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									               newsletter                                                                                   December 2009 • Issue 5




   Teachers often spend all of
 their planning time thinking
 about what will occur within
   the walls of the classroom,
     neglecting the powerful
opportunities that are present
           in outdoor spaces.




                                  central michigan univerSity: outdoor learning center

                                 An interview with Central Michigan University’s Cheryl Priest, Ed.D. – Assistant Professor, Dept. of
                                 Human Environmental Studies; Faculty Director, Child Development and Learning Laboratory;
                                 Executive Director, Michigan’s Great Start Child Care and Early Learning Resource and Support
                                 Center. Visit CMU’s Child Development and Learning Laboratory: http://www.cmich.edu/cdll


                                 In the last issue of the newsletter,                dom. Indoor and outdoor spaces pro-
                                 we featured an article about Central                vide for a wide range of experiences and
                                 Michigan University’s Outdoor Learning              learning, but this is contingent upon
                                 Center, from the design and planning                thoughtful adults who seek to create an
                                 perspective of landscape architects. In             atmosphere that respects and honors
                                 this issue you will hear about how the              children for who they are and all that
                                 children, teacher, and director utilize the         they can accomplish. Teachers often
                                 space on a daily basis.                             spend all of their planning time thinking
                                                                                     about what will occur within the walls of
                                 Why is quality indoor and outdoor envi-             the classroom, neglecting the power-
                                 ronmental planning important in early               ful opportunities that are present in
                                 childhood education?                                outdoor spaces. Most of our elementary
                                 Planning is critical to the types of                school programs are even organized so
                                 experiences that children and teachers              that teachers don’t even spend shared
                                 co-create in any environment. Without
                                 planning there is chaos, stress and bore-                                        continued on page 8


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             newsletter                                                                          December 2009 • Issue 5




                                Outdoor Learning Center, continued




                                time outside with the children. Any          identify with the world around them.
                                teacher who is focused on observing          Children build knowledge about the
                                children and who is dedicated to learn-      world as they have experiences and
                                ing about their children’s interests and     interactions with others. Play allows
                                incorporating them into the curriculum       children to explore concepts, to experi-
                                will benefit greatly from continuing         ment, to discover, to create, and to build
      The most complex play     this practice in the outdoors. The same      friendships. Play allows children to fail in
                                principles that apply to planning an         a non-judgmental setting and it allows
 occurs when teachers and       indoor space should also be considered       them to keep trying. Because children
     programs recognize the     outdoors. This includes the inclusion of     enjoy play, they are more motivated
                                color, texture, smell, beauty, creativity,   to participate. When thoughtful adults
   learning that is unfolding
                                space for movement and space for rest,       consider the environment, materials,
    and seek to support that    space for individuals, space for small       and even the conversations that they
    learning and provide the    groups, and space for large groups to        will have with children, they can identify
                                convene. To do this opens up the curric-     areas in which children can participate
 appropriate materials and/     ulum to new possibilities, and supports      in rich learning without fearing bore-
or an environment that can      the kind of freedom and movement for         dom. Play supports cognitive, language,
                                children that is necessary to help them      social, creative and even physical
  deepen the complexity of      find the strength to settle and focus        development as it requires children to
            the experiences.    when it is called for.                       explore possibilities and adapt to the
                                                                             environment and specific situations. The
                                How important is play for young children?    most complex play occurs when teach-
                                How do they learn through play?              ers and programs recognize the learning
                                During early childhood, play is the best
                                way for children to learn about and                                   continued on page 9


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newsletter                                                                     December 2009 • Issue 5




             Outdoor Learning Center, continued




             that is unfolding and seek to support          the classroom, children tend to engage
             that learning and provide the appropri-        with peers that they don’t necessarily
             ate materials and/or an environment            partner with on a regular basis while
             that can deepen the complexity of the          inside.
             experiences.                                      Children are often able to use this
                                                            space to extend the learning and
             How does your outdoor environment sup-         experiences that they engage in while
             port your curriculum?                          inside the classroom. An example of
             Our outdoor environment was designed           this is a focus in the curriculum on sup-
             to be very open-ended in nature. This          porting the natural environment and
             provides flexibility for all kinds of learn-   participating in “green” practices. Inside
             ing to occur. In following our belief          a preschool classroom, children typi-
             that children construct their learning         cally experiment with planting seeds
             through engaging experiences and               and nurturing plants. In our program,
             through interactions with others, we           the children have also engaged in the
             elect to approach the outdoor environ-         creation of worm composting bins, and
             ment without a predetermined set of            they save their leftover food each day to
             expectations as to how the children will       feed to the worms. Because the outdoor
             use the space or materials. Our teachers       learning environment includes garden
             have also noted that because the play is
             often different than that which occurs in                             continued on page 10


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newsletter                                                                  December 2009 • Issue 5




             Outdoor Learning Center, continued


                                                         would gather equipment to try to catch
                                                         some bugs and spiders in the outdoor
                                                         learning environment. Again working
                                                         together to accomplish this task, the
                                                         children were successful in catching
                                                         several bugs and spiders. They placed
                                                         them in clear observation containers
                                                         and brought them into the classroom
                                                         for further study. This included drawing
                                                         sketches of the bugs, taking photos of
                                                         them, conducting Google searches for
                                                         photos of the bugs and spiders so that
                                                         they could properly identify them, and
                                                         gathering and displaying other informa-
                                                         tion about this area of interest.

