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Nature Based Learning
Nature Based Learning
Thomas Charltray
Tuesday, May 04, 2021

--Following the enormous success of the new nature-based playground at Pond Cove which opened in September 2019, along with the pandemic spurring people to look for more ways to take life outdoors, Tara Bucci, CELT Educational Board, Pond Cove Playground Committee, 4th-grade teacher, and Lindsay Barrett, Pond Cove Playground Committee board member, and local parent, began working together to continue to improve the quality and quantity of outdoor opportunities at Pond Cove. (There's also mounting research showing the general physical, mental health, and cognitive benefits of more time outdoors, which I could expand upon indefinitely as needed! https://www.greenschoolyards.org has tons of info. They've featured Portland Public Schools as a COVID case study.)

--The Pond Cove Playground Committee spearheaded work to expand play opportunities in some of the assigned playground "zones" necessitated by COVID distancing requirements. Local parent and artist AndrĂ©s Martinez donated his time to paint a Cape Elizabeth-themed road mural for students to use with vehicle toys on the K-1 playground last fall. He volunteered again over April vacation to paint a Maine-themed obstacle course on the 2-4 playground to complement the 4th-grade study of the state of Maine. Thanks to community donations of materials, the Playground Committee helped establish a "Fairy Village" to allow kids in the "field" zone not interested in group sports a creative building outlet. The fairy house building and nature play have been a huge hit.

--Cape schools already have many long-standing traditions of nature-based learning, such as school gardening and collaboration with CELT to access and learn from the natural resources in our town. The focus of this year's work at Pond Cove has been to continue to diversify outdoor play opportunities for kids and to increase opportunities for teachers to easily take classes outdoors for everyday learning, such as a read-aloud, math lesson, or writing workshop that would normally be held inside. 

--In Fall 2020, Tara and Lindsay secured a mini-grant for $1500 from the Maine Environmental Education Association, to be used towards developing outdoor classroom spaces. Because much of the original spending plan was able to be covered by community donations of materials and sweat equity (delivering stumps for seating, volunteer carpentry, and painting), the $1500 also ended up covering a set of portable learning supplies for each grade K-5. Family donations via the PCPA supplemented the grant money to provide each grade level with heavy-duty wagons to haul folding chairs or seating pads and whiteboards anywhere on campus to set up a pop-up outdoor learning space. 

Work to expand upon outdoor opportunities at Pond Cove will continue. Interested community members can feel free to contact Lindsay Barrett at lindsayabarrett@gmail.com if they have ideas or would like to be involved.