Child's Play by the Bay's new outdoor oasis of natural learning stations now offers young children the first Certified Nature Explore classroom in Delaware.
Owners Sarah Feist and Alisha Melesky said they spent the winter gathering materials and volunteers to transform the back yard of their childhood development center on Savannah Road into an outdoor classroom with as many as 10 different learning stations. Standard plastic playground equipment has been replaced with play areas designed to engage children in exploration and cooperative play.
"It's a small space but we've tried to use every inch in a purposeful way," Feist said. "We've noticed that with the plastic equipment, the kids would run outside and play the same every day, but now parents say the kids go home talking about something new every day."
Melesky explained the yard is divided into areas that are all labeled. "Of course, the kids can't read yet, but it promotes literacy and identifies that words mean something," she said. "We don't really need to tell the kids what to do because the space lends itself to so much open-ended play."
Some areas promote sensory play, such as the messy materials station where, Melesky and Feist said, they can crack a watermelon and let the kids feel the squishy sensory stimulation. Other stations promote quantity matching or musicality, with instruments made from natural materials such as wooden chimes.
Feist said for the young children ages 1 to 5 who attend Child's Play, the nature explore classroom promotes as many learning opportunities as a traditional indoor classroom. Many times, she said, learning is enhanced by the change of venue.
"As far as a classroom goes, we can bring our learning outside, and essentially anything we would do inside, we can also do outdoors," Feist said.