Frazer Center welcomed State Senator Sheikh Rahman for a visit in our outdoor classroom, Frazer Forest.
Senator Rahman of Georgia’s 5th District is chair of the Senate Outdoor Learning Study Committee. Spurred by the pandemic and the urgent need for safe and healthy educational settings, this bi-partisan committee is exploring the possibilities and feasibility of outdoor learning across the state of Georgia.
As part of this study, Rahman is visiting several sites around the state. Frazer Center caught his attention thanks to our nature-based early education initiative.
Senator Rahman joined Frazer CEO Paige McKay Kubik in the forest to observe a classroom of 3-year-olds. The “Ocean” classroom was on a scavenger hunt. The children were partnered with a buddy, and each pair carried a laminated card showing an image and word for various items to search for in the forest—acorns, logs with moss, insects, for example. Once the children found an object, they marked its image on the card with a dot.
Through these on-site observations, Rahman is recognizing that the benefits of outdoor learning spread far beyond fresh air. As Kubik explains, “There’s definitely a STEAM component to these types of activities. Hands-on engagement encourages creativity, innovative thinking, curiosity, questions. But it also provides opportunities for social and emotional development. These children are learning to work in teams toward common goals.”
The mental health benefits of outdoor learning are significant as well. Increased screen time during the pandemic is taking a toll on the mental well-being of children and adults. Research is showing that natural settings provide a restorative antidote not just for students but for teachers who tend to experience less burnout by working outdoors (Paddle and Gilliland, 2016).
Kubik shared with Rahman some of the specific challenges Frazer faces as an early education nature-based program in Georgia, such as the lack of regulatory standards for outdoor learning.
Frazer is accredited with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and is Quality Rated through the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL). These agencies provide regulations for maintaining a safe and healthy learning environment. But when that environment extends beyond the school playground, guidance is lacking for early education centers.
The Frazer team figures out what will work best to keep our children safe while learning in the forest and then makes sure that we are still in compliance with DECAL regulations. But without state accreditation standards, nature-based early learning programs in Georgia will remain rare and inaccessible, especially to communities that are under-resourced.
Rahman and the committee are examining ways to invest in outdoor learning programs, looking at the dollars that are already going into education and rethinking how they’re used.
There’s no doubt that children benefit from outdoor learning, whether they live in an urban or rural setting. The Frazer Center team is honored to be a resource for Senator Rahman and the Senate Outdoor Learning Study Committee as they strive to make nature-based learning a natural part of Georgia’s education system.