A kitchen for making a mess

One of the new features in the outdoor space at Wee Care Family Childcare in DeForest is a mud kitchen, with a drop-in bowl and faucet. Kids can use the space to make mud pies. The addition was part of improvements, along with the art space right, that earned Wee Care Family Childcare national recognition as a Certified Nature Explore Classroom from the Nature Explore program.

The outdoor spaces at Wee Care Family Childcare, located in DeForest, have been transformed, earning national recognition as a Certified Nature Explore Classroom from the Nature Explore program.

“Now, it’s even more important that children bond with nature,” said Anne Alexander, the owner of Wee Care Family Childcare.

This certification confers on Wee Care Family Childcare a number of benefits. Among them is membership in an ever-expanding network of more than 500 like-minded spaces nationwide. Certified Nature Explore Classrooms foster highly effective, nature-based outdoor learning. The program is a division of nonprofit Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.

“Owner Anne Alexander’s commitment to providing research-based and nature-rich learning offers a wonderful example to programs and educators throughout the country,” said Heather Fox, director of communications and outreach for the Nature Explore program. “These spaces inspire hands-on activity, creativity, play and plenty of time exploring the natural world for children of all ages.”

These unique outdoor classrooms offer interactive, open-ended materials and elements that allow them to use their creativity, imaginations and initiative. Research consistently shows that children who learn and grow in Nature Explore Classrooms exhibit enhanced concentration, develop creativity and problem solving techniques, manage stress in healthy ways and develop skills across the spectrum of academic and creative learning.

Alexander said that with Wee Care closed, due to COVID-19, she had time to make the improvements needed for national certification. She attended a three-hour training, before embarking on a number of projects for the outdoor space at the childcare center, which hopes to reopen in July.

Areas created included space for sand and digging, climbing, water play, gardening, music, and art, along with imagination and gathering areas and a messy materials area. Alexander said the platforms are very similar to those of the Nature Explore program.

Along with developing new areas of outdoor interest, Alexander said she got rid of a lot of the plastic that was in that area. Another new feature is a mud kitchen, with a drop-in bowl and faucet. Kids can use it to make mud pies.

“It’s a place to get messy and mix things up,” said Alexander.

Another new addition is a storage shed that will allow Alexander to bring items out for children to use.

Alexander said the changes are meant to help children develop in a number of areas, including visual and spatial learning, math, music and movement, art, literacy, science, observation and social and emotional learning.

Nature Explore Classrooms have been developed by a team of master educators, landscape architects and researchers in response to the documented growing disconnect between children and nature. The classrooms help fill this void by integrating research-based outdoor learning opportunities into children’s daily lives. Classrooms that are designed according to standards and principles described in Dimensions Educational Research Foundation’s Learning With Nature Idea Book are eligible to become Certified Nature Explore Classrooms.

Alexander feels it’s important for children to get outside as much as possible these days. She wants them to experience more of nature for themselves.

“We want to allow them to think, reason and plan, and not be directed by teachers, but to figure out things for themselves,” said Alexander.

At the same time, Alexander is hoping that such programs can instill a love of being outdoors in children. Along with enhancing an appreciation of birds, animals and other creatures, she feels that getting kids outdoors will help curb childhood obesity, while also improving their mental health.

More information about Wee Care Family Childcare may be found at https://certified.natureexplore.org/wee-care-family-childcare/

The mission of the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation is to transform children’s lives through meaningful daily connections with nature. Its Nature Explore team provides research-based outdoor classroom design services, educator workshops and natural products. More information about Dimensions is available at http://www.dimensionsfoundation.org/

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