In March and April of 2020, as Covid was forcing all of us to rethink the ways we get along in the world, Second Presbyterian Weekday School reached out to the Bernheim Children at Play Network to see if we could help them think through a strategy for moving their classrooms outside. We met with a team of their outdoor advocates to do a walkaround of their campus with an eye toward using their existing outdoor places to engage children in play based learning. We came up with ideas for about a dozen play/learning stations that utilized unique aspects of their church campus. They reached out to us letting us know that moving the children outside for learning and play was reviewed by both staff and families as their number one positive change. Being outdoors matters in the health and development of children and this is part of that proof. Here’s what they wrote to us…
“I wanted to first tell you that the nodes we created last summer after walking the campus with you here at 2nd Pres were a huge success this whole school year. Outdoor learning was reported by both families and staff as the #1 positive change to come out of this unique school year and is something that the teachers are excited to continue. I saw so much growth in resilience and tolerance of all kinds of weather in both the staff and students. When the snow came this winter, parents packed huge bags of outdoor gear each day because they knew their kids would be going outside. Of course, the cicadas were a huge hit this spring. The three major developments I observed were:
- Many staff saw that challenging behaviors lessened from certain students when those children were outside and in nature;
- Our students connected more with nature than ever before, and there was a huge movement from fear to curiosity for many children, with insects in particular;
- Stewardship developed, particularly in the 3s, 4s and Kindergarten students, when they noticed littering on our campus or when creatures could be hurt.
The Kindergartners wrote me a letter asking for “raw materials” to build trash cans to put around the campus, and the 3s found trash down by the creek and worked together to pick it up. This is all so important, and I so appreciate your wisdom in getting us started.”
And here are some great photos of their children utilizing their new outdoor spaces: