#MyTree Contest Winner Announced

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#MyTree_3

We all—if we’re lucky—have a tree.

A flowering crabapple with branches the perfect height for climbing.

A silver maple that supports a much-loved rope swing.

A weeping willow that offers shade and a quiet spot for reflection.

In honor of Arbor Day, April 24, we asked for photos of YOUR tree(s) and Nature Explore’s inaugural #MyTree contest was born. We were eager to learn which natural beauties held meaning for our friends and colleagues, but we weren’t sure what to expect. Would people actually take pictures of trees? Would children embrace the spirit of this contest? And, how would geography play into the equation; would a resident of the Southwest substitute a photo of a saguaro cactus? (Alas, no.)

The images that flooded in were breathtaking in their joyfulness. One preschooler made snow angels in mulch. Others joined hands to hug a “Grandfather Tree.” Trees united generations and inspired dreamy exploration in all seasons.

Your photographs captured the deep connection between humans—especially children—and the natural world. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then it must be said: The #MyTree images comprise a beautiful novel of whimsy, playfulness, contemplation and love.

Congratulations to our winning photo, submitted by Pine Rock Farms. It is timeless, magical and hopeful—just like a tree.

MyTree Winner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few more of our favorites:

tree stump


 

 

 

 

 

 

Tree over river

 

 

 

 

 

 

tree lookout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tree Hug

 

 

 

 

 

 

View the entire #MyTree gallery on Facebook!

 

Inspiring a Person Who Inspires Children

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant

27265adf_0179_smallestFollowing the sale of her home health care business, Carol Cavell wanted to work with children.  Her sister in law, a teacher and environmental advocate, interested Carol in exploring ideas that involved connecting children to nature.  They began meeting with like-minded people for discussions about possibilities.  Around this time, Richard Louv’s seminal book, “Last Child In The Woods: Saving our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” hit the childhood education community like a blast of fresh air.  The book gave Carol’s interest group a mission and focus, and Trees Indiana was born.  Soon after, Carol heard Julie Rose of the Nature Explore program speak at a professional conference.  What Carol learned from Nature Explore gave substance and credibility to the mission and focus that Trees Indiana was developing.

Nature Explore’s Ten Guiding Principles and Recommended Areas are the child-centered factors that differentiate an outdoor classroom from the other nature centers, or even from a simple walk in the woods.  Children inherently enjoy being outdoors, yet Nature Explore designs speak specifically to their interests and capabilities.  These outdoor classrooms say to the child, ‘This enchanting space is nature arranged just for you.’  Carol intuitively knew that Nature Explore’s design principles aligned with her goals.

“What was being disseminated about Nature Explore, the concept, was exactly what we were sitting in our group meetings talking about.  It’s like somebody else captured the ideas we had and the outcomes we want as far as educating kids and opening up nature to them, getting them away from a wired world 24 hours a day.  Everything we were talking about and Richard Louv talked about in his book is what I saw the Nature Explore program being.  I looked at it as the leader in creating a movement for connecting kids with nature.”  She knew Nature Explore had done the research her group simply couldn’t afford in either time or funding, and wanted to bring these ideas to Indiana’s children.

Trees Indiana currently provides projects and classes for children, and workshops for teachers, parents and community groups.  Much of its activity centers around the American Electric Power Foundation Nature Explore Classroom built at Cedar Canyon Elementary School in northwest Fort Wayne.  A generous grant from the Foundation provided most of the funding for the classroom’s design and construction.

Most of Cedar Canyon’s outdoor classroom is in a light forest; a very compelling placement for children.  Consistent with Trees Indiana’s educational mission, teachers, parents and caregivers receive a pedagogical orientation to the outdoor classroom before moving on to the activity areas in the forest.

Much of the orientation is based on Nature Explore’s workshops and literature.  Yet it’s the parents who need the orientation, not the children, says Carol.  “You may need to instruct the parents, but not the kids… The kids are taking off by themselves.”  And parents have told her they are amazed by their children’s level of excitement.

