Kids enjoy the sun, wind and air, so why not let their enjoyment of the outdoors lead their curiosity about the natural environment?
For kindergarten students at Glynn A. Green School in Fonthill, an outdoor classroom will provide schoolyard opportunities for inquiry-based learning. As part of a larger “greening Niagara’s Schoolyards” project, Brock Prof. Mary Breunig has teamed up with Brock and York graduate students and undergraduate students from Brock to design and construct an outdoor classroom.
The project is designed to fuel the inquisitive minds of the kindergarten students and to connect Ministry curriculum with nature-based activities to further enhance “traditional” learning.
“With an emphasis on inquiry-based learning, the outdoor classroom will be used to complement the curriculum students learn indoors,” says Mary Breunig, course instructor and associate professor, Recreation and Leisure Studies. “In this green schoolyard, students will have opportunities to garden. They will plant actual seeds and watch them sprout and grow while inquiring and learning about natural processes.”
The Niagara Community Foundation and Brock University fund the project and the outdoor classroom itself, as well as the related study. Both contribute to a growing body of research about how green schoolyards enhance childhood development. In fact, many are familiar with Richard Louv’s seminal book (2006), “Last Child in the Woods”, which talks about kids’ nature deficit disorder.
Schoolyards are one means to help reduce this deficit, according to Breunig. The first schoolyard greening project was implemented at the St. Catharines Montessori school in 2012.
“Outdoor play and education helps children develop physically, cognitively, and socio-emotionally,” explained Cassie Wever, an environmental studies graduate student at York University and native plants specialist who has been coordinating aspects of the Glynn A. Green project. “It has been found that physical spaces and access to natural resources can help stimulate early childhood development and improve kids’ health.”
Brock students and researchers, along with teachers who conduct inquiry-based learning with their kindergarten students, have worked collaboratively on space design and curriculum development.
“When university students contribute to a school, they are really contributing to the life of a community, leading me to believe that they will make a difference in the world,” Glynn A. Green school principal Todd Bright said.
The project officially broke ground May 1, however the study is currently ongoing and construction will continue into the spring. Project coordinators and students (Brock students included), can be available on site to discuss the project further.