I met with three small groups of children to talk with them about their thoughts on how to design the outside spaces. Before the interviews, Director Charlotte Watts provided me with a list of thoughts from the entire group of children that had been solicited during an earlier group meeting.
During my three interview times, children and I first looked at photos of outdoor Nature Explore Classrooms that are being used around the country. We talked about things they saw that might work well in their outdoor spaces, as well as other ideas that they had.
Following are summaries of their ideas:
Group One: Jordan, Nevaeh, and Nasya
These children are in the Pre-Kindergarten Room.
Jordan said: “We need lots of blocks outside, some with the tree branches and some with smooth parts. The giant tree blocks are best. And we need wooden cars with the blocks.”
Jordan also thought the outside space should have what he called “the music-maker” as he pointed to a picture of a marimba.
Jordan thought a wooden balance beam would be good. When he showed the girls, Nevaeh and Nasya agreed. He also said, “We need a climbing place. We need to make a hammock like this picture.” He pointed to the photo of climbing platforms with fabric children were tying on to create hammocks.
Jordan liked the picture of the pole trellis. He kept coming back to look at it and to show me. We talked about how it could be used as a pole for vines and other things to grow up. He said, “Oh yeah, we should grow things. We should grow lots of things. Maybe things to eat.”
“Lots of things to grow is good.” She pointed to a picture of small gardening tools and small watering cans. “We need lots of these,” she said. She kept coming back to the picture and pointing it out to me over and over. “We could use these,” she kept saying.
Nevaeh also liked the picture of the pole trellis. “It would be fun to have it go up high,” she said.
Nevaeh wanted lots of room outside for “paints and colors.” She pointed to a photo of the Lakeshore Nature Color Crayons and Pencils and said, “Let’s get lots of those.”
Nevaeh talked a lot about the need for sand outdoors. She was also thinking a lot about the toddlers and infants and how the babies need “a space just for babies.” Neveah said the “big kids” could share a space with “little kids” (toddlers), but the babies should have their own space. Neveah thought there should be a small sand box for toddlers. She pointed out a photo of toddlers digging in sand that was contained in a raised planter bed. She said, “We need a small place for sand for the little kids and a bigger place for sand for the bigger kids.”
All three children talked a lot about how the “big kids” could help younger children and babies learn how to take care of the outside space. “The babies might pull the leaves off the trees,” Neveah said, “and we can teach them not to.” I agreed that the bigger children could be great teachers for the smaller children. All three of us had a wonderful conversation about how the older children could take care of the outside space. They talked about watering trees and flowers, keeping plants safe, picking up blocks and putting them back on storage shelves, and many other caretaking ideas.
Nevaeh also thought having music would be good. She thought the photos of wooden drums looked good. “I think we should have some big music things and some small music things,” she said.
There should be places for digging in the dirt and places for digging in the sand.
She also wanted lots of crayons and pencils (and liked the Nature Colors that Nevaeh pointed out).
Nasya was really interested in the pole trellis. She kept wanting to talk about how things could grow on it. She thought it would be a good idea to have “two of them.” She also talked about wanting to grow food to eat.
She talked a lot about having a place to “dance” and play music. “How does this work?” she asked when she saw a picture of a marimba and akambira. When we talked about how the mallets strike the keys to make sounds, she said, “Are they pretty sounds?” We talked about marimbas being real musical instruments that make real music. “I want to play songs on that,” she said.
Nasya thought there should be magnifying glasses outside. She also was intrigued with the fragile specimen viewer. We talked a lot about what the girl in the photo was looking at. The children did a lot of thinking about what might come to their outdoor classroom: butterflies, squirrels, bugs
At the end the children reminded me there should be lots of places for growing things. “Flowers, too,” they said, “and things to eat.” They all liked the gardening tools and kept reminding me to write that down.
Group Two: Percival, Sammy, and Kelby
These children are also in the Pre-Kindergarten group
Much of this conversation happened together, so there are fewer individual ideas and more ideas that came from group discussions. This is a summary of their ideas:
Lots of pine cones and seashells (and Nature Art Tables to work with them on). They really were interested in the photos of children making mosaics and patterns with natural materials.
Everyone thought there should be painting and coloring outside.
Everyone thought there should be lots of places for gardens.
Everyone thought there should be balance beams or “stump steps.” They were worried that younger children might fall on the stump steps.
“Maybe just get a balance beam,” Percival said, “and teach them to do this.” She demonstrated holding her arms out level at her sides. When I asked her what she was doing she said, “This helps you balance. We could teach the little kids.”
Kelby liked the pictures of the scarves and fabrics and talked about the hammocks.
“My dad made a hammock when he was five I think,” Sammy told her. Kelby and Sammy talked together about having climbing platforms and fabric like they saw in one of the photos. “But we don’t sleep there,” Sammy said, “We just lie in it sometimes, but we don’t sleep in it.”
“Well, what if the little kids want to sleep in it?” Kelby asked Sammy. “Hmm, no, maybe just the babies could sleep there,” he replied. “Well, babies maybe could sleep there,” Percival added, “But maybe they’d fall out.”
The children then got into a long discussion about the need for lots of blocks outside. Sammy showed everyone a picture of some blocks and said, “We could make rocket ships with these.”
“No,” said Kelby. “We could make castles with those blocks.”
“You could make castles in the sand,” Percival added. “Sand castles.”
“I’m making a rocket ship.” Sammy said. “A big one.”
I asked if it would be o.k. if people made lots of different things with blocks outdoors.
“Only if we have lots of blocks.” Sammy said. A number of times Sammy reminded me to write down the words, “LOTS OF BLOCKS” and to write it big. I showed him that I had done that.
Group Three: Jahi and Kylen
These children were younger than in Groups One and Two.
Both children started out saying they should play with blocks outside. Jahi liked the tree blocks and Kylen liked the mirror blocks. Both liked the mini bricks.
Both talked about the photos of climbing platforms and fabric and kept coming back to talk about those. They also both kept looking at the pole trellis and saying they should have one.
Jahi said he thought it would be good to have wooden trains, scarves and the Nature Art tables.
Kylen liked the pictures of the Nature Color Crayons and Pencils and said they should have “lots.”
Both children ended by reminding me they thought they should have “lots of blocks” outside. This seems to be a consensus thought among all the groups!