Cathedral of the Risen Christ School in Lincoln joins a select group of just 400 preschools worldwide certified by “Nature Explore”. The Eaglet Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom consists of different nature inspired areas, such as a water station, a dirt area, a gathering place, a musical area, and a prayer garden.
“Our nature as humans is to connect with the wonders God made,” said Jeremy Ekeler, Cathedral principal, “so a classroom for us will look like a lot of natural materials: tree stumps, bamboo fencing, wall vines, garden beds, interesting native plants, worms, and dirt. Really, not too different from the way a lot of folks my age grew up playing outside.” This will also translate to the indoor classroom, which will have less posters and plastic and more natural materials, like stumps, plants and rocks.
Ekeler also serves on the Prosper Lincoln Board of the Lincoln Community Foundation, focusing on early childhood development, and his wife, Susan, works with Lincoln Public Schools in early childhood education. He and Chief Administrative Officer Monsignor Tucker have been doing research on early childhood for two years. The Nature Explore option rose to the top, and has been investigated closely for a year now. The project has been joined by an All-Star team, including Nebraska Nurseries and Color Gardens, Landscapes Unlimited, Neighborhood Tree, the Nebraska Natural Resource District, multiple volunteers, and primary funding from the Flanagan Innovation Grant of the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln.
Ekeler said, "Nature Explore and Dimensions Childhood Research Foundation earned our trust for a few reasons. First, it's a local venture supported by Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and The Arbor Day Foundation. The fact that we have an approach right here in the Lincoln area that has been under the microscope of researchers for over twenty years is amazing. Not that this group needs any more credibility, but they've built classrooms like the one we're developing across the country."
“The Cathedral team has done a wonderful amount of research in looking at the interplay between these programs and child learning and development,” Msgr. Perkinton said.
Several teachers at Cathedral have already been through many hours of training and immersion in order to support the Nature Explore Classroom. One of the teachers, Anne Bodensteiner, said she is excited about the opportunities brought about by the new classroom.
“I am thrilled that we are encouraging nature and exploration with our little ones!” Bodensteiner said. “We are hoping to foster a love for learning by letting the kids get messy, touch and feel nature, and learn through playing with God's creations."
Laura Johnson, who teaches the Eaglet II program, said, "It's a wonderful combination of approach, professional development and environment. To place those three things upon our foundation of a vibrant Catholic faith formation is a true blessing to Cathedral and our community."learning by letting the kids get messy, touch and feel nature and learn through playing about God’s creations. And the more we discover about nature's impact on child development the more excited we get at the future of our Eaglets!”
Ekeler said the Nature Explore Classroom pushes back against the trend to rush children into their education.
“The academics will happen – we really aren’t too concerned with having kids who are reading and doing double-digit addition and subtraction when they’re in kindergarten. What is vital to us are kids who stay curious,” he said. “We don’t want a school culture in which 3-, 4-, or 5-year-olds are concerned with a grade, or about getting a wrong answer. I wish more adults were like that actually: we should all be more willing to explore and experiment, rather than being concerned about mistakes.”
The Nature Explore classroom constrution will begin in the fall of 2016, with a timetable for completion in the spring of 2017. Updates, photos and information on this Cathedral Eaglet Nature Explore project will be placed on this link.
Please click here the first draft of Cathedral's Outdoor Explore Classroom.
Pictures are provided by Nature Explore and the Dimensions Child Research Foundation.
Much of the above story is written by Jess Wahlmeier (Southern Nebraska Register), and can be found clicking here.