By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant
Thanks to generous support from State Farm Insurance, elementary school teachers in Nebraska and Iowa are invited to attend designated Nature Explore Educator Workshops, at no cost. This service is a component of State Farm’s support for a variety of programs designed to improve elementary education. Given in Certified Nature Explore Classrooms, the workshops introduce teachers to the holistic, “whole-child” learning opportunities available in nature.
Prescott Elementary in Lincoln, Nebraska had worked with Nature Explore design teams to develop an outdoor classroom, and received certification on the day they hosted “Using Your Outdoor Classroom for Elementary Educators,” this September. Development of the space has been in-process for several years, with materials, and ideas for how to use them, evolving over time. The workshop was offered for teachers to have the opportunity to discover the learning potential awaiting their students and themselves when student-initiated activity was also incorporated. Because new materials had been added over the summer, even returning teachers discovered things they hadn’t seen in the classroom before.
Learning in a Nature Explore Classroom can be experiential and curiosity-based. In the workshop teachers explored the space and made their own discoveries. Everyone made discoveries, and reflected on them. Having experienced self-directed explorations, teachers were better able to understand the outdoor classroom’s potentials for their students. They were ripe for understanding the benefits of providing students time to process and make meaning of their learning, through self-selected activities in the outdoor classroom. Teachers commented on ways in which students could use the hands-on materials to solidify concepts they had been learning indoors, and on how fun and engaging that could be.
One way of seeing the workshop’s immediate impact is found in teacher’s reactions expressed in the evaluation forms. A few quotes:
“Explore! Allow students to learn by inquiring.”
“Follow the child’s lead!”
“The workshop has been a wealth of information and the activities were exciting and engaging.”
“There are TONS of ways to get each grade level involved and connected to the curriculum.”
Another indication of the workshop’s effect is that play in Prescott’s Nature Explore Classroom is now recommended during lunch-period outdoor time, when students are with their teachers. And a small, but truly inspirational change to the school day was thought-up by RuthAnne Wylie, Prescott’s Principal. In previous years, children entering the school were greeted with a “Word for the Day” sign. Now the sign is “Wonder of the Day,” featuring discoveries in the Nature Explore Classroom.
Thanks to State Farm Insurance, teachers and students at Prescott Elementary are better prepared to mine the rich opportunities awaiting them in their Nature Explore Classroom. State Farm’s generous funding of workshops in Nebraska and Iowa is a gift to the community that will grow for years to come.
To view a list of these workshops click here.