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Growing a great early learning classroom

Participants of planning committee RECC(5/5/22) Anoka-Hennepin’s Riverview Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) program is making plans to “grow” its outdoor classroom. Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn Park, Riverview Early Childhood Center already hosts several nature-based classes in its garden and greenhouse, but with an increasing amount of research to support the benefits of nature play, staff and parents are dreaming and exploring ways to take outdoor learning to the next level.

“With the addition of a fence last spring, we have been able to have the children safely separate from their parents and be with the early childhood staff outside,” said Penny Walsh, ECFE parent educator. “It got our team dreaming of what an outdoor learning area could really look like.”

Photo of nature areaThe program formed a Parent Nature Advisory team to assist with the project.  “It’s important to involve parents because that is what the ECFE program is all about,” said Walsh. “ECFE works to support parents/caregivers and to strengthen and empower families.”

The next step was to contract with 3Owls Play Consultants, a Duluth company that designs and implements nature play areas throughout the state. 

In late April, the team of staff and parents met with the consultants for the first time.

“The meeting was a chance for the consultants to gather information about us, our program and the families we serve,” said Walsh. “They had us share about our own outdoor memories as a child and had each of us bring a nature element from our childhood.”

The group brainstormed using poster boards and thought about unique ways an outdoor classroom could best serve their littlest learners all the way up to age five.

The consultants are now in the process of drawing up the plans for an outdoor learning space. The final designs should be presented sometime in June.