- October 19, 2022
Guilford County Partnership for Children
The Outdoor Learning Environment recently opened at the Macedonia Head Start childcare program offers delightful new ways for the youngest children to interact with the natural world.
“Outdoor Learning Environments transform ‘playgrounds’ into more diverse play spaces that promote curiosity and endless opportunities for hands-on sensory experiences and learning,” explained Trish Nelson, the Guiding Healthy Behaviors program specialist at Guilford County Partnership for Children (GCPC). The new space includes a pollinator garden with blackberries, blueberries, gardenias, lilacs, strawberries, and other sensory perennials that attract pollinators.
The Foundation for a Healthy High Point helped fund the construction of the new outdoor space at the Macedonia Child Development Center in High Point, which is home to Head Start and Early Head Start programs administered by Guilford Child Development. “This project was professionally designed and funded by an NC Shape grant a few years ago,” said GCPC Executive Director Ann Vandervliet Stratton, noting that it is designed to increase access to physical activity.
“Our toddlers will get to see how food grows from seed to fruit or vegetable,” added Center Director Kenzie Rash. The center serves children under the age of 5 whose families are economically vulnerable.
“It is helpful for children to experience where food comes from,” Rash said. “Our new Outdoor Learning Environment should yield enough for our students to take home samples and share what they have learned with their families.”
The program will also provide the early childhood teachers with coaching, professional development, and nutrition and gardening education to maximize the naturalized play area.
At the opening ceremony, Professor Linda Hestenes, Ph.D., an outdoor learning expert at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, spoke about the importance of Outdoor Learning Environments for young children and the measurable impact they have on physical health and emotional well-being. Professor Hestenes is a co-author of the evidence-based Preschool Outdoor Environment Measurement Scale (POEMS). She has worked closely over the years with colleagues from the Natural Learning Initiative at NC State to better understand how to support the play and learning of young children in outdoor settings.
“Last fall, the Guilford County Partnership decided to raise the funding needed to implement the design plan. We are grateful to Smart Start, the Foundation for a Healthy High Point, Bar Construction, and Verizon for making it possible,” added Vandervliet Stratton. The new outdoor learning environment was designed specifically for infants and toddlers.
Vandervliet Stratton emphasized, “Young children need fresh air and play more than ever before. After completion of the Outdoor Learning Environment at Macedonia, the Guilford County Partnership hopes to raise additional funds for five other design plans that are ready for implementation.”