The Nature Explore Classroom at WestLake Child Development Center
WestLake Child Development Center in Houston, Texas has taken their love for nature and created a safe, educational outdoor classroom for students ages three to five.
This outdoor classroom provides a great space for the children to explore the wonders of the outdoors as well as learn the importance of healthy food habits, caring for the environment and expressing their love for art and music. WestLake has produced a specialized educational program complete with a Master Gardener who not only educates the children but also provides additional training and support to the teachers and parents. The outdoor classroom is considered an extension of their curriculum which supports the healthy development of their children.
A variety of plants, an herb garden, butterfly garden, flowers and fruit trees, separated by a Wister rock wall, border the classroom. A large raised area in the middle of the site contains a garden area that is currently planted in blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Plants were chosen to thrive in the hot Texas summers and require minimal water. As part of the Eco-Healthy child care program, a rain barrel is used by the children to water the plants in the classroom.
Children are given time daily to participate in exploration of the designated areas in the outdoor classroom which include space for building, special art activities and projects, music and movement and science discovery. The music and movement activities include experimenting with an outdoor xylophone, drums, ribbon dancing and a complete set of outdoor musical instruments.
Children are given opportunities to dig in the dirt for both planning reasons and free exploration. The center uses organic soil and fertilizers in the garden areas. A worm compost bin is maintained by the children.
Classroom information is printed and shared in a monthly newsletter with pictures posted onto an on line web photo sharing site account with Snapfish.com. Indoor classroom windows are used to display pictures and notes of outdoor activities for parents to enjoy.
The children hosted a Garden Day for their Mother’s Day Event. This opened up conversation on needs of plants, growth, observations and identification. Bug hunts opened up lessons in the life cycle of ladybugs and butterflies. Many conversations are shared when families engage in play in the outdoor classroom.