Dirt is Fun

The other day I watched several diligent toddlers engaged in play in a Nature Explore Classroom. They used child-sized tools to move dirt, one scoop at a time, from the ground into various containers, then with enthusiasm, they tipped the containers and let the contents fall to the ground. We all know that toddlers LOVE dump and fill activities and sometimes this proves challenging, but this scene was different.

This play space was intentionally designed to support the children and their emerging skills. It included a dirt digging area of in-ground soft and safe soil, bordered by a circle of large stones – tools and containers were stored at child-height close by.  There were other choices as well. Some children played music on a marimba, others climbed up, down and through a strategically placed and permanently installed cluster of tree stumps. Still others spent time with their teacher, reading books or tasting the mint leaves from the garden.

Nature-inspired learning spaces are thriving all over the world. This trend is really catching on and we couldn’t be happier about it. Forest Schools, Nature Preschools, Outdoor Classrooms, etc. all provide a nature-based backdrop for learning. What sets Nature Explore Classrooms apart is the way they are deliberately designed using research-based principles that came straight from teacher coresearchers in the field. These principles can be applied to every setting where children spend their days. If you want to learn about the principle yourself or would like help with the design process, watch for an article by designer Jim Wike describing this process offered free from Exchange Press* during and after the 2021 Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference.

And as a jubilant toddler once declared, “dirt is fun,” and so is teaching and learning in a Nature Explore Classroom.

*Editor’s note: Exchange Press is a Gold Sponsor of the 2021 Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference.

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