Learning – we all accomplish it in so many different ways. Schools that take that into consideration are top of the line, in my book. Many countries and organizations emphasize the importance of children learning outside in nature, versus only in a classroom. Child Care Associates of Fort Worth, TX has done just that with their latest “classroom” addition. The Natural Playscape is an outdoor learning area for children to learn and explore by playing outdoors. The playscape has 10 different designated areas that are designed to keep their minds engaged and growing. It also introduces students who are predominately exposed to urban landscapes to a more natural setting.
Personally, I can’t wait for the day that Greyson is old enough to go outside and explore and play and learn. I hope to be able to use examples like the one below to create a learning oasis in our very own backyard for him. Kara Waddell, the President & CEO of Child Care Associates, was kind enough to answer my questions about this fun new Natural Playscape. Hopefully her answers will inspire you to get your kiddos out in nature more, too!
The Natural Playscape at Child Care Associates, Fort Worth, Texas
Outdoor learning has been the focus of several of the greatest school methods, in my opinion. What do you think adding this style of learning will bring to the Fort Worth youth who can access it?
Children in their youngest years learn through play and exploration. We know that instinctively and through extensive research. Researchers note that, for most of human existence, children have spent much of their childhood in outdoor environments where they interacted with nature regularly. Today, we find children are less connected with nature than ever before. This lack of connection is even more prevalent in urban centers and in neighborhoods of greater poverty. We at Child Care Associates believe in creating green spaces as a kind of outdoor classroom to give infants, toddlers and preschoolers in high poverty neighborhoods access to nature and to safe, green places designed to stimulate their own growth and development.
Is this classroom open to homeschooling parents? Who has access to this facility?
Great question! Child Care Associates provides a special niche in the early education space, working with children living at 100% poverty, including children who may be homeless or are in the foster care system. As a licensed facility, we run into state rules on who can access our play spaces. We also believe it is important that we create spaces specifically designed for these at-risk children to access during their early education day. Wouldn’t it be great to have spaces like this for the broader neighborhood, too?
3) What is the best tool/life skill you believe outdoor play equips children with?
Without outdoor play, children miss out on both physical activity and nature-related learning that helps children develop observation and problem-solving skills, science and math abilities, imagination, creativity, and a sense of wonder that is the basis for lifelong learning. From a sustainability lens, connecting children to nature help instill appreciation and understanding of the natural world – both necessary in creating the next generation of environmental stewards.
How would you explain the importance of outdoor play to a parent who doesn’t see the value in it?
We are opening our first natural playscape and classroom now. Helping parents see the value of nature-based learning and play will be a challenge for our teachers and leadership, but one that our passionate team is ready for. Many parents of our children also grew up with limited exposure to nature and have more dislike than appreciation for time outside. However, our initial response from parents thus far? They love it! Parents of all incomes seem to instinctively know their children need time outdoors and the freedom to explore and play.
5) What are 3 tips/activities you can give parents to lead their own children in outdoor play to help them have fun while learning in an outdoor setting?
* Let children explore and discover on their own. Follow their lead in what seems interesting.
* Start early! Even infants and toddlers love to be outside and discover the feeling of bark on trees.
* Go ahead and let them get a little dirty. We’ve included a messy materials station in our outdoor playscape, something we lovingly call the “mud pie station.” It’s a favorite of all!
If a parent wanted to construct a mini educational outdoor play area in their own back yard, which area of the upcoming Natural Playscape would you encourage them to model it after?
We love this idea! Young children don’t need expensive equipment to enjoy being outside. A few tips:
For younger children, gather outdoor “supplies” that may be fun for them: a bunch of rocks (big enough to avoid putting in their mouths), a variety of sticks, small logs, leaves, or flowers. Children can learn about texture, weight, and building. Ask them to build or draw an object using the supplies!
Small gardens or even pot gardens are wonderful ways for children to learn to tend for plants, learn to water, watch the growth, and eventually understand where their food comes from. There is nothing quite like the smell of fresh lavender or the burst of flavor in a vine-ripened cherry tomato that a child has planted herself.
Remove any obvious dangers – access to yard tools, chemicals, etc. – so they can explore without too many “no’s” from Mom or Dad. You want to create an area that you can completely encourage your child to explore.
How do parents get their children involved with CCA?
Child Care Associates is the largest child development nonprofit in this area of North Texas but with a specialty niche of focusing on our most at-risk children and families. We are looking for small organizations who may want to take on a community project to help build and fund additional outdoor playscapes in high poverty neighborhoods. Volunteering would be a wonderful family activity. A Kiwanis club, Junior League, church or women’s organization can help adopt the development of a future site – or raise funding needed for the landscape developers who make these possible.
Please share any information about CCA that you’d like my readers to know about – i.e. How to support, how to learn more about it, how to contact you, how to get involved, etc.
For every $1 we receive locally, we’re able to draw down $4 in national funding to help ensure we have these services at the neighborhood level for the long haul. For more information on how to get involved, visit Child Care Associates.
There you have it! Plenty of reasons to get out and let your kids explore and learn outdoors. I plan to get Greyson started early with hikes, playing with grass, and swimming this summer. Don’t forget to donate to CCA so that children who are less likely able to be exposed to nature and great educational opportunities will have the chance to experience the wonders of learning, too.
xoxo mama, papas & tiny human caregivers,