I first intrigued with outdoor classrooms back in 2014. That is when I first learned about Nature Explore. I was at the National Family Child Care Conference and I overheard another provider talking about her certification.
I decided right then, outdoor classroom certification would be my program’s next long-term goal. My staff and I worked hard over the course of the next year. I am proud to say in 2015, Shunk Child Care, became the first Nature Explore Outdoor Certified Classroom in Maine.
In 2016 we tweaked out design just a bit….trying to improve the overall flow and feel of our outdoor environment. (You can see pictures of the space in this blog post – https://shunkchildcare.blog/2018/05/20/making-it-happen-transitioning-to-an-outdoor-classroom/ )
In 2017, I, Sasha, took an environments course through University of Maine at Farmington. One of our assignments was to create our dream outdoor space. Here was my design…
Though I was happy with my design (and with my grade,) I knew I needed a professional to touch it up before breaking ground and making my dream a reality. I hired Sashie Misner to review my design. Sashie is a landscape architect who has designed several playgrounds around the State of Maine.
Once Sashie’s design was complete, it was time to pick a landscaper. I chose to work with, Three Stone Landscape, as they had experience working with Sashie’s designs. They helped create the playscapes at East End School, Breakwater, Children’s Center, and most recently at the Goldman Family Preschool.
So here is the finished product (well not quite finished we are still waiting on a small slide!)
This is the view from the front yard. We have plans to grow a vine plant (perhaps grapes?) up and over the arbor.
As you walk through the gate, to your right are blueberry bushes. This year’s crop has been our biggest yield! In addition to all the berries we have eaten fresh, we have an additional gallon bag filled in my freezer….and we’re still picking! To the left we have a stone path, playhouse, and tunnel. The children utilize this space daily.
Continuing down the walkway to the right is our water area. We painted the rain barrels with acrylic paint. We repurposed our sand tables as water tables. The small hose attachment has made filling the tables much easier. That was a great, inexpensive investment. The storage rack is a repurposed shower caddy. Since it is designed to be in water, it won’t rust!
Our journey continues with our building area and dirt digging area. The two spaces are divided by a large green maple tree. This helps to shade practically the whole area. We also had a bench built around the tree. The children enjoy jumping off it, sitting down relaxing on it, and sometime covering the entirety of it with dirt.
As we round the corner, we have our stage, music and movement area, art area, and our library. These spaces fit nicely next to each other.
Across from these areas, we have our sand area along with our mini climbing wall and (eventually) a slide. The picture shows an open space to the deck. There is a built in gate which we can slide shut if needed. Here is a view from the deck. I love my picnic tables, though in retrospect white was not the best color to choose. Our shade sail allows us to eat outside no matter where the sun’s position is in the sky.
Past the sand area and the deck, we have our action area, which is a larger open space along with the trains the children can climb through. Just off the deck is our messy materials area aka the play kitchen. The children have a variety of pine cones, acorns, woodchips, rocks, and dirt to use in their play. Last, but not least, are the gardens. I was insistent on having as many gardens beds as possible. The original plans had the gardens outside of the play area, then the plans changed to have 4 beds. Ultimately we were able to fit 7 raised beds in the space.
If you are planning to redesign your space I suggest you first draw the space. Get some graph paper, a tape measure, pencils. This will help to make sure you proportion your areas correctly. Think of what you already have and can repurpose. You don’t need everything to be new, because real quick the children will make it look old. Use the same techniques you use for your inside space. Quiet areas such as books and art should not be next to louder areas such as blocks or water play. Children love to run in a figure 8 pattern. Think about how the children will move from space to space when you set your design.
Though the pictures show a large space, my lot is less than 1/3 of an acre. You can transform your yard no matter how big or small.
Please reach out if you have any questions about creating your own outdoor classroom.
Our Favorite Materials:
Butterfly Wing – https://douglascuddletoy.com/product-category/dreamy-dress-ups/wings/
Children’s Picnic Table – https://www.polywoodoutdoor.com/picnic-table.html
Recycled Tank Drum – https://www.facebook.com/jetabdrums/
Rain Barrels – https://www.pwd.org/sites/default/files/rain_barrel.pdf
Train Set (I have a 4 piece set, I don’t know if they make those anymore) – http://www.pinecraft.com/amish-made-train-engine-locomotive-playground-set.html
Shade Sails – http://www.coolaroousa.com/shade-sails
Library – https://littlefreelibrary.org/
Sashie Misner – https://natureplaydesign.wordpress.com/consultation/
Nature Explore Classroom Certification – https://certified.natureexplore.org/
Three Stone Landscape – http://www.threestonelandscape.com/