Bringing the classroom outdoors is far from a new concept— the benefits of using the natural world as a tool for learning has been touted for many years. During the pandemic, however, outdoor learning is being widely embraced as an alternative to traditional classroom settings. The Discovery Center’s Waterville location has a newly renovated Outdoor Classroom that serves as an excellent example of an intentional, structured curriculum in an outdoor setting to help Kindergarteners thrive.
The Kindergartners in this program use what they find in the Outdoor Classroom for mathematics, a variety of science lessons, literacy and phonics, and social studies. There really is no limit to the props available for use outside.
“Children were born with an undeniable desire to go outside, and research lists countless benefits of increased time in nature,”says Lindsay Stechschulte, a Discovery School Kindergarten teacher at Children’s Discovery Center. “The initiative of creating an outdoor classroom began before COVID-19; however, planning around the pandemic provided an opportunity to expand even further and create a space that helped increase the chance of a safe re-opening while continuing to offer exceptional learning opportunities for our students.”
This isn’t just a free-for-all playtime for the kids involved (though they are certainly having lots of fun). It’s a nationally certified Nature Explore Classroom, meaning that the methodology behind it is backed by field-tested research. The Kindergarten teachers at The Discovery Center attended a workshop to learn how best to implement lessons in the Outdoor Classroom to help their students progress in this enriching environment.
The Outdoor Classroom allows the teachers to maintain a “hands-on” approach that has proven most effective for sustained learning outcomes while still following CDC guidelines for social distancing. The program sets the stage for what is possible for education during COVID.
“We are excited that the expansion of our Outdoor Classroom has provided new opportunities to educate children in the midst of COVID-19,” said Jessica DeViney, chief operating officer of Children’s Discovery Center. “Not only does this creative environment go hand-in-hand with our Reggio Emilia philosophy but also provides the students with a safe environment for all types of learners.”