It Not "Just Recess" Anymore!

Teachers often heave a sigh of relief when they take their students out to recess. Finally! The children can burn off the pent up energy they had been accruing for the past few hours indoors. But what if we change our outlook on outdoor play time? What if we create an outdoor environment that offered all of the learning opportunities that one would typically find indoors? What if children could run out to a well-planned play yard to find experiences in math, science, nature, dramatic play, water, building and construction, sensory activities, physical development, art and music? What if they play yard developed critical thinking, discovery, problem solving, and cooperative skills? The result would be that we wouldn't have "just recess" anymore. We would have The Outdoor Classroom!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Train Station Dramatic Play

As a Reggio-inspired school, we try to incorporate child-initiated, project-based learning (similar to emergent themes) throughout the curriculum and school environment.
As a curriculum coordinator at the school, I try to integrate projects that are taking place in each classroom into the shared-by-all areas of the patio, yard and atelier (project/art studio). 

Currently, our 3 year olds are studying about trains. Last week, we added a train component to our hollow block center on the yard (see above). In a large wicker basket, we set out engineer hats, scarves, and large wooden trains. We also set up a basket of paper, coloring pencils, and books to inspire sketching, drawing and reading about trains (below). Many children designed great trains using the large hollow blocks.

To extend the project, this week we painted a large 'bullet train' in the Project Room. We also learned to sketch trains in our Exploring Art class, added trains and tracks to the free-choice patio environment, and we transformed our dramatic play area into a train station! Enjoyed by all, these activities were specifically aimed at our three year olds to extend and enhance their project. Not to be left out, each of our other classes enjoyed an array of activities that were geared specifically to their ongoing projects and interests!

Painting the bullet train. Furnace boxes are perfect!!

Wagons were set out for train rides and shared motor activities

Our 'bullet train' made in the atelier. Duct taped for durability ;-)

In addition to a set of pre-printed 'train tickets,' we set out paper and coloring pencils for the children to create their own tickets. 

We posted a map of our local Metro on the front of the ticket booth.

Tickets, please!

Incorporating projects into shared spaces not only stimulates learning for the intended class, but enhances the environment and sparks new interests for all the other students in the school.


  1. This is so amazing! I wish that I was able to have an outdoor classroom at my school. Kids can learn so much from the great outdoors. I guess I have to work with what we have! Thanks for sharing and keep the great info coming.

  2. Thanks for the nice comment! EVERYONE can have an Outdoor Classroom...even the smallest of spaces. Let me know if I can be of any assistance to you :-).

  3. I just found your blog and am so inspired! I work with sites in the bay area and we are working on new outdoor classroom plans. Wanted your opinion on hollow blocks. We are trying to decide whether to shell out $1200 for the Community Plaything set:
    or get the cheaper Childcraft set:

    Any recommendations! Soon we will be having our own train/plane/fort adventures!!!