- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

MANDAN, N.D. (AP) - West River Head Start in Mandan is engaging students in a unique way with the construction of an outdoor classroom.

The classroom has been incorporated into the program’s STEAM curriculum since it was designed in 2013. It infuses science, technology, engineering, art and math.

West River Head Start in Mandan has the only outdoor classroom in the Bismarck-Mandan area.

The idea formed during a presentation about outside learning at a North Dakota Head Start Association conference, said Jeff Kolosky, director of West River Head Start.

After pairing the idea with his dissertation, Kolosky discovered that kids’ “cognitive abilities are greatly improved in an outdoor environment.”

“They like to be outside and they like to discover, and create,” Kolosky said. “It’s a more valuable learning experience.”

The outdoor classroom creates a hands-on learning environment where kids can learn in a fun way and develop their motor and kinesthetic, or physical, skills, Kolosky told the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/ZsdQyM ).

The space dedicated for the outdoor classroom has several sections, including areas for music, art, nature, gardening and engineering, as well as a discovery center.

In the spring, the students planted vegetables in the garden area. They harvested them this fall. They were able to eat the “vegetables of their labor,” Kolosky said.

“The kids are really enjoying being out there,” he said. “They are excited to come to school and learn.”

West River Head Start teacher, Wendy Wenzirl, said that the outdoor learning environment gives students a chance to learn things for themselves.

In one class, she had them working with a water pump, putting connectors onto it.

When the water came out the wrong way the students adjusted and repositioned the connectors on their own until it was the way they wanted, Wenzirl said.

“I think they’re learning that they can intermingle,” Wenzirl said. “They don’t always have to be inside.”

A large portion of the STEAM curriculum is the hands-on fusing of the topics they learn, said Kolosky.

Another way their curriculum does that is through the addition of art into what is known as the STEM curriculum.

Kolosky said students will draw the concepts to display what they learn, which provides them with a solid foundation.

He said it’s called the multi-learning style theory, where they try to accommodate the learning styles of each kid and reaffirm prior knowledge.

“Whatever we have to do for the kids, we’ll make it happen,” Kolosky said.

Kolosky said he hopes to expand the outdoor classroom to all West River Head Start classrooms, and he would like to see it happen in the school districts as well.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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