Early childhood programs at DPNC have been the acorn in the “acorn to oak” for decades. They have long been the cornerstone of our environmental programs, inspiring an expansion into a formalized preschool in 2006 and providing generations of children with natural childhoods full of exploration that lead to a lifetime love of nature. Our programs for our youngest explorers, from Wee Wanderers with babies in carriers, to Chickadees classes with a caregiver and Eager Explorers where children get their first experience being on their own, have endured over the years with their gentle and natural way of introducing children to nature.
Our “Small Classroom” however, has not weathered the years quite as gracefully. With a tremendous increase in outreach, early childhood, camp, afterschool and homeschool programs, the classroom space traditionally used for early childhood programs is showing its age. The demand for these programs has increased and we have clearly outgrown the space. Providing an enjoyable and welcoming environment for children when they first venture out of the home and start to learn independence is critical.
Joe Frost, Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas has dedicated his research to children’s play spaces, particularly outdoor playgrounds. He describes the qualities that are critical for appropriate play spaces. “Good play environments have magical qualities that transcend the here and now, the humdrum, and the typical. They have flow qualities-qualities that take children to other places and other times. They are permeated with awe and wonder, both in rarity and in imaginative qualities.”
While taking children outside is the main event of all of DPNC programs, an indoor play space is also necessary to provide the gentle transition our youngest visitors need. Our job is to ensure that the indoor play spaces provide the same peaceful harmony that people feel when they are in nature. Little did we know a beautiful space was just under our noses all along!
With the addition of the Avery Welcome Center & Store at Coogan Farm we had the opportunity to combine our two stores into one, allowing us to create a new classroom space in the store at DPNC. Families dedicated to sharing their love of nature with their children and grandchildren deserve the most beautiful spaces we have to offer. Walking in the classroom they should feel a sense of magic and light. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the former DPNC Store. A classroom in this space matches the importance of the programs we offer for young children. With tall, bright windows, warm wood panels and a welcoming carpet where young people could play on we had our new classroom space in our sights. Minor remodeling complimented by decorations from our early childhood staff had us ready to welcome children just after Labor Day. The addition of a resident bunny and future plans to add comfy chairs for bird watching and nature ID corner for visitors to use when programs are not in session make this a welcoming new space for everyone to enjoy. Be sure to stop in soon to see the new changes, and say hello to “Cinnamon” our new rabbit. Don’t worry if you liked picking out great ID books, gifts and fun toys when picking your child up from a class, we still have a store kiosk at DPNC for all your most important nature exploration needs!