By Hayley Abell, Director, 2nd Presbyterian Weekday School, Louisville, KY
This summer, 2nd Presbyterian Weekday School reached out to Claude Stephens, the director of the Children at Play Network, to come walk with us around our school campus.
From the moment school ended last May, we began preparing for the 2020-21 school year. We knew that when the state emergency regulations came out in June, there would be many changes, and school would not look the same due to the corona virus pandemic.
With our focus on satisfying all of the emergency regulations and following the CDC guidelines so that we could safely reopen for students in August, we also saw opportunity in the deterioration of all things “normal”. The silver lining in the pandemic was that we could use this moment in time to make a pivotal change toward more deeply enfolding outdoor learning into our teaching practices.
Shortly after, we had our Outdoor Learning Committee in place and began meeting to intentionally plan how we could use our campus to connect with nature, engage in the ripe learning it offers and find opportunities in all kinds of weather. We desired guidance from someone who has made outdoor learning a lifelong mission and could be a “more knowledgeable other” for us in our pursuit.
Thankfully, Claude Stephens agreed to come. He walked around the school and church campus, masked and distanced, with our Outdoor Learning Committee, pointing out possible nodes (areas of interest for children) that we could develop or embrace. We took his inspiring ideas and practical suggestions and began preparing each space for children to visit upon their return to school in August. Here are some of the ideas we came up with:
- Roll-Down Hill: A wide open space for running, playing games, picnicking and rolling
- Memorial Garden and Courtyard Garden: Quiet places for being still: reading, singing, drawing, observing, writing, gathering
- Rocky Cove: A place for sensory and art
- Taxus Bush Cave: A hideaway for imaginary play, movement and exploration
- Our Beloved Tree, Miss Maple: Insect and bird watching, gathering, connecting with nature
- Treasure Tree: An adventure mailbox and an opportunity for stewardship (advocating for its right to be a healthy tree and NOT a trash can)
- Area for a Raised Garden: An opportunity to see how nature grows
- Nature Trail: An area to be immersed in nature, to hike, play and explore, to feel transported to a different world
These names will most likely change as our students interact with the different nodes and begin to take ownership over them. We plan on placing trail marker signs at each area with their permanent names as they come into being. We are excited about the experiences children will have on our campus this year and look forward to seeing what emerges from each classroom’s interests, exploration and play outdoors. We are thankful for our continued partnership with the Children at Play Network at Bernheim Forest as our school community more fully engages, connects and learns with nature this year.