Interpretation Manager Kelsey Van Voorst gets Treetop Outpost certified as a Nature Classroom

As part of Conner Prairie’s continued commitment towards nature education, Interpretation Manager Kelsey Van Voorst recently completed efforts to certify Treetop Outpost as a nature classroom. She attended a workshop in Greenwich, Connecticut on April 28 to take the final step of the certification process. In order for Treetop Outpost to become a certified nature classroom an organization has to have a well-designed outdoor space, have a representative attend a full-length workshop, and show that nature activities are being provided for families and children.
“We’ve wanted to turn Treetop Outpost into a certified Nature Explore Classroom since its inception.” said Kelsey. The organization actually helped Conner Prairie with some of the early planning stages of Treetop Outpost that included giving advice on what works and what doesn’t.
The Nature Explore Classroom Certification Program is a national initiative that recognizes schools and other organizations that have made a commitment to providing outdoor classrooms and comprehensive programming to help children use the natural world as an integral part of learning.
Voorst attended two classes that explored dynamic, nature-based play and learning spaces. The first one was titled “Learning with Nature,” where the group looked at different ways nature helps kids by reducing stress, enhancing motor skills, providing relief for kids with ADHD, and building immunity by getting in the dirt and around pollen. They also lectured on instilling confidence in kids and taking smart risks.
“We discussed the stigma around fear of kids getting hurt,” she said. “We have a fear of letting kids take risks, but studies show that if we let little kids take smart risks, they’re less likely to take big, stupid risks when they’re older.”
Another exercise they participated in was connecting with nature by selecting a natural element – such as a stick or a rock – and observing it through all your senses. “We had to be completely silent for five minutes and just investigate it. Touch it. Feel it. Smell it. I had a shell so I put it up to my ear. Then we had to either write down what we noticed or draw what we noticed,” Kelsey said.
The second class she took was called “We Dig Dirt,” which focused on infant and toddler development in natural spaces. “It was mostly about how infants and toddlers learn and how you can incorporate things in your natural space that impact them. A lot of these we already have,” Kelsey said referring to Conner Prairie’s sand and dig site, climbing and crawling opportunities and areas to build things. They also talked about the basic elements of safety and toddler care such as health, comfort, convenience, and more.
The entire program also touched a bit on conservation and being good stewards of the natural world. There was one quote she really liked.“‘Teach children to love the earth before we ask them to save it.’”
Nature Explore collaborates with Nature Action Collaborative for Children, Keep American Beautiful, Children and Nature Network, and The Outdoor Classroom Project. Learn more by visiting their website.