The Nature Explore Classroom at St. Thomas Early Learning Center
The playground at St. Thomas Early Learning Center has been developing for over forty years. Working with mature trees and established native grasses, the master plan for this Nature Explore Classroom was easy to implement.
A Kick-Off celebration was held on Earth Day 2010--April 22nd, with a ribbon cutting ceremony and tour. Teachers and children eagerly explored each area to find newly placed natural elements. Vine covered arbors greet children as they enter into this special place where children explore nature and begin a discovery of learning about their world. This Nature Explore Classroom has also received recognition from the National Wildlife Federation for its Schoolyard Habitat.
Children have many opportunities to run, climb, crawl, balance and make-believe in this beautiful outdoor space. Buckets, shovels, trays, wheelbarrows and digging tools of all shapes and sizes are easily accessible throughout the playground.
Observation is a huge part of learning at the Center. Each day, the children watched as rain, wind and time changed the shape of a fall pumpkin which was left to decompose. The Pond and Meadow Area provide a quiet place for art work, drawing, and sketching. Small nets and buckets provide children with opportunities to catch and observe minnows, frogs and insects while also learning how to protect the environment by always returning animals to the water after careful observations.
A unique Bird mural was created by the kindergarten class after a month-long study of birds. This feature is permanently displayed along the back fence of the play area. Sculptures and visible artwork encourages art appreciation in nature.
The classroom is dotted with annuals such as snapdragons, pansies and canna lilies while tall sunflowers grow amidst butterfly plants and trumpet vines. A loom with reeds, grasses, vines and twigs for weaving was placed in the Nature Art Area. Galvanized buckets hanging from horseshoe hooks along a fence are used to hold "treasures" such as shells, pinecones and rocks. A Bubble Table and outdoor stage area provide ways for children to enjoy creative movement.
Stepping stones create pathways around displayed artwork and laminated tags identify trees. Sturdy digging equipment, dump trucks, dinosaurs, sifting pans along with pieces of gutter, elbow pipes, and PVC plumbing pieces encourage imagination and engineering in the sandbox. In addition to the recommended areas, St. Thomas has also incorporated a wheeled-toy area, dynamic equipment and swings area.
A senior marketing student, along with the woodworking department at Texas A&M worked on graphics and signage to complete this beautiful classroom.