by Jessie Pounds, News & Advance
There’s a playground right behind Randolph College Nursery School but on Wednesday, teacher Shanna Jackson had her sights set farther afield.
Five small hands grabbed a rope stretched between Jackson and her helper Carrie McCane, and the group headed off, down one hill and up another, to a garden at the far reaches of Randolph’s campus.
Jackson is helping the school try out something new this year: a class aimed at five-year-olds with a special focus on outdoor learning.
There’s a mix of some students who are five and some who are almost five. Regular nature excursions, such as the one Wednesday, began not long ago this spring.
Randolph’s organic garden, near the Maier Museum, is full of interesting features: a chicken coop and penned yard, a frog pond, and rows of garden beds. Jackson and McCane had a specific assignment for their young investigators Wednesday — use a clipboard to document something new they hadn’t seen before. That prompted a lot of conversations about what might or might not count as something new.
Jackson said the group has started going on excursions to outdoor spots on campus two to three times per week, so this isn’t the first time for exploring the garden.
Sitting on a picnic blanket, Josephine Wasson spotted a bug no bigger than the tip of a pencil.
“Here, jump onto me!” she told the insect.
Mikaela Mehrotra drew a group of tadpoles pointed out to her by Wyatt Button. One of the leaders helped her write “TADPOLES” too.
Later Jackson read to the children from a book about praying mantises — relevant because there are two praying mantis egg sacks in the garden. The students ate a snack, watered some strawberries they’d planted, and took some time to run around.
Jackson said she worries if children aren’t able to understand and appreciate nature it will have repercussions for society when they grow up.
“At the end of the day these are the people who are going to be solving our problems in the future,” she said.
Nursery School director Holly Layne said the idea for the program has its roots in research she did about children and the outdoors and other outdoor learning programs. Some families are looking to delay starting their children in kindergarten, so that’s helping drive the interest in an older class.
“I thought, ‘Wow, with this amazing, wonderful campus we have, why don’t we try it?’” Layne said.
Jackson said they are working to figure out some appropriate outdoor winter activities for next year — sitting and reading a book for example, won’t work in the cold. Layne suggested the school might set up some outdoor structures for shelter.
Tuition for the morning class is $75 per week, with afternoon care available for an additional price. The class has five spots out of eight left for next year.