Outdoor classroom combines learning of nature, science

Instead of learning about erosion, plants and animals from textbooks, 11 preschoolers at Cecilia Valley Elementary School have the opportunity to see it first-hand through the school’s outdoor classroom, which opened this year.

The outdoor classroom combines regular indoor instructional time with significant time out­doors, where students learn about topics such as nature or shadows.

On Monday morning, preschoolers gathered around their teacher, Ruth­ann Smith, to go on a “treasure hunt” in a wooded area behind the school. While on the hunt, students grabbed plants such as foxtails and heard the sounds of crickets chirping and cicadas buzzing. The students also came across a small ditch.

“How did that erosion happen?” Smith asked.

“Water,” her students responded.

Waiting for the students at the end of the hunt among the trees were paper plates, cereal pieces and pipe cleaners. They were instructed to slide the circular cereal pieces on the pipe cleaner to make a bird feeder. They then were asked to draw a map of their own in a journal.

Smith said she never has taught in an out­door classroom but has prior ex­posure to the concept. Her oldest son is stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and for the past three summers, Smith visited outdoor classrooms in the country and has used that knowledge for her classroom.

Smith said the first day of class has been the best so far because it was raining.

“All of the insects and frogs were out,” she said. “They had so much fun that day. It was amazing.”

While indoors, the students focus on literacy and writing. Lunch and nap time also is indoors. Many of the items found inside the classroom have outdoor elements such as rocks painted to look like planets.

Hardin County Schools Director of Early Child­hood Education Car­lena Sheeran said the out­door classroom is part of an ongoing effort to improve early childhood education.

“We’re always trying to do some different things at preschool just because we know that one size doesn’t fit everybody,” she said.

The outdoor classroom is capped at 20 students and three more students will be enrolled by next week, Sheeran said.

The presence of outdoor classrooms has in­creased worldwide in recent years. Morningside El­e­men­tary School in Eliza­beth­town opened an outdoor classroom in 2017.