A Grand Forks girl dashed across a sprawling green lawn to a tree dotted with small, child-made bird feeders.

Ali Beeghly-Linert, 5, couldn’t wait to show visitors on Tuesday around an outdoor classroom at Grand Forks Montessori Academy.

“These are birdfeeders!” she said. “We used sunflowers to make it. This one’s mine, I think. Yep, that’s mine.”

A minute later, she ran over to a spot with several musical instruments and began playing the drums.

“This is our music area!” she said.

Students learning at the Montessori school have been enriched this summer through a Nature Explore classroom, an outdoor environment filled with natural materials they use to practice problem-solving, develop creativity and improve other development skills.

Last month, the school’s outdoor classroom officially became the first of its kind in North Dakota after receiving national certification from the Arbor Day Foundation and the Lincoln, Neb.-based Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.

Formerly a standard playground area, the space has transformed to include an edible garden, designated areas for art, music, motor-skill development and a tiny nature trail that winds through trees.

Teachers say the classroom was a natural fit for the Montessori program, which has always emphasized outdoor learning.

“What we love is that children get to see learning environments they think would normally be inside, but are brought out here,” elementary teacher Jenny Froemming said.

A natural opportunity

Learning opportunities are abound in the outdoor classroom, which will be used throughout the year, said teachers.

During the summer, students use the space up to three hours a day, whether they’re creating images with seeds and almond butter, climbing trees, or designing their own “businesses” using logs and other natural materials around them. Students also maintain a small garden of tomatoes, blueberries, edamame and a variety of herbs, as well as an orchard of apple, apricot and pear trees.

They take advantage of the space to apply what they’re learning in the classroom without any instruction, teachers said.

“They get a chance to all work together, play together, as well as communicate together,” she said. “But not only that; once they get in the classroom, they’re able to function and concentrate. They’re ready to learn.”

Often, children explore and play at stations on their own. This time gives them a chance to learn cooperation and work on solutions when they have disagreements over what they’re building, said Shelly Wurzbacher, preschool director.

The classroom won’t be limited to the summer. Students will still head outside in the colder months to build snow castles or pretend they’re penguins protecting their eggs from predators, like they did last year, teacher said.

“Getting an hour in as much as we can is so beneficial to our children—as well as staff,” Froemming laughed.


Read the fell article here: http://www.grandforksherald.com/news/3812834-grand-forks-montessori-academy-opens-first-outdoor-classroom-nd