Parents and teachers have told Carol of witnessing touching transformations in the space.  One teacher spoke of an extremely shy student, standing to the side of the stage, watching five of her classmates dancing with scarves.  When she felt ready, she joined the group, playing enthusiastically.  The teacher had never seen this girl join group play before.

Some transformations are common.  Children who visit from Fort Wayne’s inner city areas are accustomed to concrete, not nature.  “They don’t get out of their zip code much,” says Carol.  Bugs and caterpillars are icky or a bit scary to many of these children; until they experience supported encounters with insects in the outdoor classroom.  Inner city children enter the classroom having comfort levels very different from those of their rural counterparts.  Carol notes that the rural kids simply take to the space, while she sees the inner-city kids “come out of their nature phobia.”  The classroom supports outdoor experiences for rural children, and transforms them for inner city children.

Although the outdoor classroom is on the grounds of Cedar Canyon Elementary School, it is open to the public.  Cedar Canyon is visited by many school groups, and by people from the neighborhood who walk through the grounds.  Local college students study in its relaxing environment, and have even performed a study there.  The Biology Club of Indiana Purdue University conducted a salamander research project in the space, and engaged a fourth grade class in observations and measurement.

We at Nature Explore like to think that our outdoor classroom designs, tailored to each client’s environment and needs, offer ideal learning environments as they connect children with nature.  The Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Hardwood Lumber Business Association seem to agree.  They presented Trees Indiana with an award for “Outstanding Outdoor Lab.”  Judges visited several outdoor learning areas in the state, and chose the Nature Explore Classroom at Cedar Canyon due to how it is used in children’s education.  Carol says, “They chose us because of the way education is delivered, and the great design.”

We are delighted to find such an intuitive match in Trees Indiana.  From its beginnings as a thoughtful group of citizens wanting to connect children with nature, to its current form of widely recognized educational resource, Trees Indiana has always resonated with Nature Explore’s mission.  We are honored that our designs and literature played a vital role in clarifying Carol’s work.  As Trees Indiana grows, Carol sees more Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms in its future.  We see a partnership that was just meant to be.

Deep in the (BIG) Heart of (Central) Texas!

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By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant

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Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, is the free world’s largest military installation.  At 214,000 acres, with over 45,000 soldiers and almost 9,000 civilian employees, Ft. Hood is a vital presence in the geography and economy of the Killeen area.  What matters to Ft. Hood, matters to Killeen.  When a military quality of life study revealed a scarcity of accredited local childcare programs, Killeen took notice.  That finding landed at Workforce Solutions of Central Texas.  Fortunately for the children, Sherry Trebus was charged with doing something about it.

Workforce Solutions is a government agency that delivers programs and services to enhance employment in the area.  Its Child Care Services assists low-income families and works directly with childcare programs.  Sherry, a former teacher, is the Child Care Policy and Quality Assurance Manager.  The military’s identification of need and Obama stimulus funding merged on her desk.  Thanks to Sherry’s vision for children, Nature Explore has now designed almost 20 outdoor classrooms in Central Texas. And more are on the way.

Nature Explore is blessed to be working with Sherry.  Not all educators involved with outdoor classrooms truly “get” the deeper pedagogy of whole-child learning in nature.  Sherry does.  We visited childcare programs in Killeen and Temple, Texas, with her.  Wherever we went, Sherry sought out children in the outdoor classrooms, or they came to her.  The excited attention, and the absorbed expressions of the children around her, said it all.  Sherry is just the right person to have introduced Nature Explore to Central Texas.

The military had found that almost no childcare programs in the area were accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the national standard.  Workforce Solutions assists local programs to achieve a “Texas Rising Star” certification, a big step towards the national standards.  Sherry combined focus on nature with her Texas Rising Star activities.  Providers wanting assistance towards meeting Rising Star standards also had to incorporate a focus on nature- both indoors and out.  Sherry selected Nature Explore to design outdoor classrooms.  Inspiring Spaces, a nationwide consulting service, was selected to teach programs how to make nature and natural materials an integral part of every indoor classroom.

