Ask an adult about a special memory from childhood and frequently the response includes a recollection about the great outdoors. For our administrative director Patty Marsh, it includes crossing over logs and streams in her beloved home state of New Jersey. For me, it is a summer pajama party in a neighbor’s yard that included jars for catching fireflies at dusk. As I prepared for my new role as director this year, I felt it was critical to include our beautiful surroundings as part of our curriculum base. Our wooded playground is arguably one of the most idyllic spots for play, and the paths surrounding our school are perfect for nature walks. Lucky for us, our large classroom windows let in natural light from every vantage point insuring that our little ones feel a part of the outdoors even when inside!
Now that our year is coming to a close, it is the perfect time to revel in some of the successes of our wonderful teachers as they brought this vision to their classrooms in unique and meaningful ways. Just this past week our kindergarteners brought in photographs of nature; some were of themselves holding frogs, or flowers and each child could speak to why this photo held special meaning. These photos are proudly displayed in their classroom along with a nature photo album, nature corner, and their very adored pet Beta fish, Blueberry! The class enjoyed freshly picked strawberries for snack one day—which was an added tangible bonus to all the other wonderful photographic contributions. Several weeks ago the class released their butterflies after observing their maturation from egg to adult. Seeing the process unfold and being an active participant in the care of the life cycle will leave a lasting impression for years to come! Thank you to our teachers for such an undertaking—it is one that will hold far more meaning than simply reading about the process.
Our five day teachers have also established a nature corner, and one class had fun by naming and caring for a class plant! Most recently, the students engaged in a fairy unit of study which incorporated making fairy gardens in large pots, and found the children using natural materials like stones, clay, and twigs to construct their own magical settings. Currently, they are engaged in learning about pond life by using a plastic pool as a base, and then adding rocks, logs, lily pads, aquatic plant and animal life. There is a large fish tank that houses real tadpoles so that our children can observe the life cycle in real time!
Likewise our three and four day students have also embraced nature as a focus. Across the whole school classes have used their senses to observe plants and flowers so they might draw or paint “what they see.” The students welcomed spring with beautiful forsythia paintings. These were painted after observing the real flowers as a model. They also used pine branches as paint brushes in the winter to create works of art, and enjoy signaling their daily attendance by finding their own special rock which has their name on it. As a donated auction item some of the teachers participated in a nature walk and picnic. The children loved walking the school’s trails to the edge of the stream. Once there, the children delighted in sailing paper boats downstream.
Our youngest junior preschoolers have also embraced the great outdoors by print stamping with natural materials and enjoying both water and bubble play on our playground. In both instances, children made discoveries about size, shape, speed, and flow. It is very gratifying to see our littlest learners squeal with delight as they try out bubble wands of varying sizes, and paint with water on our concrete playground surface. They also delighted in visiting our baby chicks on a daily basis, and are beginning to understand the cycle of change that occurs with seasons, animals, and insects. We love seeing our twos grinning from ear to ear after a particularly messy dig in our playground’s dirt box!
Although next year our school will embrace a new theme as a central focus, our commitment to learning nature-ally will remain as an integral part of our curriculum.