The natural outdoor classroom has been a big addition to St. Mary’s School in Estevan, and it continues to grow.
The outdoor classroom concept started a couple of years ago, said principal Ryan Jutras, and most recently the school purchased a bunch of outdoor, natural playground furniture from Bieninstock Natural Playgrounds in Ontario.
The school added some furniture where children could sit, including a stump and cluster activity pod. There are now four such areas where kids can sit and climb.
“There are a couple of smaller logs that are on the ground for kids to sit on,” said Jutras. “And then we have a couple of what they call milled logs.”
The whole concept behind the playground is to give kids a space where they can learn with their classmates in an outdoor environment, but also to have that furniture double as an area where kids can play when they’re outdoors.
The school has had a couple of partners on the project. St. Mary’s used the school division’s well-being grant, which they receive annually, to purchase equipment.
“Additionally we had our school community council … contributing as well, and then we had some funds from our own school-level budgeting. We were able to use it to purchase the furniture and have it brought to Estevan.”
The natural outdoor classroom has been a concept at St. Mary’s for about three years. When Jutras started at the school, a fence area had already been extended.
“There’s been some hardscaping work done, with some concrete brought in with a nice beautiful circle, with an aggregate cross in the middle, and some other furniture for kids to be able to gather around.”
The plan is to further expand the amount of furniture from the company to increase learning opportunities for kids.
The school has a committee with Jutras and a couple of staff members, who discuss what they can do to make it an effective learning and play space. St. Mary’s would also like to receive some feedback from students.
“We’re hoping in the next year or two that we can continue to add a few more things and make it a nice, unique space for kids to learn outside the four walls of the classroom.”
The kids are excited about the classroom. Teachers book time for the students to learn out there.
When the weather is nice, a lot of the older kids will be reading and completing other work.
“I know they were extremely excited to see all of the new furniture come and arrive earlier this week, and since then kids have been out there playing on it and sitting on it, and it’s been fun.”
The number of kids that can be out there has grown.
“Every piece of furniture or every piece of play equipment that we add to that space just increases the kids’ enjoyment, or adds to the value of that area,” said Jutras.