7171 N Pennsylvania St, Indianapolis, IN 46240
A Cooperative Preschool Established in 1960
Thanks to a partnership with First Congregational Church UCC, becoming a Nature Explore Classroom was a natural fit for our half-acre, shaded playground. Areas are naturally incorporated for running, climbing, digging, reading, sorting, stepping, crawling, riding, dramatic play, sledding, rolling, exploring, observing, journaling, swinging, laughing and playing.
The new Directors’ Garden is situated between the school entrance and the welcome entry to the playground. In the 50-plus-year history of the school, there have only been three people to serve as directors. All three women were also co-op parents and teachers at MHCNS&K. Plants from each director’s home join together in the Director’s Garden, including plants from Shari Robinson’s garden, the beloved teacher and director of 25 years in whose name we are dedicating the Nature Explore Classroom.
Entering though a secure gate and a beautiful willow arbor, parents and children walk on a 50th anniversary commemorative pathway, annually enhanced brick-by-brick by loyal parents. Children from the upstairs classrooms enter and run freely into open space. Children on the ground level enter the nature space across the Nature Art Area and concrete patio. The playground is open to neighborhood families, as well.
OPEN AREA/CLIMBING AND CRAWLING
A sidewalk is incorporated around a towering American Sweetgum tree. Big Wheels and trikes whiz around the space that circles the monkey bars and the sand table. Beside the six regular swings and tire swing is a Very Hungry Caterpillar made from recycled tires.
MESSY MATERIALS AREA
Water supplied to the mud kitchen from an outdoor hose spigot can be dumped from a pulley system over the sink. The large sandbox on the hill is where children can dig with shovels or moveable diggers, and a sandbox table is available with sand toys.
Up the hill is a large culvert for crawling through and an adjacent log that often serves as the fulcrum for a teeter totter made with a loose plank. A bench houses a supply of planks, and close by are cherry log stumps that are often a foundation of builders with the loose plank parts.
NATURE ART AREA
Painting will be done on the new (parent made) acrylic easels so children can see one another, water painting happens on the shed doors, and chalk drawings are done on the concrete.
A birdfeeder made by the children add to the regular feeder outside the lower classroom window and is hung in the American Sweetgum tree in the center of the sidewalk.
MUSIC AND MOVEMENT AREA
Large scarves are provided for weaving in and out of tall trunks or over by the “Music by the Magnolia” tree. Wind chimes are hung, a xylophone is close by along the fence, and often a separate set of drums is brought out for play.
In the sunny northeast corner of the playground is a sensory garden with stepping stones for little feet to wander, noses to sniff and little hands to feel.
The indoors naturally flow into outdoors, with circle time under a tree or a picnic snack on blankets. Rain or shine, we teach our children and parents that there is no bad weather, just the wrong clothes.
The shed area along the southwest side of the playground houses equipment, including balls, hula hoops, snow and dirt shovels, riding toys and sand toys.
The space we call our Forest Kindergarten is an outdoor classroom carved out of the wilderness of the Meridian Hills Creek ravine and is adjacent to the fenced-in playground. A variety of academic and exploratory activities take place in this space, and children have opportunities to make observations about the world around them through the changing seasons, and to become conscientious stewards of the natural world.
An integral part of the cooperative preschool philosophy is parent involvement. A board of directors administers the business aspect of the school, and all parents have ownership over the enhancements given to the playground. With fall and spring outdoor workdays, along with the occasional extra Saturday project, the caretaking of the playground brings out 20+ parents each time to mulch, build, clean, pull weeds, trim trees, repair equipment, clean and paint. The army of “can-do” parents are the caretakers of our Nature Explore Classroom.