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Friday, October 15, 2021


Life is full of surprises, and a beautiful "surprise" happened recently when we moved to Greenville, SC. One of our neighbors invited us for dinner and we were talking about our lives and careers. My neighbor mentioned that her daughter worked at a "mostly outdoor" school in Ohio, and we were immediately connected!

I want you to meet her daughter, Dawn Nauman, because what she is doing is exciting, and inspirational, and an endorsement of what early childhood education should be!

Drum roll.....Here's Dawn from the School for Young Children in Columbus, Ohio!

Children thrive on repetition. In the twos classroom, we sing the same song every time we meet, we might read the same book ten times in a row. In the threes, a child might always play with the trains to start the day, or always may be at the playdough table. A child in the fours might need the exact bike they want and a few spins around the playground to get started. Classroom schedules are comfortable repetitious time periods where kids learn to know what to expect and to understand boundaries. Familiar toys, familiar peers and familiar play themes, all those repetitious acts make up play in early childhood. And play is how kids learn. So how does taking a familiar program and becoming intentionally outside during a pandemic feed a child’s need for repetition and learning? It takes it up a notch, in an extremely valuable way.

I remember being at a play-based conference session with the SYC staff a few years ago where a facilitator described a childhood of roaming natural landscapes with her peers and playing in creeks, woods, and fields without a “toy” in sight. She talked about her play-based center which she focuses on loose parts and outdoor time and how that fits into the schemas of childhood. This year I’ve been thinking back to that conference, and that session, and the concept of schemas in early childhood and how the schemas haven’t changed with a change in plans and location but how they have been practiced in some ways in a richer environment. If you aren’t familiar with schemas, there’s a great article on They describe schema as “repeatable behavior … that you can notice in your child's play during early childhood. No matter where you are in the world, these same schemas are exhibited by kids. Experts believe that when kids repeat these patterns in different situations, kids develop physically and cognitively. In turn, they are better able to understand, navigate and interact with their worlds, resulting in transformative learning.”

This year at SYC, repeating patterns in different situations is the name of the game due to so much time with outdoor learning. Think schema combined with problem solving on the fly every day. Kids have the opportunities laid out before them to assess, take a risk, practice their ideas and take time to work them out. When they want to transport something from one side of the playground to another in the fall, they use a wagon or wheelbarrow (or as one of our kids calls it, a wheelie barrel). In the winter they moved loose parts with sleds. If a kid in the morning fours class always plays on the climber, but one day finds it awfully slippery, they might tape it off and put out signs for the next class. (These kids take their repetitive behavior/ problem solving skills with a side of practical literacy). While we can afford many opportunities for children to experience these same patterns in an indoor classroom, changes in natural settings create wonder, unexpected challenges and rewards for those who experience them.

The common behavioral schema in childhood are:








Pandemic SYC is still rooted in supporting social and emotional growth in children. Being outside provides opportunities for kids to build self confidence each time they assume the challenge of dressing for the elements (and undressing for toileting). They learn caution and to trust their judgement on slippery or muddy surfaces. They learn flexibility when a play area changes with the elements and adjustments need to be made to their play ideas. They learn to use their voice when they need help negotiating changes. Community is built in an expansive space that provides room for everyone to join in. Ultimately, teachers recognize that the social and emotional work we do with children has not changed as the play area has expanded, however the opportunities for that work has. We see the same struggles and growth with communicating with peers, setting limits and articulating needs that we see in a largely indoor environment replayed outside. However, this year, the outside has become the added teacher with challenges and rewards abundant for every child.


Did Dawn spark your interest?  You can email her