October 2016 Spotlight Garden
Welcome to Outdoor Classrooms Garden of the Month. From backyards to schoolyards, we want to find the Outdoor Classrooms, Children’s Gardens & Community Programs that are cultivating wonder, curiosity, and playful learning. Our October Spotlight Garden the Christ Church Parish Day School in Hamilton, MA.
A pair of monarchs flutter about the outdoor classroom, wings spread wide seeking the last of the summer’s nectar before landing quietly on a purple butterfly bush. The children stop in awe and suddenly the scene is silent. These are regular occurrences for the children at Christ Church Parish Day School. Our pre-school program is home to 72 students ranging from ages 2.9 to 5 years. The Day School resides at Christ Church of Hamilton and Wenham in Hamilton, Massachusetts, and the Day School has been in operation since 1957.
Our outdoor classroom began with a long hard look at our playground space that was lacking in green grass and much-needed room. As we looked over the existing fence we realized there was a lovely green grassy area and garden with just the right amount of natural elements to soften our playground. After approval from the church vestry to expand the play space, we attended many workshops, held meetings, devised drawings, and our vision began to take shape.
The fence was moved doubling the original square footage, making grass and existing gardens available to us. We began to incorporate as many natural components into the area that we could. The children, families, and teachers donated cuttings from their own gardens that help attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. A plethora of bulbs were planted by the children and each spring they anticipate and watch as the garden comes back to life full of color.
Our outdoor classroom now has many features of our inside classroom such as a gathering place, science tools, a building area, and a water play space we call our mud kitchen. Our new space became an invitation to spend more time outdoors with our children. One classroom took advantage of this by changing drop off from inside the classroom to our outdoor classroom. The children now say goodbye to their parents and then go to the different areas for intentional small group play. Our climber and open space are still favorite areas for large motor play but the alternative areas are welcome spots for making mud pies, creating structures for small figures, exploring loose parts and investigating our garden. Signage and a mail box library add a literacy component for more quiet interactions, as does sidewalk chalk on tree cookies. After play time children and teachers gather for a class meeting on the tree stumps. Here the children are able to share an item they found in their natural classroom and pass it along to their neighbor during greeting. Having morning meeting outside is also a wonderful time to learn new songs inspired by the environment that go along with their current curriculums.
Our new outdoor classroom has been well received by both children and parents. Our space fosters caretaking, creative play and continues to weave a fabric connecting the children and adults to the environment.