“The Wonders of Nature”
By Johanna Perlin, Director Temple Shalom Nursery School
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more” By John Burroughs
Getting Started: Four years ago, our staff read and discussed Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv as part of our professional development. Although we had always included nature in our curriculum both in the classroom and outside, we decided we needed to be more intentional in how we connected children with the natural world. Staff began to take workshops on nature curriculum and on gardening. With the help of a consultant we began to revision the landscape of our playground to reflect our new philosophy of extending our classroom outside. We also provided different materials and activities, and spent time observing which of these the children gravitated towards. We discussed what we needed to do to expand and deepen the childrens engagement with nature . Over the last two years, parent fund raising allowed us to purchase materials to create resource and materials bins, enlarge our playground and garden space so that we could.
Changes made: We enlarged our sand area and created a mud kitchen. We brought in a rain barrel so that children could independently access water. We added a build area with tree cookies, small wooden blocks, tree blocks, logs, sticks, and tires. We added four raised beds to enlarge our garden to grow herbs, vegetables and flowers, and made a “pixie” garden (outdoor doll house). We created a performance area with light weight wooden benches, musical instruments, animal puppets, animal costumes, and big pieces of material. We added an art area. And we are in the process of making a “water activity wall” as part of our two water tables.
We’ve been working on increasing the time children spend outdoors. As weather permits, they go outside as soon as they arrive at school before their circle time. Many times one of the choice time activities takes place outside. They go out again after story time and after lunch. Even most snowy or light rain days finds children outdoors.
Research studies are beginning to provide data that supports the belief that activities in natural environments help decrease symptoms of ADD, reduce irritability, stress, and depression, and support healthy development.
What we’re seeing: After being outside, children are able to stay focused a little longer at circle. Children who used to show insecurity during play ground time, have become more comfortable and involved in play without needing as much teacher support. Children who have sensory integration challenges, love the mud kitchen. Children who struggle socially in the classroom, have successfully connected with another child (even for a short time) as they play musical instruments, plan a menu in the mud kitchen cafe, fill containers with water from the rain barrel, tend the garden (with a teacher), play with dinosaurs in our pixie garden, splash in puddles, or explore ramps and velocity (with a teacher). They problem solved and collaborated when faced with getting the dirt up a hill to fill the raised planter. Children whose bodies need heavy lifting breaks get what they need as they carry logs, roll car tires, and move branches to build a vehicle or a building. With teacher support, children are beginning to observe more and to ask questions.
For children who have extra challenges and for those who do not, providing them with experiences in natural environments leads to new discoveries, enjoyment, self-confidence, and release.
Believe, Start Small, and Never Stop!
If you are interested in taking a “Nature Explorers” family class with Johanna Perlin at Temple Shalom, click here to get more information and to register for this exciting 3-series class taking place in May and June.
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