Every preschool, daycare, or nursery school that has an outdoor play space also has an outdoor classroom. It’s true! When there is a place for the kids to go outside, there is a valuable learning environment waiting to be put to good use. Even the most bare bones playground has the potential to teach science concepts, art, math, and language skills when teachers creatively engage the children. Better and larger playgrounds improve those learning opportunities.
How can preschool and daycare staff maximize the benefits of their outdoor spaces? It does not take more than some imagination to find learning opportunities. Children are the best guides when it comes to exploring even the most familiar of spaces. Child-led exploration can spawn great discussions. Children observing ants marching along can get an impromptu lesson in ant colonies, animal behavior and the food chain. Geese flying south for the winter. Trees budding in the spring and falling leaves in the autumn. Rain forming rivulets and puddles on the ground. Cold weather freezing the water in the ground, making it hard and difficult to dig in.
Weather is another concept best explored outside. Having kids color or paint the shapes of different clouds they see, and talk about what pictures they see in the clouds or to think about what the clouds mean is an actual example of scientific methods in practice. Seasonal changes in foliage and temperature can lead to great talks about how the earth circles the sun, and how trees lose sugar in the fall.
Brave teachers can set up a worm bin and use scraps from snacks and lunches to involve the children in the process of composting. Once the worm castings are harvested, the kids can be a part of a plant growing experiment, growing flowers, veggies and herbs in whatever space is available. Radishes and beans provide almost instant gratification when it comes to showing children how sun and water cause seeds to become plants and in turn, the foods we eat.
Gravity is another experience for outdoor classrooms. Where is there a better place to test out the “what goes up must come down” idea than outdoors? From the tops of slides and play structures, kids can have “races” dropping items of various weights at the same time to see which reach the ground first. Feathers, stones, paper, sticks,… which will fall first, and why?
Science is well covered in outdoor learning, but what about math and reading? Math is easy enough, counting trees and fence posts, measuring heights of play structures, etcetera. Language arts require a bit more creativity to incorporate, but can still be done. One great way to have children express themselves with descriptive words and phrases is to play I-Spy. Laying out on the ground to look up at clouds and point out what they see, bunnies, boats, hearts, are all hiding within the white poufs, and children will love stretching their minds and vocabularies trying to get their friends to see the same things they see hidden in the clouds. A bit of paper and crayons with clipboards can inspire a visual “outdoor Journal” for children to record their experiences. Kids can even “draw” in sand and soft dirt with their fingers, or try making letters in the soil as well. They will love it, while growing their minds and developing new understanding of their world in the process.
Prime Time Early Learning Centers recognize the value of our “outdoor classrooms” for our pre school, nursery school and camp programs. Our college educated and specially trained Education Directors at each Prime Time center works with their teachers to better appreciate the unique educational opportunities provided by each center’s outdoor play and learning areas. With the exception of our Prime Time Center in Hoboken NJ which shares a large, safe and well equipped city park as their outside play and learning space, all other NJ Prime Time Centers have private fenced play areas to serve their day care and after school programs. Prime Time Paramus has a large 2400 square foot outdoor play area, and Prime Time Edgewater and East Rutherford both have two outdoor play areas; each specially equipped for younger and older children. Prime Time in Farmingdale NY has almost 3,000 of engaging outdoor play and learning space, and Prime Time Middletown has the largest and best equipped early learning outdoor play and education area in the greater Middletown / Goshen area. All Prime Time outdoor play and learning centers have custom designed water play options for all children to enjoy in the hot summer months, including our summer camp programs that are specially designed for younger campers.