Sherry understands the many physical and educational benefits in children’s contacts with nature. She says, “I wanted to create Nature Explore Classrooms at childcare facilities because I knew it would positively affect children’s growth and learning in the short term, while producing long-range health and environmental benefits.”  She had studied the many health benefits to children from outdoor play, yet was also concerned about the benefits to teachers.  She describes outdoor time in a traditional playground as often “teeth-gritting” for teachers.  Repetitive and sometimes risky behaviors on playground equipment require constant monitoring.  Varied and self-directed explorations in outdoor classrooms invite constant engagement.  Sherry’s holistic understanding of nature-based education, that it happens both indoors and out, and that it benefits both adult and child, has taken root.

Sherry began by working with five local childcare facilities that had achieved a 4-Star rating in the Rising Star certifications.  Her “Taking Charge of Change” program leveraged the commitment to quality already demonstrated by this leadership team.  While working towards the NAEYC certifications, these programs were required to incorporate nature into their indoor and outdoor spaces.  Apparently good ideas spread like wildfire in Central Texas.  Within a few years, eighteen childcare programs had received Nature Explore designs for their outdoor spaces.  At the outset, even Sherry hadn’t predicted how widely her ideas would be adopted.

Jenny Schneider and Flavia Nazario are two among the many whose programs have been enriched through Sherry’s emphasis on nature.  Jenny, Director of the Central Texas Children’s Center, in Temple, says, “I can’t imagine not having the natural centers now.  They inspire different activities than the climbing structure.”  She has seen imagination and cooperative play greatly enhanced in her outdoor classroom.  These changes are especially important for her program, with its special needs population of 25%.

Flavia, Owner/Operator of the Care 4 Tots Learning Center in Harker Heights, knew that outdoor play was important for children.  Yet her outdoor experience, and that of the children in her program, had only involved traditional play structures.  When she saw the Nature Explore outdoor classroom design for her space she thought it “a little crazy.”  Now she’s very glad she trusted Sherry’s emphasis on outdoor learning.  Children in Flavia’s outdoor classroom don’t care that just beyond the bamboo fence is a complex of home-storage sheds- they’re too busy playing and learning in their nature oasis.

Through Sherry, programs have received consultations from Inspiring Spaces, design services and professional development from Nature Explore, and technical assistance from the US Forest Service.  Central Texas often has blisteringly hot, dry days.  Forest Service consultations inform the programs on the selection and care of shade trees, vitally important for children’s comfort on those days.  Sherry has drawn together complementary resources that truly enhance both children’s and teachers’ experiences with nature; indoors and out.

Comparing the playgrounds she found to the spaces she has inspired, Sherry said, “Outdoor Classrooms are more deep breathing.  You can have time to relax and enjoy the children.”  When we saw her engaging with children during our visits to outdoor classrooms we witnessed a natural educator, effortlessly practicing what she preaches.  She is an educator, facilitator, inspiration, and example of best practice to the growing number of programs taking advantage of her services. Due to these extraordinary qualities, and to her commitment to children, Sherry has been awarded The Arbor Day Foundation Rachel Carson Award. We are very proud to count Sherry Trebus as a truly inspiring member of our Nature Explore family.

 

 

A (Somewhat) Outside Perspective

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By Cory Kibler, Communications Specialist for the Nature Explore Program

Memphis 1 My role at the Nature Explore program is a little unorthodox. I’m not an educator; I wouldn’t know how to begin designing an outdoor classroom (or anything else); and I don’t have any business helping educators use their outdoor classroom. I don’t have children of my own. I was once a child, but that’s about all I have for background.

In some ways, this means that I haven’t fully experienced the scope of what we do for children. I hear about the wonderful transformations taking place across the country—but I don’t always understand the science behind them, or the nature of their long-lasting positive repercussions.

However, my lack of personal investment offers a unique perspective. In my role as a Communications Specialist, it’s my job to market Nature Explore to current and potential partners. At most companies, this would mean spending lots of advertising dollars on web banner ads, TV spots, print ads, and so forth. Here, it’s different. What we do speaks for itself. My job, then, is to help spread the word.

