Natural Materials in an Outdoor Classroom
Playing and exploring in an outdoor classroom there are going to be lots of natural materials involved. Whether it is water, sunshine, shadows, rain, mud, rocks, grass, sticks, leaves, snow, wood etc. it is all right in front of the children to explore.
Being in an outdoor classroom it is very similar is the Reggio Emilia early educational learning model. The Reggio Emilia approach believes that natural, loose parts materials are best to foster an enriched environment for children. Reggio also finds value in lighting, whether its light tables, huge windows for sunshine, and large amounts of time spent outside in the sunshine or in the shade of a tree close by.
Natural materials allows children to use them as they please and to discover new knowledge through play and their own direction. A lot of the time natural materials can also fall under the category of being a loose part. The blog written by Playing Outside, describes a loose part as “materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials” (Playing Outside, 2010). http://www. letthechildrenplay.net/2010/01/how-children-use-outdoor-play-spaces.html.
Natural and loose part materials are not just all about fun. I believe that they provide a better environment to encourage a different and more enriched type of learning. While exploring Twitter recently I discovered a post written by Kate Pickle, which led me to her blog about their natural/loose part learning experience with play-dough. http://www.kidspot.com.au/play-doh-and-natural-materials/. Within this post it talks about the learning that took place in such a simple experience. I believe that this experience could have been strengthened even more by providing the opportunity to use real clay rather than play-dough, but she described that the children explored patterning, shapes and imprints, as well as gardens and more.
Natural and loose materials are great, and key to a great outdoor classroom because these types of items can be used anyway children choose, can be adapted and manipulated in many ways, they encourage creativity and imagination, as well as develop more skill and competence than most modern plastic toys, but can be used in combination with other materials to support imagination, which encourages open ended learning overall, says Playing Outside. http://www.letthechildrenplay.net/2010 /01/how-children-use-outdoor-play-spaces.html http://www.racheous.com/kids-activities/reggio-loose-parts/. Natural and loose part materials are not only key to developing a great outdoor classroom, but ultimately will benefit the children more.