Frazer’s pilot program—an inclusive, nature-based, early education curriculum—was in development before the pandemic. During the shut-down, Frazer staff, in partnership with Dr. Gary Bingham and his team from the Georgia State University Urban Child Learning Center, were able to fast-track the curriculum development and created 77 learning units.
Having those lessons on paper is one thing. Putting them into practice is another. And that’s where Kim Corson comes in. A Frazer Center teacher since 2016, Kim was promoted to the position of Nature-Based Curriculum Coordinator. Her background made her an obvious candidate for the role.
Kim holds a Bachelor of Science in Parks and Recreation Management, with a minor in Forestry, from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Several internships took her to Virginia and Georgia with the U.S. Forest Service where she helped with forest and trail maintenance, collected research data, installed signage, checked campsites, marked forestry boundaries, and helped with special events.
“It was a great experience,” says Kim. “I made a lot of friends, learned to work with different tools. It gave me an appreciation of nature, and it made me know what I’m capable of—climbing over rocks, hiking through thickets of mountain laurel, overcoming a fear of spiders. It definitely prepared me for this job, even years later!”
The Forest Service work also helped her realize that she was more of a city person. “I wanted more close contact with people, and I wanted to work with children.” So she found her way to Raleigh Parks & Recreation, and eventually landed at the YWCA where she was Summer Camp and After-School Program Director. But she still wasn’t quite sure if this was the path for her.
Kim married in Raleigh, and she and her husband moved to Atlanta in 2005. She spent four years as an office manager with the Fox Theatre and eventually felt the pull to work with children again. She trained in the field of early childhood education through the United Way and found her way to the Frazer Center as a teacher, and now as the Nature-based Curriculum Program Coordinator.
In her new role, Kim began training Frazer’s teachers by modeling lessons with the older toddler, preschool, and pre-k classes. Some of the teachers are stretching beyond their comfort zone by being in the forest. “Some,” says Kim, “are apprehensive because they think they have to know everything about the subject. But you don’t need to know. That’s why it’s here on paper, for the teachers to glance at. And not everything has to be covered every time.”
Kim demonstrates how to set the stage for that day’s lesson. She reviews the rules for being in the forest, explains to the children what they will be investigating, and then they all set out for the forest. “We really just want the teachers to have fun with it. It should be child-led but with teacher guidance. Learning by playing, with nature as the outdoor classroom.”
Kim also leads the outreach component of the nature-based program. The vision is to share the curriculum, at no cost, with early education centers in under-resourced communities, train those teachers to use the curriculum in their own outdoor spaces, and also make Frazer Forest available to them for field trips.
Our House in Decatur became the first school to partner with Frazer. Once a month, Kim shares lessons with the Our House teachers, then she either goes to their location or they come to Frazer Forest where Kim models the lesson with their students.
Regardless of what school the children attend, Kim says “they’re all very curious and excited to get out there.” It doesn’t take long to see the cognitive benefits of outdoor learning. “They really retain more than we might think,” says Kim. “They remember the new vocabulary words we reinforce. Even the quiet ones start talking about the things they're seeing.”
Outdoor learning also generates physical development as the children discover “skills they didn’t know they had, like balancing while walking on logs. They learn their limitations and know when to ask for help. They express when they’re apprehensive about climbing or jumping off a log. Before we know it they’re doing it by themselves. They’re learning patience, and they’re learning to share space and supplies. It’s exciting to see.”
During a recent field trip to Frazer, a group of children from Our House went on an adventure in the forest with Ms. Kim. While exploring a fallen tree, a 4-year-old shrieked at the sight of a tiny spider. With the support of Kim, the Our House teachers, and the example of her peers, the child climbed on the log anyway and walked the length of it. At the end she hopped off and cheered “I DID IT! I DID IT!” A young Kim Corson, perhaps, facing her fear of spiders and stretching her limits.
Kim is excited to share Frazer’s inclusion, nature-based curriculum with more early childhood education centers in the metro Atlanta area. There is no fee to participate. If you are interested, or know of a center that might be interested in learning more about the program, please contact Kim Corson at email@example.com.
FUN FACT: Kim is a published children’s book author. My Good Morning was inspired by her daughter and features the joys and trials of getting a three-year-old out the door in the morning. Illustrated by Jelena Brezovec.