By Shannon Wise, Nature Preschool Manager
The Discovery Wall
As you scan the walls in each Nature Preschool classroom, you will find our Discovery Wall. It is a space filled with photographs of animals, plants, or natural objects along with categorization labels. This blend of play, experience, and science tells a story much deeper than what you encounter at first sight.
Being outdoors and exploring in nature is the heart and soul of our Nature Preschool. Each and every day the children travel the trails, open to the possibilities of the environment. It could be a multi-colored leaf, a wiggly worm, or a tenacious toad reacting to the touch of a child as he wiggles and squirms in a tight grasp. Through these experiences, the children are making connections with a special place that is beyond their developmentally appropriate egocentric view. This widens their focus and opens up their eyes to the larger world around them often building feelings of love, compassion, kindness, and respect. All of these emotions are vital to early childhood development and learning, and natural experiences provide a teaching opportunity to help children connect with these abstract concepts of interrelationships. The Discovery Wall is a visual tool that promotes this social and cognitive growth which aligns with what we know about early childhood development and the values of outdoor play here at the Schuylkill Center.
So what is the Discovery Wall and why it is important? I look back to the very first year of Nature Preschool when it all started in September 2013. I was getting to know the Schuylkill Center, the children, and my co-teachers, who all displayed talents and interests so intriguing that I was not sure where to begin or how it all connected. For me, it all came down to the “community” concept. I was determined to make everyone feel welcome and show the strengths of my co-teachers. Miss Nicole, now the lead teacher in our Sycamore classroom, immediately showed a quiet internal motivation to take in more at the Schuylkill Center and briefly shared photographs she had taken on a personal hike along the trails at Morning Meeting. That was one piece to the puzzle. Miss Rebecca sprang into action and began to research names and information about the “discoveries” displayed in the photos. And there it was…photography, nature, experience, and community all coming together. These photographs were the beginning of our very first Discovery Wall and planted the seeds for its development in following years.
Now, I smile each time I enter the Sycamore, Sassafras, and Sweet Gum rooms. Each Discovery Wall has a variety of pictures that show the patterns and cycle of experiences in nature. There are seasonal finds, native treasures, and occasionally that rare encounter that speaks to a bigger mystery or happening. The unique interests of the children are also highlighted as we follow their lead for what to find, acknowledge, and post in the classroom. When a child makes a personal connection with something along the trails, the teachers often guide the group to stop and take a look with their “Stop in the Name of Nature” phrase and song. Gathering around, the children learn how to share time and space, as they take in this find together. The Discovery Wall allows the teachers to extend the experience into the classroom. The work and dedication to this classroom space shows the teachers’ ongoing efforts to display the work of the children in a natural context. Our program and teachers value children as learners, focusing on through experience and play. The Discovery Wall is one continued reminder of that. Be sure to take a look at the Discovery Walls in each of the classrooms to get a glimpse into their treasures along the trails.