5 Elements for
“Pop Up”Outdoor Classrooms
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for this country.” John F. Kennedy.
This past summer I had the opportuntiy to participate in a community service opportunity with my two children (Emily age 13 and William age 11) at the REAL Program in Lynn, MA. This program is run by my colleague and friend Jan Plourde and is a testament to the essence of community building. Jan invited me to join her summer program and challenged me to plan and prepare a “Pop Up Outdoor Classroom” experience for 4 days for 40 children and 15 adults on an asphalt play-yard. I love a good challenge and agreed to take this on.
How could we create a temporary space that is inviting and would give inner city children an Outdoor Classroom experience? How could we make it “Pop Up”? How could we do this with a limited budget? My own children and I embraced these questions and began researching possibilities for activities. We created 6 Outdoor Learning Stations for each of the four days. Emily and William led their own stations. All 40 children were happily exploring, creating and playing. I could not have been more proud. In the end, we successfully opened up the asphalt play yard and transformed it into an outdoor playful learning environment. In this process, I learned 5 key elements for unlocking the “Pop Up” Outdoor Classrooms challenge.
“Pop Up” Outdoor Classroom Elements
1. Connection. This is the secret sauce for the REAL Program. Jan Plourde is an expert at bringing people together and giving them purpose. Each day she opened the group meeting with shaking everyone’s hand, looking them in the eye and welcoming them. She explains, “The #REAL Program provides support for children and their families. Sometimes that means we provide #REAL food for family dinners; sometimes it means we take them on a field trip to an area college campus and treat them like they are incoming freshmen; sometimes it just means listening to a child or a mom. Dedicated and caring adults provide guidance to moms, dads, grandparents who may be learning English or who may be taking a college course for the first time. These are all #REAL examples of how we help.”
2. Gathering Place: Every Outdoor Classroom needs a gatherng place. At the REAL program they used fold up chairs and put them in a circle. Blankets, sit-upons and tarps call also be used to define a Gathering Space. This space provides a center for the Outdoor Classroom and is ideal for opening and closing rituals for your outdoor learning experience.
3. Colorful Tarps: Six big, beautiful colorful tarps defined our outdoor learning stations. Children were invited to roam freely from tarp to tarp while enjoying the provided activities. The tarps added pops of color and gave definition to the outdoor space.
4. Planned hands on activities using Loose Parts: Planning ahead is key! Organizing activities for each station with all the necessary supplies is a must. To keep costs down we recycled and repurposed simple materials. We brought in Natural materials for children to touch, feel and smell nature.
5. Community Volunteers: “More hands make for lighter work.” By the end of the summer Jan Plourde attracted 150 volunteers of all ages to assist in creating a spectacular outdoor summer experience for a group of inner city kids and families. Community Volunteers are the core of any Outdoor Classroom.
Pop Up Outdoor Classrooms are ideal for those who do not have the luxury of an ideal outdoor space to call their own. With these key Outdoor elements….anything is possible! Please share pictures of your “Pop Up” Outdoor Classroom.and share your experience with us. I love learning what everyone is doing.
T – See more at: http://www.massliteracy.org/opportunities/list/service-learning-real-program/#sthash.jtliW6iP.dpuf