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FC Explores the Positive Impact of their Nature Trail and Outdoor Play

The Family Center understands the importance of outdoor play. On the Gay Ave and Clayton High School campuses, there are a number of resources and ways that students interact with nature. The FC teachers focus on providing as many opportunities as possible for children to learn new skills outdoors.

“At the Family Center, we value children having the opportunity to have both structured and unstructured time in nature,” said Catherine Katz, FC Nature Educator.


There are gardens at both locations that students help maintain throughout the year and grow their own harvest. These gardens are filled with flowers, vegetables, herbs and native plants. Learning gardening skills contributes to their knowledge about and respect for the environment. Butterfly habitats on one of the playgrounds act as learning labs for young students to use their scientific skills to observe the life cycles of a butterfly.


“Outdoor play offers many health benefits and supports development in all areas of our curricular strands - social emotional development and approaches to learning, language and literacy, mathematics, science and nature education, and music, movement and dramatic play,” said Kristen Retter, FC Early Childhood Curriculum Coordinator.


The Gay Ave. campus includes a large nature space. The area has evolved since the FC moved to this location in 1990. It began as a wooded area with an obscured nature trail. As time went on, trash and invasive plants were removed, mulch was added and the space became a wonderful area for children to explore. A fence surrounding the area was added a few years ago. The Nature Space became the beautiful, inviting area it is today through the FC’s collaboration with the community: the City of Clayton Parks and Recreation department, district facility services, staff and volunteers from the District and Clayton community volunteers. Students now get their exercise and challenge themselves as they climb trees and balance on fallen logs. They create social bonds with others as they explore new spaces, engage in pretend play and work together to build forts out of nature. They can even learn to identify different plants, animals and bugs in nature through these experiences.


“During outdoor activities, children are developing their gross motor skills, social interactions and taking healthy risks, which builds confidence in young children,” said Katz. “Nature education provides children with a foundation for a life-long relationship between themselves, the earth and its natural resources.”