Through articles, social media posts, and blogs (such as this one), my goal is to strengthen our network of amazing partners by underscoring our shared goal of connecting children with nature. And my long-term goal is to completely change the conversation surrounding early education. This is a fascinating time to be involved with a program like Nature Explore; even five years ago, outdoor classrooms still seemed like a far-out concept that still hadn’t achieved a strong foothold in the mind of stakeholders at schools and other organizations.

Now, strangely enough, outdoor classrooms seem like the *only* right answer to how we educate our children. We’ve tried keeping children indoors and sitting still for years, and we’ve known for a long time that it doesn’t work. Through outdoor classrooms, children can connect with their surroundings and each other—and they apply what they learn to real-life situations they care about. Their work doesn’t feel like work, it feels like play. That’s why it works.

The transformational power of an outdoor classroom is obvious—even to someone who’s not a parent (or an educator, or a designer).

 

 

 

The Outdoor Classroom Advocate Who Was Truly in a Class of One (and still is…)

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by Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant

Conestoga 1From time to time, we meet people whose passion for connecting children with nature inspires them to advocate for a Nature Explore Classroom in their community. Often, nature had played a significant role in their childhood. They wish for young children the richness, meaning and learning that they had experienced at that age. Allison Welch, of Murray, Nebraska, who spearheaded the drive for a Nature Explore Classroom in her children’s elementary school, fits this description—but with a unique twist.

“We always had this very wild and free experience out in nature, always, every day… It was just such a healthy way to grow up,” she says. Deep connections with nature were not just part of her play after school; they were an integral part of her school.

“I went to a little teeny one-room school. I was the only person in my class kindergarten to sixth grade… There were about 13 kids in our whole school… Our teacher was so good about incorporating every subject into real life and nature.” After school, her life was much the same. “We all remember growing up outside, and our moms kicking us out of the house when we came inside. That’s just the way it was, and you wouldn’t come in until the sun went down. That was how you lived.”

During her career years in software sales, Allison had visited the Arbor Day Farm in nearby Nebraska City. There, she learned about Nature Explore, reinforcing her ideas about connecting children with nature. At the time of her retirement she had three children at Conestoga Elementary, and soon became President of its Parent Teacher Organization (PTO). Then, Allison began to live her passion.

In her plans to build a Nature Explore Classroom, Allison had enthusiastic support from both the PTO and the administration at Conestoga Elementary, but she still needed permission from her school board before they could begin designing. Well, that’s not exactly true: Before presenting to the school board, Allison recruited a landscape architect familiar with Nature Explore’s design concepts and research-tested 10 guiding principles in order to design Cougar Hollow. With design in hand and $20,000 in start-up funding, Allison met with the school board and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Conestoga 2During the early planning stages, Allison consulted with John Campin, Principal of Omaha’s Gomez Heritage Elementary School. Gomez has two Certified Nature Explore Classrooms, and teachers very experienced in their use. John told Allison everything he had needed to get started, saving her much time and effort.

Support from the community, in terms of construction, usage, and funding, has been tremendous. Conestoga Elementary is a regional school, as Murray’s population is under 500. But even in this very rural community, the adage ”Build it and they will come” holds true. In fact, many from the town came to help build it.

Allison sees Cougar Hollow’s construction as one of the foundations of its success. Conestoga Elementary has children who come from affluent homes, and those who are poor, yet parents and relatives from all rungs of the economic ladder worked together to build the outdoor classroom. Family members assisted in projects such as building the stage and pouring concrete. Children themselves helped during school days. Allison says, “I would always give kids jobs. Here’s the shovel. Here’s the mulch. Let’s put this together… There was a lot of ownership to our classroom because we needed volunteers from our school to make it happen. They think it’s super-cool that their parents or uncle or grandfather helped do it. Unlike a playground where equipment just shows up… this is more of a school effort.”

Funding from this closely-knit community has helped a wide variety of people recognize and appreciate Cougar Hollow. Even after being certified for two years, Allison is still approached by potential funders. Recently, she was approached by a member of the Lions Club, who asked if she needed money for the outdoor classroom. He wanted her to come to speak at a Lions meeting, adding that they love the classroom. “It’s such a rare thing to have people approach you because they want to give you money because they like what you’re doing,” she says.

