ARTICLE

Homegrown: Nature Explore Classroom

The messy materials and nature art area of the Nature Explore classroom in North Liberty.
The messy materials and nature art area of the Nature Explore classroom in North Liberty.
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Last year, I wrote about the new Nature Explore classroom at the rural Iowa City home of Tony and Diane Malkusak. That classroom joined one already in Eastern Iowa, at the Indian Creek Nature Center, and one under construction at Taylor Elementary School in Cedar Rapids.

Now, North Liberty joins the ranks of Corridor cities with the outdoor, interactive classrooms, developed in response to a growing disconnect between children and nature.

Here is more on Iowa's newest Nature Explore classroom, from the Arbor Day Foundation (photos courtesy of the Arbor Day Foundation):

Montessori Children’s Garden, Inc. located at 20 Circle Drive in North Liberty, IA has earned the national designation of a certified Nature Explore Classroom from the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. Montessori Children’s Garden, Inc. now joins a growing network of organizations that have created effective outdoor learning environments for children.  This network allows for idea-sharing, peer support, and continuous learning and development.

“Montessori Children’s Garden, Inc. has taken an important leadership role in a profoundly needed initiative to connect young children with nature, setting a wonderful example for education centers across the country,” said Susie Wirth, Nature Explore outreach director for the Arbor Day Foundation. “Everyone at Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation appreciates the commitment they have made to the Nature Explore program and to providing nature education opportunities for young children.”

Nature Explore Classrooms are part of the Nature Explore program, a collaborative project of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. Developed in response to the growing disconnect between children and nature, certified Nature Explore Classrooms are designed to help fill the void by educating young children using research-based principles for integrating nature into their daily learning.

These classrooms, which are being developed across the country, offer interactive elements – including musical instruments made of natural materials, climbing structures, wooden blocks,  garden areas, and natural materials for building and creating art – that give children important and inspiring nature experiences. While connecting children with nature, such unstructured play and activities are shown to enhance concentration, develop creativity and problem-solving, relieve stress, and improve skills in many areas.

Outdoor classrooms that are designed according to principles described in the Dimensions Foundation’s Learning With Nature Idea Book are eligible to become certified Nature Explore Classrooms. In a certified Nature Explore Classroom, children can create visual masterpieces in a nature art area, build with natural materials, climb on natural structures, and practice their balance, agility, and creativity in areas designed for music and movement. The first Nature Explore Classroom is located in the Tree Adventure attraction at Arbor Day Farm, the Arbor Day Foundation’s interactive conservation venue in Nebraska City, NE.

About the Arbor Day Foundation:  The Arbor Day Foundation is a nonprofit conservation and education organization of one million members, with the mission to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.  More information on the Foundation and its programs can be found at arborday.org, or by visiting us on Facebook, Twitter or our blog.

About Dimensions Educational Research Foundation:  Dimensions Educational Research Foundation was formed in 1998 to study how science, math and literacy learning can be enhanced by the addition of more visual-spatial activities into classrooms and homes. For a number of years, the Foundation has conducted and collected research on how children best develop visual-spatial skills and how teachers and families can optimally support this development. Dimensions Educational Research Foundation’s goal is to create and deliver unique educational programming to 1) Help people better understand and appreciate the natural world by developing visual-spatial skills; and 2) Improve science, math and literacy learning through visual-spatial skills.

   

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