Auburn Nature Explore Site Will Provide Benefits for Preschoolers, All Ages
Children who attend preschool and day care centers in Auburn’s Courthouse Square area can look forward to experiencing the outdoors in a healthy fun and educational environment.
Community involvement is requested in planning the Nature Explore outdoor classroom east of the Nemaha County Courthouse. A planning team began working on the project in early March. The Nature Explore Auburn site will include a green space, nature activities and gardens. It will be open to all ages.
In mid-March, the Auburn City Council unanimously approved allowing use of the area for the outdoor classroom.
The Green Team of First United Methodist Church, Auburn, earlier received a generous gift from the Dr. Paul and Janice Scott estate. That money was since contributed to the Nature Explore project. The area will be called Scotty’s Garden.
Project Was Vision of Preschool Director
The outdoor classroom was a vision of Deb Reiman, director of Little Learners Preschool in Courthouse Square.
Kim Beger of the committee said Auburn Community Gardens representatives invited Deb Reiman to share her vision. Beger represents Auburn First United Methodist Church and Auburn Community Gardens on the committee.
“We wanted to focus one of our missions on children. We wanted something for space. Deb had a vision to build an outdoor classroom,” Beger said.
The Auburn Community Gardens are in their fourth year. The gardens were started by the Green Team, which consists of individuals who are interested in gardening as an outreach to the community. The team also addresses areas of hunger and environmental stewardship. The purpose of the gardens is to promote healthy eating and community relationships.
“I take my preschoolers to Tree Adventure at Arbor Day Farm every year. They love it when they go up there to play. It’s something that we don’t have in Auburn. This will benefit the children and families,” Deb Reiman said.
Besides Little Learners Preschool, Southeast Nebraska Community Action Head Start, Tiny Tots Daycare, the soon to open Kids of the Kingdom Daycare, and Calvert Elementary School and preschool are all within walking distance of the site.
“It will be a perfect opportunity to expose children to nature on a daily basis. I want to see more collaboration between schools, preschools and child care facilities, working together more and bringing our kids together,” Deb Reiman said.
“I’ve seen a decline in families spending time with their children outdoors and children knowing how to play in nature. We need to provide them a safe environment for them to do it,” she said.
Nature Deficit Disorder studies have shown a disconnection of children with nature because of so many electronic influences that children have daily, Deb Reiman said.
“Everything will be natural. There may be old trees they can climb on, a treehouse platform, and tying hammocks together to build swings and hammocks. It will encourage a lot more creativity. (Children) will have to work together to build, construct and create,” she said.
“It will be a perfect opportunity to expose children to nature on a daily basis. I want to see more collaborations between schools, preschools and child care facilities, working together more and bringing our kids together,” Deb Reiman said.
“I loved moving to Courthouse Square. I love the feeling, the beauty and the older building, but lack of outdoor space is a negative. This will help in that area,” Deb Reiman said. Little Learners Preschool opened last fall.
“I’d like to see the community come together and support the kids. It will fill that lot. It [Nature Explore] will benefit the kids, the community and the neighborhood. We will try and pull in all of the resources we can. It’s an exciting start,” Beger said.
Mary Kruger, another committee member, said the selected site is also a possible tourist attraction as seniors may come to watch activities. Kruger represents the City of Auburn Parks Committee and the Auburn Community Garden Club.
Other Nature Explore planning team members are: Kevin Reiman, Auburn Public Schools superintendent; Christa Skaggs, preschool parent and community activist; Samantha Wehenkel, District 29 preschool; Dennis Wittmann, Nemaha County commissioner, Auburn Optimists and Trinity Lutheran Church preschool board member; Lynsey Ligouri, Tiny Tots Daycare; Amber Kinnaman, 19th Street Bakery, neighbor and grant writer and Brent Comstock, Auburn High School junior and technology consultant.
“This designation will honor the lasting love of Dr. Paul and Janice Scott who spent their lifetimes working to help children be healthy and outdoor gardens are a thing of beauty. This is a community project and we truly believe that this is good for all of us. It is all about community and children. We all benefit from working together in ways that foster healthy children,” said the Rev. Fred Richart of First United Methodist Church.
The Green Team is an outstanding advocate for children, Pastor Richart said.
Project Phases; Contribution Levels
Planned start of the project is the fall of 2012, or sooner as funds become available. Anticipated completion time is summer/fall of 2013.
The project is being divided into three phases:
Phase 1: $15,000 to $20,000—includes dirt work/boulders, fences, fall planting, entry feature, water garden and grass.