Conestoga 3And the outdoor classroom itself? Cougar Hollow spans an area roughly the size of a football field, has no perimeter fencing, and is open to the community outside of school hours. This means that the full range of materials can’t remain in the classroom permanently. But that hasn’t discouraged anyone from visiting after school hours. Shortly after Cougar Hollow’s opening, Allison was surprised to discover that families visit during evenings and weekends. She soon learned that families bring their children during the summer, when school is out. The regional soccer field is nearby, so while the older children compete in soccer games, their younger siblings play in the outdoor classroom. Teachers hold all kinds of classes outdoors: reading, science, math and more. Parties and events are held at Cougar Hollow. In just a few years it has become a treasured community resource.

Allison remains Cougar Hollow’s Outdoor Classroom Coordinator, and spends time there almost daily. She is pleased to see children engage in extended creative play—much as she had during her youth. She’s noticed that children who go to the school’s traditional playground tend to spend a short time on the climbing equipment, and usually return to the outdoor classroom for in-depth projects.

Allison’s childhood left her with rich memories of nature’s unique ability to inspire wonder and learning. She wanted to give her town an entryway into increasingly rare outdoor experiences that were “how you lived” when she was young. She wanted this legacy to be lasting, serving children for years. By leading the development of Cougar Hollow and making an offer that her town couldn’t refuse, Allison has restored nature as a valued part of children’s lives. Years from now, Cougar Hollow will resonate fondly in the memories of many, many grown children.

 

The Affirmation of the Working Forum

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by Cory Kibler, Communications Specialist for the Nature Explore Program

WFF2Fantastic memories. New friends. Jetlag. Design possibilities. All these and more were things that resulted from the World Forum Foundation’s Working Forum on Design and Nature that took place March 11-14 in Rotorua, New Zealand.

At the Conference, there were:

115 attendees from many countries

3 full days of design and presentations

5 design possibilities each for

3 different sites in Ghana, Australia, and Cambodia

Finally, there were four Universal Principles that were discussed throughout the conference:

1. The power and importance of collaboration.

2. The importance of respecting the context of space and place.

3. The importance of the connection between inside and outside spaces.

4. The importance of the intention for the space.

Bonnie Neugebauer, Cofounder of the World Forum, said this of the process:

It was hard work. People didn’t sleep well, some didn’t sleep. They worked alone in the middle of the night and got up early to work together. There was a lot of struggling with different ways of thinking, and there were egos. Many got very frustrated. But each person stuck with it and at the end, every group had a detailed plan for a space for children that honored those particular children and as much as they were able to, this particular culture.

This process will sound familiar to anyone who works in early education and/or outdoor classroom design. Creating effective, amazing outdoor spaces for children is rewarding and spiritually recharging, but it’s far from easy; in fact, it’s often physically exhausting. Sometimes, it can feel like you’re rowing against the current. There can be conflict. It can be easy to take this frustration as a sign of inefficiency or incompetence.

WFF1Eventually, though, we see it for what it truly is: a sign that we care deeply about our children. People tend to have strong opinions about things they really care about, and at the end of the Working Forum, attendees were able to take a step back and realize that we are all working toward the same goal—even if we have different ideas on how to get there.

The Working Forum was both daunting and affirming. When we agree that every child deserves meaningful education and connections with nature, we take on a great responsibility to do everything in our power to make this a reality. However, in interacting with such brilliant and compassionate minds at just one conference, we are assured that the world’s children are in very capable hands.

My Big Backyard, Part 2: The Core of Outdoor Classroom Design

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by Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant

My Big Backyard 2About a week ago, we looked at Memphis Botanic Garden’s history, and at its amazing Certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom: My Big Backyard. This week we’ll discover a few of the many activities available in the outdoor classroom and in the Garden at large.

