Each September, Sacred Heart Villa applies for the recertification of our Nature Explore Certified Classroom – our outdoor nature-based play and learning spaces. First certified in 2016, 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.
During these last warm days of summer, the children and teachers at Sacred Heart Villa are really enjoying the use of our 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 last week, “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 harvesting the last of the fruits and vegetables from our gardens in the front of school. Sr. Matthew Maria, Sr. Alice and Mr. Enes have helped the children gather many cherry tomatoes, carrots (though small), cantaloupe (we served to the children for lunch), really hot spicy red peppers (we gave away) and enough butternut squash to feed half the school. Sr. Margaret was very busy the day she peeled, cubed and roasted six butternut squash. Our fruit and vegetable garden is another important feature of our outdoor classroom.
Each year the students and staff of Sacred Heart Villa participate in a Fall Collaboration Day. During the morning on Thursday, September 22nd, each class will be given the opportunity to utilize several learning centers in the Villa's outdoor classroom space. Each center will have a connection to nature. For example, one science center will feature items from nature to determine if they can sink or float in water. In another place, the children will encounter exploring and observing worms in dirt. There will be a station set up to learn about composting. Another center will be an activity with music so the children can dance with scarves and some elements of nature they find. There will be an art area with natural materials collected where children can create pictures with these loose parts. There will be a story telling section featuring stories about exploring nature and the fall season. An additional station will focus on math and engineering skills by creating patterns and structures. For the past several years, each fall and spring The Villa has set up a nature collaboration day. 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.