Outdoor Classrooms and Nature Play

Kids + the outdoors = fun! The executive director and co-owner of Bubbles Academy explains how the school’s outdoor classrooms engage the whole child.

For families living in the city without access to a personal backyard, finding a wide, outdoor space for young children to safely play, explore and learn can be difficult.

This is exactly the niche that Bubbles Academy was looking to fill when it created its large Nature Playground. “With our city families in mind, one of our goals when we began the school was to offer our students a big, open ‘green’ space filled with nature and all the wonderful things that entails, while also being safe and clean for little ones,” says Natalie Monterastelli, Co-Owner and Executive Director of Bubbles Academy, which serves preschool children ages 0-5.

Outdoor classrooms all year

“Every season the Nature Playground becomes an awesome outdoor classroom,” Monterastelli says. “Kids see science in action, and many of the things kids learn indoors come from their observations outside.”

For example, kids might learn about the weather from watching rain create muddy puddles or by feeling a drop in temperature. The Nature Playground also features a “Snack Garden” where children learn about growing things like cherry tomatoes, peppers and strawberries. They are involved in watering and tending to the plants.

“The Snack Garden is a great way to teach kids about self-regulation and observation,” says Monsterastelli. “The kids learn about living things as well as social regulation. For example, if they pick something too soon, the fruit won’t grow. They see what happens when they take an action and what happens with care and observation.”

Other favorites in the outdoor classrooms include creating colorful ice blocks in the winter, bird feeders in the spring and a popular water play area prompted by student interest.

Embracing a “yes space”

While physical safety is of the utmost importance at Bubbles Academy, Monterastelli explains that students are encouraged to take healthy risks.

“We find that when we let the kids test some boundaries, with full guidance and support of a teacher, they are less likely to make an unsafe choice,” she says. “We like to refer to our Nature Playground as a ‘Yes Space’ where kids get to try new things and have opportunities for executive function, where they are allowed to make decisions about what they will do and how it will affect them.”

Part of giving a yes space to the kids is allowing their interests to direct the topics they learn. At Bubbles Academy, if a child is fascinated by a topic, they are encouraged to share it.

“We want to show the children that any question or idea they have has value,” says Monterastelli. “This is brought home when we respond to their interest by including it in our learning.”

Curious, creative, calm

Monterastelli believes that Bubbles Academy’s emphasis on outdoor classrooms is an example of the school’s overarching philosophy which addresses the needs of the whole child: physical, cognitive and emotional.

“We offer children experiences in nature that are sensory and tactile, and that allow them to satisfy their curiosity about the natural world while being creative,” she says. “They get to use their imaginations in ways they can’t inside.”

The calming effects of being outdoors are also important to the children’s development and well-being. “Whenever kids are having a tough time or big feelings, we always suggest a nature break. The healing powers of nature are evident for children. Everyone feels better after a walk outside,” says Monterastelli.

To learn more, visit bubblesacademy.com.

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.

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