"Staff childcare workers want some type of Health Benefits to be issued and affordable for ALL childcare workers also like State health plan, Teachers Benefits. Childcare workers are needed just as much and often as other workers. People can't go to work without childcare needs. So, WE must open and be here daily no matter what pandemic is going on. WE ARE FRONT LINE WORKERS ALSO!!”
What a wonderful week I have had, after the inspirational Spartanburg Outdoor Learning workshop last Saturday, I was then invited to visit the Furman Child Development Center’s (CDC) Outdoor Classroom to advise Meredith Burton the dedicated Director, this I did yesterday.
Upon my arrival, as I was waiting outside for Meredith, a young boy had just been collected by his father to go home. Quite unprompted this child, who appeared to be about 4 years old said, “Hello, are you here to visit our outdoor classroom?” Slightly taken aback I responded, “Indeed I am,” to which he replied, “Welcome, you will like it, it is really good!” My immediate thoughts were “what a confident child, this setting is going to be good.”
Meredith and I walked down to the outdoor classroom which has an inviting sign at the entrance to the walkway. The pathway was flanked by logs which leads to the classroom. Here, an enchanting mud kitchen had been developed and was being worked on by a very enthusiastic parent volunteer, Helen. There was a gate and fence, and on the other side was a slope leading to a magical pond. The children could run and jump and spin and climb and sway and hop and do all the activities we encourage, freely and safely. The canopy of trees afforded great shade and Meredith said that even in the hottest of weather the temperature in the classroom was always at least ten degrees cooler, and provided the children had their water bottles to keep hydrated, this was not a problem.
The ingenious log circle used flat natural boards on logs, interspersed by toadstool logs, and they could have circle time easily and comfortably here. It would have been perfect to have a firepit in the middle but with health and safety regulations, this is not viable at present. But who knows what the future may bring?!
There were natural tables and large wooden reels with all sorts of fun activities, including a log which had mushrooms and lichens growing out of it and magnifying glasses and books and flash cards for the children to investigate the awe and wonder of this natural phenomenon.
Meredith kindly asked for my input and I suggested they devise a natural maze with the children’s help where the children could semi hide (while still adhering to the holy grail of the children always being in sight of the staff). I have seen these work really well in forest schools in the UK and the children love the autonomy this semi-hiding space gives them. I also suggested doing weaving on the fence using natural products such as grasses and vines as well as ribbons and string/rope.
Another suggestion was to use some of the terrain as a slope for them to slide down or roll down and to carry out a risk benefit analysis and perhaps pilot, having a rope swing where the children can spin and swing while the staff still feel in control and comfortable with this activity. The mud kitchen is in its infancy, so the children will become more involved in its development and we agreed that more work surfaces were needed.
This Outdoor Classroom was so remarkable it was hard to come up with suggestions and the enthusiasm of Meredith and Helen was tangible. Sadly, the children could not be present owing to COVID-19 restrictions, but I really look forward to visiting again when the children are there. As I was leaving the setting another child, a little girl, was going home and her interactions with Meredith were again very confident and relaxed and my thoughts were how lucky these children and parents are to have this glorious start to their educational journey, and well done CDC Furman for providing it and thank you for giving me the privilege of visiting your outdoor classroom.