May - Saints School


May - Saints School
in the
Outdoor Classroom
Warmer weather is here, the children love water and How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long
(David Shannon is the illustrator.) is a terrific book that enabled us to bring a super fun theme to
our special classroom. As we welcomed our friends, they found many props including two
pirates’ ships ready to set sail, silk scarves, eye patches, wooden beads’ necklaces, totes, a
cooler, three squid costumes(hats), leis, and portable chalk boards to draw treasure maps. At
the play dough table, a child in PreK crafted a third pirate ship! It is turtle nesting season and in
the Dry Sensory Table, our friends found real beach sand, table tennis balls and Melissa & Doug’s
Taffy Turtle Catch and Hatch where ten little turtles can be found and matched. The hatching
eggs revealed the colorful baby turtles. One day, we heard a Threes’ Class discuss the “stormy
weather” (like in the story) on its way and they worked together to make a turtle mound to keep
the turtles safe. In the Water Table, there were an assortment of colorful sea creatures and some
of them would squirt which is great fun and great for fine motor development. We filled a
wading pool with ice and Melissa & Doug’s Maritime Mates where shells open to reveal sea
creatures that need to be matched (or pretend cell phones…). Our friends enjoyed transporting
the ice to the water table and exploring the change in water temperature or just transporting
the ice or icy water from point A to point B and vice versa to their hearts’ content. We created
an apparatus using a milk crate, pool noodles, funnels and bowls to invite our friends to
experiment with the flow of water. They really enjoyed it. We used a spot sprinkler to create a
mini splash pad and it’s been a sensory extravaganza. It’s a great learning experience for our
“scientists” because as they pour, splash, and explore they are observing cause and effect while
experimenting with water’s fluid properties and being introduced to basic physics. In all the age
groups, their favorite activity was experiencing the water eruption after attempting to control
and divert the water flow.
On a side note, we are thrilled to have completed our milk jugs’ igloo. We persevered and we
accomplished our goal. As the children toured the interior, we heard, “AWESOME.” Due to an
afternoon thunderstorm and a few curious little saints, it sustained structural damage and it
ultimately collapsed. What can you do with over 500 milk jugs? A Threes Class created
something else…
As we end our school year, we should reflect on why the children enjoy this special space so
much. In establishing our school’s Outdoor Classroom, we obtained a lot of information from the
book, “Your Brian on Nature.” Our brains are wired to be aware of and in tune with nature.
Because of our instinct for self-preservation and drive to stay alive, we are drawn close to fresh
water and nutrition. Being outside is calming and it triggers feelings of wellness, it helps people
focus on the positive, it makes people less likely to perceive themselves as stressed and it makes
them more likely to form emotional bonds. Research studies show that children’s exposure to
nature improves learning outcomes. As teachers, we delight in observing the children’s play in
the Outdoor Classroom. The children make choices more independently and are very focused
and engaged in their play. In fact, some children who are followers in the traditional classroom
emerge as leaders in the Outdoor Classroom. Planning among the children and teamwork
requires a lot of communication and although they are so young, they are able to discuss a
plan, each person’s job, and how it will work. If it doesn’t work, they try again and again in
different ways until it works. All of this happens with minimal teacher direction and we, the
teachers, are able to take a step back and observe true child-directed play which is the ideal
way for children to learn. Albert Einstein said, “Learning is experience. Everything else is just
information.” As the children play outside, they are learning from the top of their heads to the
tip of their toes and every neuron cell in between as they experience all the information that
their senses are processing and consequently, making their brains smarter and more efficient.