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MCC Explores Nature in 21st Century Child Development Center

Students at MCC’s Child Development Center enjoy painting in their new outdoor classroom. Students at MCC’s Child Development Center enjoy painting in their new outdoor classroom.
Photo by Debbie Booker, Director of MCC Child Development Center

Posted: December 21, 2015

MCC's "Natural Outdoor Classroom" Earns National Certification

Blending nature-based play with carefully designed outdoor learning spaces has earned Manchester Community College's unique approach to child development a national certification. The Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and the Arbor Day Foundation have recognized MCC's "Outdoor Classroom" as a model for other schools to follow. This approach is available in only a handful of places in the state, but is a growing trend nationwide.

"We are thrilled to be at the leading edge of helping children look outside the four walls of a traditional classroom and seek knowledge by following nature's path," said Susan Huard, President of Manchester Community College. "I applaud the many people who brought this exciting educational approach to our playgrounds."

Development of the outdoor classroom was a collaborative effort by faculty, staff and students of the college's Early Childhood Education Program, Child Development Center, and Building Construction Department. Additionally, QSC Remodeling, families from Head Start and Child Development Center programs, the MCC Gardening Club, MCC Environmental Science students, and UNH Cooperative Extension all contributed to improving the new space, with guidance from Nature Explore.

The learning spaces include: a gathering space, gardens, pathways through planting, climbing and crawling spaces, music and movement, messy materials, dirt digging, sand, nature art, building spaces, and open areas for running.

Nature Explore Classrooms are part of the Nature Explore program, a collaborative project of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation developed in response to the growing disconnect between children and nature. Certified Nature Explore Classrooms help fill the void by integrating research-based outdoor learning opportunities into children's daily lives.

"Manchester Community College Child Development Center has shown tremendous leadership in growing the next generation of environmental stewards," said Susie Wirth, Nature Explore Outreach Director. "Their commitment to providing research-based and nature-rich learning offers a wonderful example to educators throughout the country."

Outdoor classrooms offer more than just hands-on lessons for little ones. These programs offer truly creative lesson plans such as constructing musical instruments made of natural materials, and creating art projects using garden or pathway areas. Children who learn and grow in Certified Nature Explore Classrooms enhance concentration, develop creativity and problem-solving, relieve stress and improve skills in many areas of development.

"We know that 21st century skills are no longer just developed in a traditional classroom setting," explained Debbie Booker, Director of MCC Child Development Center. "From exploring sounds in our music area to painting with mud in our nature art area, the outdoor classroom consistently provides opportunities for children to gain new knowledge about the world around them. Our outdoor classroom has also given the MCC college students and families an appreciation of how important nature can be in the lives of children."

Located on the MCC campus at 1066 Front Street, the MCC Child Development Center opened in August 2011. It is licensed by the State of NH Childcare Licensing Bureau and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The center serves pre-school to Kindergarten-age children year-round, plus offers school-age summer camp programs for children entering first-through-fifth grades. Open to children from the Greater Manchester community, part-time, full-time and drop-in care is available for children aged two years and 10 months through age six.

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