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Youngsters Exploring Through Nature

Good Fieldwork Team Provides Backyard Classrooms To Home, Small Daycare Centers Through State's OPSR Foundation

Learning life skills from nature's ambiance became easier for many regional and Oklahoma youngsters, thanks to creative efforts of a Tulsa team at Good Fieldwork. This team excels in focusing on designing and executing outdoor classrooms, operating as a branch of Jonesplan.

“We've learned how to best create hands-on, innovative opportunities for children to grow and develop outside. It’s about kids learning from interacting, making decisions, being self-aware, falling down and yes, getting dirty. It’s what's called ‘risky play.’ It feels good to make a beneficial impact like this," says Mary Jones, an architect who serves as a designer and marketing manager for the company.

Good Fieldwork experts currently are working with leaders of the state-funded program Oklahoma Clearinghouse for Early Childhood Success (Clearinghouse), a project of Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness Foundation (OPSR), to provide natural learning environments for qualified home daycares and small daycare centers. 

Playing outdoors and exploring nature engages children's senses, which fosters their cognitive growth, creativity and critical thinking. Early child development educators confirm these types of experiences help children develop social skills, learn to share, solve problems and work together.

Mary says they get to reimagine typical playgrounds, sensory-driven setups and how nature can channel learning. "It's so satisfying to transform backyards into fun and engaging outdoor classrooms."

Prior to this present initiative for home daycares and small centers, a Jonesplan crew, as the official construction partner of Good Fieldwork, built six state-of-the-art outdoor classrooms at Tulsa Educare’s flagship campus. Each classroom is uniquely age-appropriate for three separate age groups and designed to maximize developmental opportunities for outdoor learning in both the physical and mental sense. Each has a wide array of child-safe landscaping and several types of natural play and walking surfaces, explains Mary. 

For example, children can explore sciences by learning in a butterfly garden, climbing over logs and developing gross motor skills, or working with peers and developing communication skills while tending to a vegetable garden.

Among the grant recipients as childcare providers were Tulsa-based Early Stages Childcare and Jewel’s Place Enrichment Childcare.

“At OPSR we are excited to bring, by program end, 27 new outdoor learning classrooms to the state of Oklahoma," says Carrie Williams, OPSR executive director. "We know young children learn best through imaginative play, and we believe these outdoor classrooms will have a huge impact on children in these communities.”

Carrie says through the Oklahoma Clearinghouse for Early Childhood Success, OPSR provides an avenue for public and private partners to invest in early childhood care and education.

"We're able to support childcare providers who make a significant impact on the communities they serve and on the state’s economy. Research shows quality early child care is the best predictor of long-term academic success for students, making child care the first step in preparing the workforce of tomorrow," she shares. 

This project is just one example of the successful outcomes Oklahoma can achieve through wise investments in the early years, Carrie asserts. 

Mary Griffin, Clearinghouse director, says the Clearinghouse program was developed in response to the needs they heard directly from childcare providers across the state.

"Highlighted by the experiences during the pandemic, providers told us about their desperate need for outdoor learning spaces. Through this open grant program, the Clearinghouse received more than 190 applications from 55 different counties in Oklahoma," says Mary. 

Carrie says the level of response received regarding these backyard classrooms "not only speaks to the need, but also the potential impact.”

Each grant recipient is committed to supporting outdoor, nature-based learning environments that encourage students to use their imaginations and engage with their surroundings.

"Each backyard outdoor classroom has a unique entryway." ~Mary Jones, Good Fieldwork.

  • Mary Jones, architect, Good Fieldwork