Inspired by new research that shows contact with nature may be as important for children as good nutrition and sleep, schools across America, from Arizona to Pennsylvania are replacing boring pavement and playground equipment with outdoor classrooms. Full of greenery, these unique natural playgrounds from Nature Explore give urban kids a chance to relax and re-connect with nature, while supporting vital aspects of early childhood development.
Over 80% of the U.S. population lives in cities. While urban life offers many benefits, like access to public transportation and cultural diversity, there are important drawbacks. In an effort to provide enough stores and parking lots to accommodate an influx of new residents, cities often pave over the few parks, forests, and green spaces they have left. Children in urban schools often take recess in playgrounds built on blacktop — uninspiring swings and slides surrounded by traffic and a chain-link fence.
Through a partnership between the Arbor Day Foundation and the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, a growing number of schools are changing this poor excuse for recess into a chance for kids to freely explore the outdoors. Worldwide there are 170 certified Nature Explore classrooms. The Nature Explore program offers outdoor classroom design services as well as field-tested components that support children’s interests and creativity. The result is a natural learning area that immerses children in a living environment where they’re introduced to gardening, bugs and animals, design and architecture, and even music in a way that just seems like play.
It’s hoped that by helping more schools bridge the gap between nature and learning, it will increase positive interaction with peers, while reducing childhood obesity and increased reliance on behavior-regulating medicines.