Follow the students into the frontier

When static playgrounds are replaced with flexible outdoor spaces, children become designers of their own curiosity journey.

Photo of Shelley Clifford
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The more we understand about how we learn, the more we realize that the best environments for learning are the most natural ones. Learner-driven and directed. Fresh air, water, and sand. Conversation and exposures. True adventures rarely exist inside human-created buildings that we call school.  

At Mount Vernon we have redesigned our play spaces to include zones that promote curiosity through exploration. These zones include noise and music, gardens, landforms, slides, forts, weaving looms, sandboxes, labyrinths, and open spaces. Tree cookies, twigs, and branches are available for building. Paper, fabrics, and yarn are used for art. Mallets and pebbles make a joyful noise. Outside in a natural park-like environment, children develop gross and fine motor skills, social negotiation skills, along with mindsets to communicate, collaborate, innovate, design, and create.

How does this idea help to spark student curiosity?

Children are encouraged to wonder and to wander in this space. Teachers do not sit to the side and silently observe their wondering and wanderings, rather they are engaged in learning and play with children. They listen to comments and questions. They provoke deeper thinking and promote risk taking. When learning happens in nature, the space never looks the same. This sparks questions.

What grade level is this idea most appropriate for?

  • All of the above

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Cole Godvin

Hi Shelley,
This is an inspiring post! Interaction with the outdoors is so motivating for students. Here at Nueva we have a similar space for free form interaction -- and there is one specific area, the forts, where students are encouraged to build tree forts as part of their recreation. They've gone as far as to develop currency exchange between the forts! Have you discovered students integrating independently information they've gained in classes into their interaction with these environments? I know I'd love to bring students to your Frontier!

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