If you read Finding Fall Pt. 1, you'd remember that I recently went to a ranch to purchase an abundance of squash, gourds, pumpkins, and corn stalks. We displayed our horn of plenty in the lobby for several days, but today it was time to let the children play! Our fabulous group of teachers got together during nap time and we spent the afternoon transforming our Outdoor Classroom into an Autumn festival of sorts.
First, we scattered hay and set the GIANT pumpkin to perch for the season. We then set out all of the other squash, gourds and pumpkins for the children to explore. A far cry from "display only,"we encourage the children to tote, carry, push, pull and explore the bounty. Consider the items "loose parts" that can be used in every form of their play (well, as long as they are not purposefully damaging the items). We have provided wheelbarrows, pots, pans, and a wagon to encourage their interactions with the new items. They are also encouraged to use the pint-sized rakes to help rake the hay back into our planters!
In the above sensory bin, we mixed cornmeal, beans, and Fall colored rice. We added dried gourds (complete with dried seeds to rattle), some unusual pumpkins, pinecones, spoons and small cups. This is a very "natural" bin and encourages children to explore the patterns and textures that nature provides. To stimulate some scientific observations, I also plan on adding a sensory bin filled with moist dirt, dried beans and small shovels to the yard. My hope is that the beans will sprout over the course of the week and the children will be able to discover and investigate the growing seeds. I can't wait to hear them chatter about why the beans in the dirt sprouted, but the beans in the cornmeal did not.
The dramatic play area became a Western Cowboy Cookout. We provided lanterns, western clothes, cowboy hats, cowboy books, aluminum pots and pans, play food, a picnic table, and a bale of hay on which to sit. We try to carry this theme for several weeks, so, as time goes on we will probably put in a few more items to add interest...a "campfire" with roasting sticks, a farmer's market, a tent, books about cowboys, and more.
I do love a great dramatic play area, but I do sometimes feel that we limit the children's creativity by providing items such as realistic play food. When we give the children plastic spaghetti, it can only be spaghetti. Whereas, if we provide more natural items (pinecones, sticks, rocks, etc), the items can transform into anything the children would like them to be. So, to offer an alternative to our more "structured" dramatic play, we have a "mud-kitchen" playhouse in the sandbox where we offer the children a selection of natural and open-ended play material.
Do you have any great Autumn ideas or photos for the Outdoor Classroom? I'd love to hear them in your comments! Feel free to link to your blog.