The Ingrid S. Andrews Outdoor Classroom,
named for Faculty Emeritus Mrs. Andrews a 35-year founding faculty member and longtime ES director, is the centerpiece of the Early Childhood School campus. It is a place where young learners can immerse themselves in nature, hone observation skills, practice persistence and cooperation, develop academic concepts and physical skills and learn problem solving skills and, of course—play and have fun. The first school in Orange County to be designated with a “Recognized Outdoor Classroom Site” by the Outdoor Classroom Project*
, the ES Outdoor Classroom is a science lab, artist’s studio, a library, symphony hall, theater and gym.
Inspired by the work about nature deficit disorder from author Richard Louv, St. Margaret’s commitment to providing an outdoor environment and curriculum that nurtures growth and learning for the whole child. All children need and benefit from abundant time outdoors positively impacting development and learning and critical for physical health. For children ages 0 to 5, development and learning outdoors is often easier, more productive and beneficial. Full development and integration of outdoor and indoor programs creates the optimal learning and growing environment for young children. The outdoor learning program promotes healthy lifestyle for young children, creates a respect for the earth and provides inviting spots for play and learning.
All Early Childhood classrooms open to the Outdoor Classroom where students spend much of their day. Learning by doing in an outdoor environment supports physical, social and emotional growth, as well as growth across the curriculum: math, science, language and literacy, social studies, art, music and drama. Being outside nurtures the dispositions for learning (creativity, persistence, collaboration, problem solving and communication) that we know leads to lifelong learning.The Outdoor Classroom features different areas that prompt skills crucial to early-childhood development. They include:
Important extensions of the Outdoor Classroom are innovative labs and specialty workspaces, which advance play, interests, skills, learning and child development:
- BLOCK-BUILDING AREA where students can learn about concepts like stability, structure and function through building and stacking.
- STAGE AREA for dramatic play with a deck, under a mature California pepper tree.
- GROSS MOTOR DEVELOPMENT areas including a tricycle path and balance beam.
- SAND AND WATER AREAS to explore conservation, quantitative relationships and physical change.
- A GARDEN, for growing fruits and vegetables and caring for chickens and their eggs. Students spend regular learning time planting, cultivating, investigating, discovering, interacting and expressing their findings while in nature.
- DEMONSTRATION LAB: An original creation inspired by the school’s innovative curriculum, the Demonstration Lab includes a full kitchen, which brings endless learning possibilities to young students centered around understanding and preparing the food they eat. The Demonstration Lab is designed with a room-length bar workstation for young learners.
- ATELIER: The Atelier (art studio) provides rich and artist-quality materials for children to further engage in their own creative works. Conversations between students and the atelierista (art studio teacher) create sparks of continued interest through vocabulary and action, deepening student learning through art.
- TINKER LAB: An area for construction, deconstruction and creation of new products from natural and found materials.
- LIBRARY: With a collection of hundreds of books, the library gives students a place to read and ultimately enhance their literacy and writing development.
- MULTIPURPOSE ROOM: A spacious multipurpose room is set up for large-scale, all-school or classroom projects and exhibits.
*The Outdoor Classroom Project was created by the Child Educational Center, a nationally accredited program of early childhood education which cultivated the concept and practice of Outdoor Classrooms. To receive the designation of a Recognized Outdoor Classroom Site, St. Margaret’s Early Childhood School faculty attended a series of classes over several years, undertook a self-study, made a commitment to the Outdoor Classroom philosophy and passed a site evaluation by members of the Outdoor Classroom Project Board of Directors.