The Memphis Botanic Garden serves people of all ages through programs, events, classes, art exhibits, clubs, and even concerts. A day’s activities for children can be part of an ongoing program, or specifically tailored to the curricular needs of a visiting school group. Groups of older youth and adults meet for classes and workshops throughout the Garden areas. Parties and events can also be scheduled in My Big Backyard, and elsewhere on the grounds. A rich series of music concerts is scheduled for the Garden’s amphitheater, a recent addition. Memphis Botanic Garden truly has reasons for everyone to visit and become involved.

The Education Department supports a variety of programs and classes for children and youth. Programs for younger children are conducted in My Big Backyard. The Caterpillar Club, for preschoolers and their caregivers, meets in the Seedling Circle. This spring’s daily themes of the Caterpillar Club’s explorations include “Worms and Dirt,” “Snakes, Slugs and Snails,” and “Bugs, Bugs, Bugs.” Educational programs also access specialty areas in the wider gardens. Jungle Journey, for example, takes place in the Tropical Greenhouse. Even educators are served through classes dedicated to teachers of young children.

During school breaks and in the summer, camps serve children from ages four through twelve. And day camping isn’t the only kind of camping in this space. Overnight family camping is an innovative service provided by My Big Backyard. The goal is to keep overnight camping as simple and traditional as possible. Roasting s’mores over a campfire gives these campers experiences rare for today’s children and families. Imagine a safe and educational natural area for children, directly in the city, in which families can bond through overnight camping. It’s no wonder that the programming and diversity of experiences offered in My Big Backyard has attracted so many visitors and increased the Garden membership considerably.

My Big Backyard 1My Big Backyard demonstrates compellingly that a Certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom can contribute to the financial health of its sponsoring institution, while providing rich educational play experiences for children. It is also another example of a Nature Explore outdoor classroom’s flexibility. The core concept of the design is simple; a space in which nature inspires exploration and creativity in children, and that offers multiple outlets to express their wonder and learning. Guiding principles and activity areas ensure that the outdoor classroom can truly meet the goals of this core concept.

In My Big Backyard, Nature Explore design concepts are integrated vividly and creatively in ways that allow a variety of uses for the space. The Memphis Botanic Garden shows us the richness of experience that an outdoor classroom can provide for a whole community.

#MyTree Contest Announcement: Enter by April 10!

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by the Nature Explore Program

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Everyone has a tree: A favorite reading spot, a secret hiding place, a branch to climb, a peach to pick—and we want to see yours. In honor of Arbor Day 2015 (April 24), we are holding our first-ever #MyTree Contest.

It’s simple to enter:

1. Take a photo of yourself and/or your child(ren) enjoying your tree;

2. Email entries to natureexploresara@gmail.com OR post the photo to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (if entering via social media, be sure to use the hashtag #MyTree and tag our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram account).

All entrants in the #MyTree contest will be eligible to win Natural Products and other prizes. The contest ends April 10, and a winner will be chosen randomly and announced on April 24 (Arbor Day).

Good luck—we can’t wait to see you and your tree!

My Big Backyard, Part 1: What’s Good for Children is Also Good For Business

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by Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant

Memphis 1Through these blog posts, we often learn about how people are using their Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms that are associated with schools and daycare programs. Because few venues with outdoor classrooms charge admission, we rarely learn how these spaces contribute to their parent organizations, whether for profit or non-profit. In Tennessee, the Memphis Botanic Garden got their Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom, My Big Backyard, right; very right.

The Garden membership that had largely consisted of seniors and individuals—and few families—soon changed. Within several months of My Big Backyard’s opening, membership soared 300 percent! Free memberships were given to families that receive state subsidies to ensure that children’s programs are available to all.  The Garden now receives around 230,000 visits a year. Even with modest admission fees, My Big Backyard contributes healthily to the overall budget. It is an excellent example of great work that is reshaping the institution that created it.

The Memphis Botanic Garden’s first “seed” garden, around which many were later built, was formed in the 1950s.  A group of iris lovers requested space in an urban park to share their flowers with the city. Soon, other groups formed further gardens, until the Memphis Botanic Garden took the general form it has today. Occupying over 96 acres, it now houses 28 specialty gardens.

