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Outdoor Spaces

By Maria Curtis, director of the Early Childhood Center
How nature plays a role in the Early Childhood Center.
The Early Childhood Center (ECC) is a special part of the LJCDS community dedicated to developing our 3- and 4-year-old learners. It values young children learning through play and the importance of building and sustaining relationships in their learning. 

Honoring the environment as the “third” teacher, emphasized in the Reggio Emilia approach and defined by its founder Loris Malaguzzi, ECC teachers intentionally crafted the learning spaces, including our beautiful outdoor classrooms.

The outdoor spaces provide opportunities for creative art with easels and mobile art carts. The cozy cabins become spaces for cooperative learning as children take on roles in their dramatic play. The sandboxes with climbers offer large motor activities, and the trikes challenge the riders to figure out how to ride over the small wooden bridges. There are loose parts and blocks to support building and engineering, and the mud kitchens encourage children to cook surprise soups and specialty cakes. 

The teachers are the outdoor classroom designers, thoughtfully adding materials that support creative, wonder-inspiring activities. They challenge the children to work together and offer quiet activities and spaces for when they want to work independently. 

Working and learning outdoors offers many opportunities to connect with nature. The small stepping stones and garden edging bricks provide a laboratory for learning about the slugs, centipedes, and beloved rolly pollies found in the garden dirt. The butterfly garden lets the children learn about the monarch butterfly life cycle in real-time. They excitedly announce when they find a newly hatched, very hungry caterpillar and squeal with delight at the site of a chrysalis. Their interest and interactions with the little creatures provide experiences in developing empathy and respect.

The Wonder Tree, a Chinese Pistache, was a special request for the ECC butterfly garden, knowing it would help children learn about nature while building a connection. This beautiful tree naturally provides a spectacular visual study as it changes with the seasons. Teachers encourage children to investigate the leaves, noticing the evolving colors from August through May. They play under and around the tree, observing and discovering exciting new elements. Time in their schedule allows for drawing and documenting their findings.

We are fortunate to have beautiful spaces for our young children that support their learning and interconnectivity with nature, and educators who value and encourage the children’s interests.

La Jolla Country Day School

9490 Genesee Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037

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