Phase 2: $20,001 to $30,000—includes gardening, flooring and raised beds.
Phase 3: $30,001 to $45,000—includes building structures/stage/tree houses, storage sheds, sand and marimbas.
Contribution levels are: up to $100, Acorn; $101-$250, Pine cone; $251-$500, Maple; $501-$1000, Sycamore; $1001-$2500 Cottonwood and $2501-$5,000, Oak.
Various Concepts Recommended
During the third week of March, committee members met with representatives of Nature Explore: Kara Hesser and Julie Rose and Jeff Lindstrom, landscape architect, who presented the concept plan.
It was suggested that the space be divided into clearly delineated areas for different types of activities. It was also recommended that diverse activity areas be included. Those areas included: an entry; rain garden; and areas for gathering, nature art, building, garden, music and movement, climbing and crawling, messy materials and an open area.
There may be a separate area for storage, or storage may be included within each area as needed. It was suggested that the rain garden be in a lower corner, to allow it to drain appropriately to avoid standing water. Rose said that there is a rain garden on the Sheridan School property in Lincoln.
Also recommended were components which were durable and require low maintenance. Components recommended included: at-ease benches, a nature art table, split rail fence, “tree cookie” flooring, raised beds in the garden area and picnic tables. There will be no playground equipment.
A split rail fence will provide a backdrop to the building area. Rose said the fence will allow one to believe that you will be safe when the children are present. “Tree cookie” flooring is a slice of a tree which incorporates the tree’s rings. Rose said that while that flooring is beautiful, it is tricky to install.
Incorporating raised beds into the slope of the garden area was suggested as it will help control erosion. It was encouraged to leave a walkway through the center of the garden. Also suggested was to create multiple art areas into the nature art area. That area will be used by a wide range of children. An accessible table was suggested for the building area to allow children to work while standing up.
The area will be accessible in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The goal is to accommodate everyone as much as possible. Grading will be minimal even though there is a steep slope on the north side.
Nature Explore a Collaborative Project
Nature Explore is a collaborative project of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation of Lincoln. Nature Explore has been in existence for about 12 years. Its work was based on research and field testing.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to help our children develop their ‘whole’ self,” Rose said.
“You need to create an environment different from a regular playground. You need to help children connect to nature and to connect children with the natural world. It is developmentally appropriate to get young children involved,” Rose said.
While children are challenged to manipulate the various areas, there have been fewer accidents in such areas. The outdoor classrooms are created with safety in mind, including fall zones and making the area accessible to all, she said.
It was recommended to use appropriate material for the fall zones. Decomposed granite is used at Arbor Day Farm, Rose said.
The messy materials area was suggested for towards the front of the classroom, because it encompasses the concept and theme of the Nature Explore classroom.
Lindstrom said that once the design proposal for the garden was approved by the committee, he would start design work as soon as possible.
In designing the entry, Lindstrom said that children will be entering a special place. He said that it was enlightening to get children to engage with nature.
“They need to know that children can associate with a special place that’s theirs. The gathering area is a chance to bring together a group to talk about what’s going to happen that day before exploring the rest of the classroom. I like to create an environment that can be manipulated by the child,” Lindstrom said.
“We want to set up with the infrastructure to establish an outdoor classroom that will build character with time. We’re thrilled that you’re doing everything you can to make it happen as soon as possible,” he said.
“You want to be conscious of your neighbors. You want to address the slope and drainage. We like to apply appropriate challenges for children but we do not want erosion issues,” Lindstrom said.
Suggestions Presented for
Activities, Community Involvement
Lindstrom said that the Auburn Nature Explore committee represented diverse areas. He suggested that the committee members communicate regularly.
“It’s a great collaborative effort. You have something awesome going,” Lindstrom said.
He suggested utilizing landscapers and Auburn residents with gardening skills.
“People get excited when they can utilize their gardening skills,” Lindstrom said.
Suggestions Nature Explore representatives presented to the committee included requesting permission to utilize the side of an adjacent building for a mural. Other suggestions included a backdrop for various activities, including outdoor movies. Rose said that is done during the summer at Prescott School in Lincoln, which attracts a good community attendance.
Rose suggested involving community members as much as possible. It was also suggested to involve the county surveyor and Nemaha Natural Resources District staff.
Planning team members are willing to speak to any interested organizations about the project.
“It’s rolling along. It’s going to become reality. Dr. Paul Scott had a plan to keep his values in motion. “He left a legacy for children and gardens. Those values and those plans are now mowing forward. He saw his gratitude and made a plan to leave something,” Richart said.