The Transylvania Times -

New Outdoor Learning Environment Coming Soon


Last updated 10/29/2020 at 9:03am

Playing and learning outdoors is an integral part of Mountain Sun Community School. (Courtesy photo)

Mountain Sun Community School continues to move forward with the next phase of The Natural Play Project (NPP). The Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) at N.C. State in Raleigh designed a master plan for an Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) that will be developed on campus at Brevard Music Center (BMC) to serve the diverse families and children of Transylvania County.

As part of Transylvania County's Get Set early childhood initiative, Mountain Sun Community School (MSCS) partnered with local organizations and launched the Natural Play Project in 2018. The NPP provides free nature-based educational programming for young children and their families. A growing body of research indicates the cognitive, emotional, academic and health benefits of getting children outside for active play. The NPP engages participants in developmentally appropriate activities in outdoor settings, which promote the development of executive function, language and motor skills, family bonding, and school readiness.

"BMC is proud to partner with Mountain Sun to provide healthy and stimulating outdoor experiences on our campus to all children in our community," said Mark Weinstein, president of the Brevard Music Center.

Development of the OLE will significantly increase capacity and accessibility of these programs. The site will also be used for educator workshops and professional development. The project has received generous support from the Pisgah Forest Rotary, the Glass Foundation, the Rodger and Kate Graef Family Foundation, and the St. Philip's Foundation to fund the initial development of the site. Partners of the program include The Family Place, El Centro, Rise & Shine, and Brevard Music Center.

"In the early stages of the design process, we gathered input from teachers, community partners and our students," said McNeill Mann, the natural education coordinator at MSCS. "I'm excited to see their ideas come to life! I'm also looking forward to future volunteer work days – many hands make for fun work."

The construction of the OLE will take place in phases based on the type of work that needs to be done, funding and timing. In Phase 1, the focus will be on completing all of the tasks that will require earth moving and shape the site. This will include building pathways, water management features and creating specific terrain elements. During Phase 1, natural features such as large logs and boulders will be placed throughout the site.

Phase 2 and beyond will include landscaping and building specific "elements" of the natural learning environment, including a "mud kitchen," balance and scrambling areas, an edible garden and pollinator garden, a natural construction station, a science and weather station, and more.

There are many ways the community can be involved. There will be volunteer opportunities for hands-on projects such as constructing a deck, planting and landscaping, spreading mulch, and many other tasks. There will also be sponsorship opportunities for local individuals and businesses who are interested in supporting this community endeavor through donations, in-kind gifts of materials or services, and time. If you are interested in being involved as a volunteer or making a donation, contact McNeill Mann at [email protected]

Mountain Sun Community School is a nonprofit 501c3 independent school in Brevard. Mountain Sun serves children ages 3 through middle school and combines Montessori education with outdoor exploration, artistic creativity and community service. Visit call (828) 885-2555 for more information.

(Mann is the natural education coordinator at Mountain Sun Community School.)


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