The Benfield Elementary School PTA’s outdoor learning committee recently revealed its new outdoor nature space. This area, located on school property, is intended to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play.
The nature space includes four areas. An active play area allows children to use gross motor skills. The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) area is ideal for constructive and exploratory play. A bird/butterfly garden is intended for solitary and exploratory play. Lastly, the dramatic play area is complete with a stage for creative play.
The outdoor learning committee is chaired by Benfield parent Allison Holcomb. Other committee members include Jordan Blackburn, Jess Duncan, Betsy Gonzalez, Susan Knapp and Lizzie Willis.
“Our goal was to design an outdoor space available to all students each day for both free play and facilitated learning,” Holcomb said. “We are excited that Benfield students will be able to experience the social, academic and psychological benefits of learning in a natural setting.”
The new nature space was created in collaboration with Julie Dieguez of The Wild Child LLC and Severn Grove Ecological Design LLC. Principal Debi Short and the teaching staff provided input and support throughout the process.
Melanie Parker, coordinator of environmental literacy and outdoor education at Arlington Echo with Anne Arundel County Public Schools, was instrumental in helping to define the space and navigate the process.
“The addition of a natural play space to Benfield Elementary School provides great opportunities for teachers for teaching in the outdoors as well as for students to be more engaged, have opportunities for exploration and provide a setting for imaginative play,” Parker said. “It is important to increase our green spaces around our schools and make them accessible to students, because studies have shown that it provides opportunities to help reduce stress, increase academic performance, increase engagement and connect students with their natural world.”
Principal Debi Short said, “Benfield’s staff and students are so excited that our nature space play area is now ready! We are so fortunate to have such a supportive PTA that enables students to have a choice in their active play. Students can now choose to perform on a stage to a small audience, walk along a balance beam, investigate nature or read a book outside. All of this in addition to our soccer field, basketball court and playground climbing equipment.”
Students will be an important part of celebrating the new space. First, the committee will determine the name of the space by asking students to capture what the space means to them. Second, students will plant a garden in spring of 2019, made possible by a grant awarded by Unity Gardens.
“We are thrilled that our many fundraising efforts and events over the past school years have allowed us to create this amazing space for our kids to use for many years to come,” said Katie King, Benfield PTA president. “I thank the committee, our principal and awesome teaching staff, our hardworking parents and students, our community, and Anne Arundel County Public Schools for the efforts that allowed this vision to become a reality.”