Learning environment

New outdoor learning environment coming soon | Education

Mountain Sun Community School continues to move forward with the next phase of the Natural Play Project (NPP). The North Carolina State Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) in Raleigh has designed a master plan for an Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) that will be developed on the Brevard Music Center (BMC) campus to serve various families and children from Transylvania County.

As part of the Transylvania County Early Years Get Set initiative, Mountain Sun Community School (MSCS) partnered with local organizations and launched the Natural Play Project in 2018. The nuclear power plant offers programs free nature-based education for young children and their families. A growing body of research indicates the cognitive, emotional, academic, and health benefits of getting children outside for active play. The NPP engages participants in developmentally appropriate activities in outdoor environments that promote the development of executive function, language and motor skills, family ties, and school readiness.

“BMC is proud to partner with Mountain Sun to provide healthy and stimulating outdoor experiences on our campus for all the children in our community,” said Mark Weinstein, President of the Brevard Music Center.

The development of OLE will significantly increase the capacity and accessibility of these programs. The site will also be used for educator workshops and professional development. The project received generous support from Pisgah Forest Rotary, the Glass Foundation, the Rodger and Kate Graef Family Foundation and the St. Philip’s Foundation to fund the initial development of the site. Program partners include The Family Place, El Centro, Rise & Shine, and Brevard Music Center.

“Early in the design process, we gathered feedback from teachers, community partners and our students,” said McNeill Mann, natural education coordinator at MSCS. “I am delighted to see their ideas come to life! I also look forward to future days of volunteer work – many hands make work fun. “

The construction of the OLE will take place in phases depending on the type of work to be done, funding and timing. In phase 1, the focus will be on the completion of all tasks that will require the earthwork and formatting of the site. This will include the construction of trails, water management features and the creation of specific terrain features. During phase 1, natural features such as large logs and rocks will be placed throughout the site.

Phase 2 and beyond will include landscaping and construction of specific ‘elements’ of the natural learning environment, including a ‘mud kitchen’, balance and scramble areas, garden edible and a garden for pollinators, a natural building station, a science and weather station, and Suite.

The community can get involved in several ways. There will be volunteer opportunities for hands-on projects such as building a patio, planting and landscaping, spreading mulch and many other tasks. There will also be sponsorship opportunities for people and local businesses who wish to support this community enterprise through donations, in-kind donations of materials or services and time. If you would like to get involved as a volunteer or donate, contact McNeill Mann at [email protected]

Mountain Sun Community School is an independent, non-profit 501c3 school in Brevard. Mountain Sun serves children ages 3 through middle school and combines Montessori education with outdoor exploration, artistic creativity, and community service. Visit http://mountainsunschool.org/or call (828) 885-2555 for more information.

(Mann is the natural education coordinator at Mountain Sun Community School.)