By Carlye Nelson-Major, Associate Head of School
Have you seen the changes in the Garden at our school's South Street property?
The programmatic goal of our outdoor space on the South Street property has always been to offer a developmentally appropriate environment for city children to connect with the natural world on a daily basis. Although we have made some changes to the Garden since the Schwartz Siegel Early Childhood Education Center opened in 2012, last year the preschool and kindergarten staff recognized that it was time to take our annual tweaking to the next level. Having watched the children work and play in the Garden for three school years, we wanted the space to reflected our evolving hopes for an engaging outdoor learning classroom.
Last spring our preschool and kindergarten teachers worked with a Nature Explore team, made up of a landscape architect and a teacher-researcher. Nature Explore spent three days observing and evaluating our Garden space. Their expert eyes and research-based approach helped us optimize opportunities for playing and learning in outdoor spaces. At the heart of the plan was to create more order with clearly defined activity areas, or “rooms,” that would offer a variety of ways to engage with the natural world through purposeful play and learning activities.
Gifted local landscaper Eric Blasco helped us develop distinct areas for different kinds of activities by repurposing much of what we already had. These areas include a welcoming entry with a chalk board that will invite you to notice different things that are happening in the Garden each week; a meandering pathway through the space; a place for large motor activities; a mud kitchen; a nature art area; a dirt digging box; a stage for music, movement and drama; a water table area; a quiet gathering area for small groups; a building area; and ample areas for growing, harvesting and tasting our crops.
We are delighted with the outcome – a state-of-the-art outdoor classroom at the fingertips of our budding young scientists, mathematicians, architects, engineers, botanists, cooks, and environmental stewards. Please come and take a slow walk through the space so you appreciate the depth and richness of this learning and playing space.