove or sink, and replacing the play food with grass, flowers and leaves.
Student: Tigers eat meat leaves, and they need a lot! Hungry tigers are not good tigers.
As children were playing in the mud, they noticed they couldn’t see their boots because it was too muddy under the water.
Student: You can see some blue (looking at his boots)
Student: You can see my boot!
Student: Hey, I want to get back there! (pointing)
Student: Well my boot’s stuck!
Student: grabs her arm for balance and helps her out of of the mud
Student: Well, at least somebody helped me!
A couple students were trying to step from log to log. “It’s too far, I can’t reach!” They looked around, found some boards from our building area and brought them over. Together, they came up with a solution to their problem.
Student: I’m carrying two! I’m strong.
Student: Look, set this one here. Can you move the log closer?
In our outdoor classroom, we’ve decided to intentionally focus on noticing and observations. In this way, can learn more about the ways that children are thinking about their surroundings and what they are wondering about.
We spotted a bright red tree on a walk. As we continued looking at the different leaves under the tree we began noticing more and more characteristics about each one.
Student: I see the yellow lines on this one.
Student: ¡Roja, Amarillo!
Student: I’m trying to find one that has red lines.
Student: Look this is a tiny one!
Student: All of them have lots of different colors in them.
We focus, like a pyramid, on a large observation first – like the giant red tree! Then we scale in a bit more and ask children to move closer, continue looking and mindfully focus on what they were seeing.
We noticed that children were eager to share what they saw with us, often calling their friends over to show them the leaf they found, and making observations and connections that were surprising and novel even to teachers! We discussed how each leaf was different, even though they were all on the same tree. When we found another red maple tree we compared the leaf shape and realized that even though they were both maples they looked very different up close.
This specific instance, one of many that happen everyday, reminds us as teachers that we are still learning to notice and observe too. Encouraging different perspectives and observations make our classroom rich with ideas and wondering and allow us to understand more about how children are seeing and understanding the world around them.
Reflection by the Green Room Co-Teachers, Emma Sams and Alice Sullivan