The Florida Kindergarten Council (FKC) has awarded three Pre-K 3 teachers a grant to support more natural learning areas on the Jacksonville Country Day School (JCDS) campus. The grant, valued at up to $1,000, is titled “Get Outside” and requests funds for “a campus-wide project to create outdoor playscapes where children not only play outside, but also learn from their outdoor surroundings.”
There is a “growing body of research that links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature – in positive ways,” Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods, wrote.
Pre-K 3 teachers Christie Maurer, Kristi Marianatos, and Laurie Stayer wrote the grant application and will give a presentation on their project at the 2016 FKC Conference on February 6, 2015. The teachers were inspired by a conference hosted by the Early Learning Institute (made possible by the JCDS Fund) called Cultivating Our Natural Learning Community last June.
The project will start with a bug observation area, a container garden for picking flowers, a butterfly garden, and an outdoor kitchen area. The long-term plan includes a bird sanctuary, a water feature, a mud kitchen, and a natural art and music area. According to the Early Learning Institute at the University of Tennessee, nature-based experiences "offer each child regular opportunities to explore and test ideas, hone critical thinking skills (…), and develop as a responsible citizen."
“Children don’t have as many opportunities to be outside as they used to. As educators our responsibility is to provide outside time – preferably in a natural setting – for our students during the day,” Mrs. Maurer said about the project. “Being outside in nature also provides a counterbalance to all of the technology children encounter these days.”