In 2016, Sacred Heart Villa was first certified as a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom - our outdoor nature-based play and learning spaces. Each September, we apply for the recertification of our outdoor classroom through Nature Explore. SHV is part of a global movement of educators and programs dedicated to creating and sustaining, beautiful, nature-filled outdoor classrooms. Each year Kris Doder informs the Nature Explore Foundation of how we have sustained and maintained our outdoor classroom space. Here at The Villa, we are very fortunate to have a spacious front yard, as well as the back playground spaces which all comprise our outdoor classroom. In the past year, we have added two sections of log steps in both the toddler and older children’s playgrounds. These log steps made from real tree trunks provide a physical challenge that strengthens visual-spatial skills and builds a child’s self-confidence. We also replaced tree trunk seats on our toddler side that are used for children to sit on during story time with their teachers or visiting librarian. Having the certification of our outdoor space has been a great asset for our school.
Our fruit and vegetable garden is another important feature of our outdoor classroom. During the warm days of spring and summer, the children and teachers at Sacred Heart Villa really enjoying the use of our gardens in the outdoor classroom space. There are many exciting things happening around the property. We have observed bees, butterflies, moths, finches, and hummingbirds feeding from our native flowering plants. The children get so excited to see these creatures up close. One kindergarten boy said, “I saw a moth on a flower so closeup with my eyes! I could see it had dots on its wings and fuzz on its body! I never saw one so close before!” We have also been growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables from our gardens in the front of school for the past five years. In the spring, Sr. Matthew works with teachers to begin growing plants from seed in the classroom. When the seedlings are big enough and the weather is consistently warm, these plants are transferred and planted outdoors. Sr. Matthew Maria, Sr. Alice, lead teachers, and Mr. Enes have helped the children gather many cherry tomatoes, carrots (though small), watermelon and cantaloupe (we served to the children for lunch), really hot spicy red peppers (we gave away) and enough butternut squash to feed the school. Sr. Margaret was very busy the day she peeled, cubed and roasted six butternut squash. We hope these activities in the outdoors will encourage the children to appreciate the gifts of the earth and the beauty of God's creation.