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Nature Inspired Indoor Environments

Tara Giarraputo

The summary below is offered by Tara Giarraputo, an early childhood and outdoor educator, from North Shore Synagogue. Tara attended the second workshop held on Sunday, October 20, 2013, at the Y which was also presented by Julie Rose from Nature Explore. (SC)

It was a pleasure to be part of this wonderful, interesting, hands-on workshop. As I sat down I noticed lots of natural materials scattered across our table including sticks, bark, tree cookies, rocks, and seed pods of all colors shapes and sizes. Within five minutes, adults were busy building, creating, predicting, imagining, collaborating, playing and laughing. I could just imagine what children would be doing! After a few minutes of our play, Julie began a conversation about classroom settings and compared it to a relevant experience that all of us can relate to – shopping. As we discussed all of our experiences as shoppers, we realized that we all want our students to enter classrooms that are purposeful, non-intimidating, nurturing, helpful, easy to maneuver, and pleasing to the eye. Julie clearly made us aware that when indoor classroom environments have specific criterion, learning will take place and fun engagement will occur.

Natural objects promote more imaginative play

Following our discussion of classroom set-up, we thought about our favorite toys as young children and wrote lists of the toys in our classrooms. We labeled our lists: plastic, nature based open ended and whole child learning. During our discussions about these labels, we became aware that plastic toys usually lead to forced play. For example, a backpack, a plastic lego or plastic fruit, usually has pre-conceived implications. However, when children are involved in playing with nature or natural objects children can create their own imagination play, discover many uses of natural objects, and become inspired to invent play. In addition, children can use natural objects to rethink and recreate and add on to ideas without the restrictions of a plastic toy. Natural toys have no physical limitations for anyone. Natural toys can be a very open-ended passage of learning. We discovered that all areas of our classroom can be “infused” with nature.

Nature Explore workshop 2 Tara

Using photography to trigger associations

Next in Julie’s presentation, photographs of natural environments were held up by volunteer educators. We were asked to look for patterns, shapes, and colors. We were then asked what emotions we felt by these photographs. Julie encouraged us to think about the impact that photographs of “beautiful” scenes could have, if displayed in every area of our classroom. Even when children are not physically IN nature, they can be encouraged BY nature to create a sense of wonder, beauty, appreciation, and further their life-long learning as they explore their surroundings every day in a classroom.

For our last adventure we strolled into the outdoor classroom. As we entered the spacious, inviting, outdoor space we were asked to find one natural object and as we went back inside we placed our
findings on a table. As a culmination of our sensory gatherings, a lovely, pleasing nature display was created by all.

Nature Explore workshop 1 Tara

I was very inspired by Julie Rose, the Educational Services Director at Nature Explore who led our workshop. After this experience I knew I was going to enter my classroom with a different perspective. I would enter on Monday morning and replace all of my play dough tools with natural objects. I would put away all store bought toys or tools and add pine cones, leaves, feathers, seashells, seed pods, sticks of all sizes and lots of rocks. Furthermore, I will collect photos of nature to display throughout my classroom. I could already envision children creating and constructing in a way that will benefit their engaging life-long learning!

Tara Giarraputo is an early childhood and nature educator at  North Shore Synagogue Nursery School in Syosset, NY.  

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