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West Valley City Journal

Creative classroom earns national recognition

Dec 08, 2016 03:38PM ● By Travis Barton

Jayden Kern and Carson Burnett ride tricycles in the biking area of the outdoor classrrom at ABC Beginnings-Redwood. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

ABC Great Beginnings-Redwood, a child development center at 3672 S. Redwood Road in West Valley City, has earned national recognition as a certified Nature Explore classroom. The distinction comes from the Nature Explore Program that supports efforts to connect children with nature. 

“The recognition is awesome, but seeing how much it changes the whole dynamic [for kids] outside is probably the most rewarding for me,” said Courtnie Angeli, a nature explore program specialist.

Nature Explore is a collaboration between the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. ABC Great Beginnings earned the program’s recognition for the creation of its outdoor classroom. 

“It just gives the kids something different to do outside that involves nature…kids typically spend their time inside watching TV and they don’t get those experiences with nature like they should and evolve that way,” Angeli said. She is also the center director of the South Jordan location where she opened an outdoor classroom in May. 

An outdoor classroom consists of areas specified for different activities correlating to its designation. That includes  climbing, biking, building, music and movement, gathering, sand and water and dirt digging areas. Each location gives children from toddlers to 12-year-olds a place outside to engage in developmental activities.  

“There’s different areas so they can start developing different skills,” Angeli said. 

Children have the chance to make art projects and music with natural materials or use blocks for building and bales of hay for growing. The various activities are designed to enhance concentration, stimulate creativity and improve motor skills. 

“It’s rewarding to see the kids out there playing with [everything] and like it,” said Sandee Burnham, center director for ABC Beginnings-Redwood. 

Nature Explore expressed its appreciation for ABC Beginnings’ “valuable leadership.”

“Their commitment to providing research-based and nature-rich learning offers a wonderful example to families and educators throughout the country,” said Heather Fox, director of communications and outreach for the Nature Explore program. 

Created by a group of master educators, landscape architects and researchers, nature explore classrooms fuse outdoor-based learning opportunities with children’s lives. The standards for the outdoor classrooms are found in the book, “Learning with Nature Ideas Book.” The book states the disconnection from nature can lead “to increases in problems such as childhood obesity, children’s dislike and even fear of the outdoors.”

“It’s just a good experience for the kids to get outside and play,” Burnham said. 

Each outdoor classroom is unique. While Angeli’s classroom is small in size and set up on grass, the West Valley City location is on asphalt but larger. 

“Each center has to look at it differently, [our center] is all blacktop and concrete and she has grass so we have to adjust,” Burnham said. Angeli said there’s a nature explore classroom located in downtown New York City set between two buildings. 

Angeli said it took a substantial amount of time to completely redesign and redo playground.” She also had to become certified by taking a workshop four years ago. It was an extensive process even leading up to certification, Angeli said. 

“You definitely have to put in the work, its not something you can just, ‘oh I’ll apply for it,’ it’s a lot of work,” Angeli said. 

One of the most popular areas of the classroom has proven to be the dirt digging area. Burnham said it allows the kids to play in the dirt without ripping out plants in the garden area. 

“We gave them the dirt to play so now they know to just water the plants,” Burnham said. 

Many of the items used in the classroom were either donated, like the building blocks, or found in nature like the mountain logs used in the messy materials area. Buckets and PVC pipes were provided to make drums.

“Spaces like these inspire wonder, experimentation, child-led play and learning, and skill development within interactive, fun environments,” Fox wrote in a press release.