Early Childhood Professional in her “Zone” with Outdoor Classroom
Written by Lin Nordmeyer
On a misty, cloudy day, Clarise Brooks runs her classroom with a field backdrop and children sitting on tree stumps. Her classroom is outside, and she and her students couldn’t be happier.
For close to 30 years, Clarise has run a family child care program, “The Kids Zone Child Care,” located in Middletown, Del. And now, through the support of DIEEC and the “Let’s Go Outside” grant, Clarise is spending her days in an outdoor classroom – in all kinds of weather.
“Everyone is much happier outside,” said Clarise. “The student’s behavior is so different than when we are inside for an entire day.”
With about seven children, infant – prekindergarten, Clarise begins each day with circle time and then teaches using outdoor stations that include a thunder board, mud kitchen, and clipboards and crayons.
“The kids are much more engaged,” adds Clarise. “We learn about nature and then we see it through exploration.” She recalls a particular afternoon when they learned about slugs and crickets while holding them.
Besides the heightened learning environment, Clarise is especially excited about what the outdoor classroom is doing for her students from a social/emotional perspective.
According to Clarise, they are much more willing to take calculated risks. “For example, if you jump off a log, you may scrape your knee, but you’re going to be ok.
“An outdoor classroom allows my kids to try different things and become more comfortable with the unknown. This setting promotes hands-on learning and a deeper understanding of how things work.”
The families are happy too. So much so that they all contributed to make sure every child had layered rain gear for those bad weather days.
No matter the forecast, Clarise is teaching in her outdoor classroom, and her outlook couldn’t be sunnier.
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