Just seven years ago, something was missing: a sizeable space dedicated to children. The board of directors had been considering a formal children’s area for years, and staff had long been studying children’s programs in many related venues. In 2008, members of the education staff attended the Nature Explore Leadership Institute at the Arbor Day Farm, and their designs for My Big Backyard reflected what they learned.  Incorporating the Nature Explore recommended areas and Ten Guiding Principles, they very quickly built an amazing children’s experience on 2.6 acres. Its construction was well-funded through major corporate gifts and contributions from the community. Understanding both the space and how it’s used tells us why it has become such a valued community resource.

Just to hear some of the activity area names and descriptions is to get a taste of the excitement My Big Backyard inspires in children:

Home Sweet Home

Come on in and learn about the important roles that plants play in our homes!

Seedling Circle (designed for infants and toddlers)

Explore the shapes and colors of this hands-on garden for our smallest sprouts!

Treetop Adventure

Get a bird’s eye view of the Garden and learn about our feathered friends.

Backyard Bluff and Wormville

Wiggle like a worm through larger-than-life worm tunnels, then become a rock star on the outdoor stage…your audience can take a seat on the giant worm “benches” as you create rhythms on the marimbas, drums, and bells.

And these are just four of the 13 activity areas in My Big Backyard.

Memphis 2

Let’s explore the Treetop Adventure as an example. Take the stone Bird Pathway (more on this soon) to the tall wood posts. You’re at the base of the tree house. You can get up to the house via the wheelchair ramp or stairs. From the tree house porch, you can look down and see that the stone path is truly in the shape of a bird. And while you’re up there, you can see the activity in the many birdhouses just above the skyway; each made by a local artist. If you want to return to Earth quickly, you can take the curved slide down, or just descend via the stairs or ramp.

This level of attention to wonder-inspiring features is only half of My Big Backyard’s story. The other half is the rich diversity of educational programs, workshops, activities, camps, and events conducted by its dedicated educators and volunteers.  In our next post, you’ll learn about the variety of services provided by the Memphis Botanic Garden, including one that we believe is unique within our Nature Explore family of outdoor classrooms.

A Wall That Entwines Us

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By Cory Kibler, Communications Specialist for the Nature Explore Program

Fresh from the dynamic energy of CAEYC in Sacramento, California, the Nature Explore program is once again reminded of the fantastic community of advocates working together to change the world’s approach to early education.

At the Nature Explore/Outdoor Classroom Project® conference booth, our Nature Explore program ambassadors wanted to offer current and future partners something honest, fun, and meaningful to engage in during their visit. The result: The “Share Your Memories in Nature Wall.”

Memories in Nature Wall

This wall was constructed from twine, and booth visitors were invited to write down their favorite memory in nature on a colorful card and tie it to the wall, thereby creating a tactile tapestry of powerful experiences. The hope was that it would resonate with people; luckily, visitors shared countless magical memories, going above and beyond any expectations.

Memory Wall3

These memories are important. Aside from offering insight into what we hold dear about nature, the Memories in Nature Wall helps answer the question: “How can we create positive memories in nature for future generations?”

Sometimes, as adults with jobs and families and other grown-up responsibilities, it’s hard for us to remember why we fell in love with nature in the first place. The first time we saw a redwood tree; the moment when we realized the sky is much more replete with stars when viewed in the country; our first panoramic view of an expansive ocean; simply playing near a creek or camping with our families; all of these memories are gifts that make our hearts swell upon reflection.

These memories can also serve as gifts for our children. As advocates for nature, we yearn to share the very magic that captured our hearts and souls when we were young. A lot of things lose their mystique as we grow older, but the nature that surrounds us—a foggy trail in the tall trees of the Pacific Northwest, a rolling Midwestern plain, the towering purple peaks of a mountain range—these only become more important as we age. We realize their vital role in our formative years, the (seemingly miraculous) circumstances that led to their formation, and the ways they can inspire generations of children to come.

As individuals, our dreams can sometimes feel small. At the same time, we work to change the world on a grander scale through meaningful connections with nature. So: How do we get from Point A to Point B?

Sometimes, on our journey, a wall is a guide, rather than an obstacle.