June Harless Center awarded Sprout Grant

A child working in the outdoor learning environment to paint what she sees growing in the garden. This picture was taken in Huntington at the Marshall University Early Education STEM Center on Marshall’s campus.

The June Harless Center has been awarded a Sprout Grant to assist in the construction of the outdoor learning space for the Marshall University Early Education STEM Center in Gilbert. This project, named A.C.O.R.N.S  (A Classroom Only Roofed by Nature’s Sky), focuses on creating our outdoor learning environment to serve as the third teacher.

With this project, according to a statement from the June Harless Center, the organization plan to focus on the outside space by placing value on aesthetics, organization, thoughtfulness, provocation, communication, and interaction with each other.

The outdoor learning environment can stimulate the child’s imagination, creativity, exploration, discovery, engagement, and sense of wonder. This project, the statement said, will engage children, families, community members, and community partners by providing a purpose to collaborate and learn together.

“Our center believes that outdoor learning is as important as what occurs inside the classroom,” the statement said. “The creation of meaningful outdoor spaces is important to our approach. By purposefully designing the proposed outdoor space, children will be given opportunities to observe and interact with nature and learn social skills through exploration.

“Another focus and need unique to this project is that learning will not only occur with children, but also with educators,” the statement said, “Teachers will have the opportunity to visit and learn from an approach to community engagement and outdoor play.”

In the first phase, design and planning, the center intends to continue organizing partners, seeking out community members, experts, and collaborating to gain support. The center’s team of stakeholders will meet to construct a plan for the creation of this space.

During phase two, creation of space, our goal is to include children, families, teachers, and the community in creating the environment. Some preliminary ideas for this space are herb and vegetable gardens, natural and found materials area, loose parts, elements of sound, mirrors, and dramatic play.

The statement said that, through these experiences, children will have the opportunity to develop skills such as classification, inference, description, and comparison.

In the third phase, implementation and modification, the center plans to utilize the space and continue to document and reflect on the space created.

“Our center also hopes to serve as a professional development opportunity for pre-service and in-service teachers. We have planned to work on this project in three phases over the course of one year,” the statement said. “Partners that are crucial to the success of this project include the Larry Joe Harless Community Center, Mingo County Schools, West Virginia Department of Education, Marshall University, and Women in Education Forum.”

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