St. Margaret’s Early Childhood Development Center’s Outdoor Classroom is a place where children 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 only school in Orange County to be designated as a “Recognized Outdoor Classroom Site” by the California Outdoor Classroom Project, the Outdoor Classroom is a science lab, artist’s studio, a science lab, a library, symphony hall, theatre and gym.
The Outdoor Classroom Project was created in July 2003 by the Child Educational Center, a nationally accredited program of early childhood education which, since 1979, has cultivated the concept and practice of the Outdoor Classroom. The philosophy of the Outdoor Classroom is that all children need and benefit from more time outdoors. This benefit affects development and learning. It is critical for physical health. Nearly every activity that can be done indoors can be done outdoors. Some activities can only occur outdoors. Other activities occur best outdoors. For children ages 0 to 5, development and learning outdoors is often easier and more beneficial than it is indoors. Full development and integration of outdoor and indoor programs creates the optimal learning and growing environment for young children.
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. The outdoor learning program promotes healthy lifestyle for young children and creating a respect for the earth they will inherit while providing inviting spots for play and learning.
The Outdoor Classroom 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.
St. Margaret’s moved and expanded its ECDC garden to maximize the sun exposure to encourage fruit and vegetable cultivation. Additionally, the program expanded recycling and composting efforts and remained committed to maintaining a barnyard with chickens. Further improvements include building a deck for hollow block-play and the construction of an outdoor performance stage for our young actors and musicians, as well as for cozy reading and storytelling under the peppertree.
To receive the designation of a Recognized Outdoor Classroom Site, St. Margaret’s Early Childhood Development Center 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.