This post was originally written by Sayward Wilkinson Blanc, CCES Calgary Nature Kindergarten Founding Educator, for Mount Royal University (MRU) in Calgary, Alberta. MRU has an immersion studio in the Department of Child Studies and Social Work and had asked for images to be submitted of the Nature Kindergarten spaces for them to use in the studio for course work with their students. It describes the intentionality of classroom design, responsive environments and speaks to the Reggio Emilia tenet of the environment as the third teacher.
The indoor classroom and the outdoor learning spaces at Nature Kindergarten have been designed with the intention of creating spaces that provoke the interests of the children and to be living spaces that hold traces of the learning of current and past students. The indoor classroom is seen as an extension of the outdoor learning spaces where the discoveries and artifacts of the outdoors becoming living memories inside, and the space offers a variety of materials for the children to use. The colour scheme of the pale blue, yellow and natural materials came from the colours seen when looking over the prairies from the classroom window. The intention was to see the landscape blend into the indoor space when looking out from our small window. Our main gathering space is the carpet area where we wanted the children to have natural light for reading, be surrounded by living plants they can care for and offer a variety of different seating options and cozy spaces for the children. You will see on the walls art pieces left from previous classes as a memory of all the children who have lived in this space.
We have four large rectangular tables that the children sit around so that they are able to work collaboratively. Two of the tables can be pushed together to create a large square for the the children to work on, giving us room to display artifacts in the middle of the table while they work.
As the children enter the room we have a building table available to them that changes with provocations based on the children's interests. Currently it has natural materials and loose parts to invite the children to make self portraits. It can also be a nature discovery table and a building platform. We have a loom for the children to weave on with yarns for them to select. This is also portable so that the loom and materials may be brought outside for the children to use, often for weaving grasses from the field.
We have a large light table that the children can stand at. At the light table we have ongoing provocations for the children to observe and wonder about. There is a shelf to display items the children are interested in and may collect for the classroom. We have a flat box that we rotate with collections for the children to view using different magnifying glasses and microscopes. We will post questions the children have and drawings they have created about these artifacts on the documentation board above.
At the back of the classroom we have a large atelier space for the children to use. The easels are also taken outside for the children to paint outdoors. We have a circular table that will have different provocations for the children to draw or paint, and this table is also transformed into a installation area where we can create large projects that can remain and be worked on over time with the children, such as clay work, mandalas and 3D maps. We have the open shelving that holds their visual journals, different papers the children can access and a variety of art materials, loose parts and natural materials. The large board on the wall is used for documentation and to display art work.
One of the challenges for our indoor space is storage. The room must hold all the material need to run our program, it is essentially a one room school house. We have had to be creative with storing materials and providing an 'office' type space for staff within one room. We use the large black board to draw with the students, record ideas and also to post our planning and ongoing documentation work.
Directly outside our classroom is a large grass field that the children use as one of their outdoor learning spaces. We have a stump circle that we use for class meetings and performances, a long pallet table for project work and for eating. The field itself has a variety of grasses, some taller for the children to explore and play in.
On the top of a small hill where the grass is shorter is the mud kitchen. This area is one of the children's favourite spaces outdoors. The main kitchen was built by a parent, and has a roof that collects rainwater in the blue drum, and allows the children to have running water in the double sink. There are shelves for cups and plates and wire baskets and a lattice to hold kitchen utensils. All the utensils and kitchenware is from actual kitchens for the children to use, most of it has been donated by families. There are two pallet counters for the children to cook at and a large water basin they can use to make mud in. We also have a large table with bins inside to collect materials and use to hold water. We also have a collection of plastic piping the children can use to create waterways in the mud kitchen or to use with the other large scale loose parts they have available outside. These include wood planks, pallets, buckets, large plastic and wooden spools and bike wheels and tires.
Our second outdoor space is Lloyd Park down the road from our indoor classroom. We have full park days here with the children at least once a week for the whole year. It is a 52 acre wetland and park that offers a variety of landscapes for the children to visit and explore. One of the benefits of this park is that it hosts many migratory birds throughout the year and the children have the opportunity to see wildlife up close such as a nesting Great Horned Owls.