                                                         Give some examples of playful learning
                                                         conducted outside.
             beds, the children are able to use the
             compost that they created to enrich the     dry river bed and bridge

             soil and will transplant their seedlings    The dry river bed and bridge is a very
             when the weather allows. They have          popular place in the outdoor learning
             also experimented with a fall planting      environment. The children very quickly
             of lettuce. This fall planting included     demonstrated the ways that they de-
             teamwork as the children turned the         sired to engage with this form of nature,
             soil, planted seeds, and created signs      and the activities truly span all areas of
             to identify their plants, and patience      development. One of the ongoing areas
             as they waited for the lettuce to grow.     of play includes the movement of the
             When the lettuce was ready to harvest,      rocks, most often resulting in experi-
             the children worked together to cut the     ments with stacking and balancing rock
             lettuce, take it inside to wash, and then   towers. Also within this scientific realm,
             they ate the lettuce (including many        the children often experiment with the
             children who would never eat a salad        shape of the bridge by rolling balls and
             provided at lunch). They also planted       trucks and discussing the amount of
             and transplanted pumpkins to later          force needed to help the item make it
             study during the month of October.          to the center, where if the momentum is
                 Another example of the environment      powerful enough, the item will crest the
             supporting our curriculum relates to a      hill and roll down the other side. In the
             particular interest in bugs and spiders     social arena, small groups of children
             that one particular group of children       can often be observed sitting under the
             shared. After finding a spider in the
             classroom, they decided that they                                  continued on page 11


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newsletter                                                                   December 2009 • Issue 5




             Outdoor Learning Center, continued


             bridge having conversations in a space       the reading nook, yelling and experi-
             that is more difficult for adults to join,   menting with the resulting sounds and
             hence giving them the feeling of being       echoes. They have also observed the
             in a “hideout.” Finally, several children    children using the “puppet” window
             discovered that the bridge and dry river     as a “drive-through.” One child sitting
             bed was the perfect setting to reenact       alone in the nook even shared that it
             the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff.    was a nice space to sit and relax, and
             This has spontaneously occurred on           be alone. In one particular classroom,
             several occasions, and does not always       the children are very interested in hair
             include the same group of children.          styling and salons, and through their
                                                          playful investigations have turned their
             tall graSSeS                                 classroom pretend area into a salon
             The tall grasses have provided a space       complete with color swatches, “dye”
             for children to enjoy the freedom of         bottles, hair-washing sinks, aprons, and
             running through and exploring nature         even a space to conduct the required
             and the fun that you can have in open        financial transactions. This group of
             spaces. They often duck behind the           children thought that the reading nook/
             grasses and jump out to surprise a child     amphitheater would be the perfect
             who is roaming by. This is also a popular    place to expand the business because of
             space for hide-and-seek as well as tag.      the natural lighting and clean space. For
             Due to the placement of the clumps           several days, they transferred their play
             of grasses during planting, the area         materials to this space to continue their
             provides almost a maze-like quality for      pretend play while they were outside.
             children’s play, and encourages physical     The teachers have since proposed some
             coordination as they must often twist        uses for the space, such as a place for a
             and turn while running. The tall grasses     spontaneous picnic snack, conducting
             have also provided another child-initiat-    the reading of a story, and group music
             ed space for a favorite classroom activ-     and movement.
             ity/story. They use this space to recreate
             movements from the story Going On A          You describe playing with equipment as
             Bear Hunt.                                   independent play. What do you mean by
                                                          that? Why is independent play important?
             reading nook/amPhitheater                    Give examples of this type of play.
             This is one particular space where the       In speaking of independent play, I mean
             teachers made an effort to observe the       that we sought out equipment that al-
             children for their ideas about how to use    lowed children to participate in a variety
             the space rather than pre-determining        of activities that could change with
             the activities that they expected would      each child or the children who used
             occur. This has allowed for several          the equipment. We wanted to support
             interesting experiences. Teachers have
             observed the children standing inside                               continued on page 12


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newsletter                                                                    December 2009 • Issue 5




