Two years ago we had a simple idea for an immersive learning experience—one that promotes healthy behaviors by encouraging children to explore, learn about and appreciate the natural world. Hundreds of volunteer hours later our Nature Explorium was born. This endeavor is so dear to me and I have been so fortunate to see it grow from its infancy to where it is now. It is truly a labor of love.
Our certified Nature Explore Classroom promotes healthy lifestyles as it encourages our children to explore a natural environment with their whole bodies and all five senses. We have centers dedicated to different exhibit components, and the children explore them all.
Class begins by the children walking over a small bridge to the “Welcome” area. There are natural wooden benches arranged so the teacher can greet the children and begin the lesson. A Jewish lens to the learning is provided whenever possible rooting it to our holidays or to specific values. Children are encouraged to learn about the concepts we introduce by working with the materials we provide, at their own pace. Our Nature Explore Classroom is a totally enclosed area where the children can get the sense that they are truly “free”, and that fosters independence while the watchful eyes of our teachers can see every move the children make.
The following spaces round out our Nature Explore Classroom; however this is truly a living space and is constantly evolving and growing. So keep checking in to see what we’ve done lately!
An area dedicated to all things sensory. We have filled it with child height tables that hold deep sand for digging 3D “fossils”, a discovery table with segments for sorting things they find and corner pockets for storing treasures. We experience textures, sights and sounds primarily here.
This is our gross motor section, disguised as a play area! There are recycled tires dug into the ground and secured with hundreds of pounds of concrete, great for climbing in, on and through. Balance beams, wooden “half pipes” that double as boats and climbers, and our curved “surf boards” round out this area. This year we acquired a wooden fort (from Rainbow Systems- an all “green” company) that is a huge hit.
Child sized picnic tables encourage team work- and we have plenty of materials to share! There are hundreds of natural wooden blocks and shapes, mini bricks, colored tangrams and much more.
This is where we have a large raised organic bed. We have grown peppers, green beans and squash very successfully. It’s at a great level for the children to really observe the plant and the growing process.
This is where much of our learning takes root- literally! As a new feature this spring, we will be planting an herb garden. Each classroom has chosen a particular herb and will be starting them in their classrooms. When the seedlings germinate and the danger of frost is over, they will have their own area to tend to. We plan on extending the lesson from the science of growing all the way to simple recipes that the children can create. We also have saplings and wild flowers scattered about the area.
We have two fruit bearing apple trees and strawberry bushes. We would love to expand this to include blueberries and raspberries as well.
One of our most popular areas- kids and water are just natural together. Here we work on gravity, evaporation and what happens to solids (like ice) when exposed to heat (the sun). Of course it’s just fun too. We have hand pumping water tubs and are working with local volunteers to make large over head showers from reclaimed PVC pipes. A stream table is on our wish list as well.
Here we have black boards painted on our brick wall decorated with painted vines and flowers from the local high school artists. It’s great for expressing yourself – or painting with water! We also have two long picnic tables for 3D creations and shared art experiences.
A very important area indeed! This is where our super stars get to show off. Whether it’s playing musical instruments, singing, dancing or just being silly we have a special spot for them. And there is a bench right in front for an adoring audience. We have bells screwed into the brick behind the stage and a mural of the tragedy & comedy masks painted right behind the stage.
For more information about the Explorium located at the Mid Island Y JCC, Plainview, NY, you can contact lead Nature Specialist, Carey Campbell at [email protected]