Leading the Way in Outdoor Learning
Oceanside CA— MiraCosta College’s Child Development Center has become the first in San Diego County to earn official designation as an Outdoor Classroom Demonstration Site for its focus on teaching preschoolers in an outdoor classroom setting.
The designation comes from The Outdoor Classroom Project, an initiative begun in 2003 by the Child Educational Center, a nationally accredited program that has been promoting the outdoor classroom since 1979.
“We’re really excited,” said Linda Haar, MiraCosta’ Child Development Center director who was among those leading the drive to secure the designation. “Our teachers are really passionate about being with the children in an outdoor environment, and being outdoors gives children a great opportunity to learn in a natural setting.”
The Outdoor Classroom Project granted the designation to MiraCosta College’s Child Development Center after teachers took part in training on how to use the outdoors as a true learning center and a team from the organization evaluated the program. Training included lessons on the components of an outdoor classroom, lessons on the natural environment, and lessons on the philosophy of outdoor learning.
Children at the Child Development Center engage in everything from story time to arts and crafts to circle time outside.
“Teachers are not just letting the children outside for recess,” Haar said. “The outdoors has become a classroom without walls.”
The designation culminates a years-long process begun when former Child Development Center director and current child development faculty member Mark Whitney conducted extensive research on outdoor play areas at child development centers during a 2012 sabbatical. In addition, Whitney visited a dozen community colleges with exemplary outdoor classroom programs, and he also spent time meeting with the Outdoor Classroom Project in Pasadena.
“The Child Development Center has a long-standing commitment to supporting outdoor play and connecting children with nature,” said Whitney.
Proponents of the outdoor classroom note that early childhood education needs to follow the fundamental principle that children are learning everywhere and all the time. That means children need a broad variety of learning experiences and opportunities to grow. While outside, children frequently have the opportunity to initiate their own learning experiences and activities, with teachers available to support them. Being outside also fosters the ability to focus attention and to concentrate for longer periods of time while helping them expand their imagination.
Some 130 children from 18 months to 5 years old are enrolled at the MiraCosta College Child Development Center, with an average of 90 or so children attending the center during the academic year. Up to 35 MiraCosta College students studying child development work in the Child Development Center every semester to gain experience and see how the latest research is being implemented. The center also employs five instructional specialists, also known as lead teachers, to work alongside the MiraCosta College students.