             Outdoor Learning Center, continued




             the movement and development of               outdoor learning area allow the children
             the large muscles, but at the same time       to climb from both sides, which also
             hoped that the equipment could also           allows for social interaction during play.
             support other areas of development.           The children are able to climb higher
             One example of this is our selection of       than is often typical, and they are not
             the “hammock” slings, rather than using       surrounded by large pieces of metal or
             traditional swing sets in the outdoor         plastic. Even pretend or dramatic play
             learning environment. These slings are        occurs here as children climb to “escape”
             low to the ground and have a longer           a pursuer or pretend to be Spiderman or
             seat than a swing. Because the seats are      some other superhero.
             longer, two preschool aged children              One of our areas that includes play
             can sit side by side in one sling, and this   equipment, the one with the slings, also
             is a way that the slings are often used       has a unit that stimulates dramatic play.
             as children gently rock back and forth        The children have counters, openings
             while talking. Young children can also        that could serve as windows, and even
             lie in the sling like a hammock and relax.    bowls that can serve as sinks. While
             Finally, we have even observed these          playing “drive-through” often occurs
             slings become horses as young riders          here, the equipment is sturdy enough to
             gallop off into the sunset.                   also allow for the creative climbing that
                 Another example is the climbing           preschoolers love to engage in, in places
             ropes that look like a net. Often, play       that are not necessarily obviously meant
             equipment designed for climbing is            to promote climbing.
             placed at an angle, which limits the             One final comment is related to the
             ways in which children can use the
             surface. The netting or ropes in our                                 continued on page 13


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newsletter                                                                        December 2009 • Issue 5




             Outdoor Learning Center, continued


                                                              lar shape with a small round cement
                                                              “island” in the center. Children do love
                                                              to transfer elements such as sand and
                                                              pea gravel, and as a center, we have
                                                              experimented with allowing the sand to
                                                              travel around the outdoor learning area.
                                                              At this time, we are limiting the ways in
                                                              which this can occur, but do still allow it
                                                              to some extent. For example, there are
                                                              several large planters placed around the
                                                              outdoor space. The children have en-
                                                              joyed filling up these planters with sand
                                                              and extending their play to the planters.
                                                              We realize that this means that from
             yellow seats that spin [Spinner Bowls].          time to time, we must refill the sand
             Due to the angle of the seat, once chil-         area, but this is something that we just
             dren sit in the bowl seat and begin spin-        include in our ongoing budget. We do
             ning, centrifugal force or momentum              also make sure to sweep the sand back
             keeps them spinning. We appreciate this          into the sand area at least once every
             piece for several key reasons. First and         two weeks, but sometimes more often.
             foremost, the children absolutely love to        While this can be done during a time
             spin on this seat. It is definitely a favorite   when children are not present, adults
             in the outdoor learning environment.             are often surprised by children’s interest
             Second, it allows them to experiment             in helping with this task.
             with scientific concepts of movement                 In order to help keep the sand clean
             and force, which can connect to the cur-         and cat-free, we did order a custom
             riculum at a basic level, and offers future      cover for the space. This was quite easy,
             opportunities for deeper understand-             as all we had to do was provide the di-
             ing. Finally, spinning is a motion that          ameter of the circle to the cover compa-
             supports brain development in young              ny. They spaced hooks around the cover,
             children as it builds neurological path-         and once it arrived, we had grommets
             ways and connections. With the danger            drilled into the cement edges in the ap-
             of the old fashioned merry-go-rounds,            propriate place so that the cover could
             most children have lost the opportunity          be attached to the space. We are also
             to spin while at play. These bowl seats          fortunate in that because we are housed
             have reintroduced spinning into the              in the center of a university campus,
             children’s play in a fun and safe way.           there are not local cats that typically
                                                              make their way to our sand space. Once
             Sand play area considerations                    again, though, the cover really does pre-
             The large sand area was custom-built             vent cats from digging into the sand.
             with cement and consists of a circu-


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                   newsletter                                                                                  December 2009 • Issue 5




                                               2010 kPi conFerence Schedule

                                              This list will be updated as the year progresses.

                                              caliFornia Park and recreation conFerence
contact
                                              March 11, 8:15–9:30 a.m. • Palm Springs, CA
Helle Burlingame                              Title: Play Experience Deficit Disorder: Getting Youth Outside
 Director, KOMPAN Play Institute, NA
 HelBur@kompan.com                            For more inFormation

KOMPAN Online                                 Contact Helle Burlingame • Director, KOMPAN Play Institute, NA
 www.kompan.com                               HelBur@kompan.com

linkS


Find Your KOMPAN Play Consultant               SymPoSium uPdate: reclaiming outdoor SPace
Environmental Statement
CAD Library                                   Sixty landscape architects and environmental planners attended the KOMPAN
                                              Play Institute Symposium: Reclaiming Outdoor Space for the Digital Generation, at
neWSletter StaFF                              Manhattan Plaza, New York, on October 27th. Topics included kids’ developmental
                                              issues, special needs, and designing motivating outdoor environments for kids and
Editor: Helle Burlingame                      adults. In 2010, we hope to further the dialogue and discussion about these issues
Designer: Sarah Kuck                          in different ways. Follow this link to view further information about the symposium.
Database/Website: Terra Moreland


                                               about komPan Play inStitute


                                              The KOMPAN Play Institute is a network of international specialists in active outdoor
                                              environments for children and young people. We keep an eye on trends in society
                                              and look at how they affect children and teenagers and their playgrounds and
                                              outdoor spaces all over the world. We initiate research projects and collaborate with
                                              researchers internationally. Our goal is to share our knowledge for the benefit of
                                              children and young people as well as the adults who work in this field. We do this
                                              through seminars, conferences, articles and our website.

                                                viSit uS on



                           Helle Burlingame




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