Education has been a hot topic over the last few decades as new programs to update the age old system have come and gone. Programs like No Child Left Behind and Common Core have proven not as successful as intended but one program that seems to have a lot of promise is that of the Outdoor Classroom. Getting children outside and engaged with nature could be one way to foster not only a love for the environment, but also a love of learning. Jill Primak, a landscape architect for the Arbor Day Foundation non-profit program called Nature Explore, aims to aid teachers and school groups design stimulating outdoor learning areas allowing children to learn through interaction and play. Jill states that the work done by the Nature Explore designers employs research-based guiding principles that support engaging spaces for all children.

What I found most interesting was the fact that when Jill started working at Nature Explore, she had to reset her design thinking as she was use to working at the scale of an adult verses that of a child which is much smaller and far more intimate. Children experience the landscape differently and this impacts not only what goes into a designed scape but also the size of each designed element.

Since every school group is different due to varying site conditions, budgets, and school leaders, Nature Explore holds design consultation workshops in order to establish goals and expectations for each project.  Nature Explore remains light on its feet as they only provide design consultation and schematic work for each school group. This allows each school group to be able to implement the design concept at their own pace when funding is appropriated and when either volunteer or contracted work is adequate to get the job done. Each Project Summary, as they are called, includes detailed hand drawn plans with extensive guidelines, regulation policy, and design notes all based on evidence based design. I believe that getting children engaged and active allows for far better learning experiences and promotes healthier habit formation as they get older.

Image Credit: Nature Explore

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