Spending time outdoors has become a widely adopted strategy for child care centers and schools to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus among preschoolers and elementary age students. For the Ruth Staples Child Development Laboratory at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, outdoor learning is not a new approach.
“We already spent about 80% of our time outside even before the pandemic, so it was relatively easy to move that closer to 100%,” said Jennifer Leeper Miller, director of the lab. “It is in our culture of learning and pedagogy to have daily routines in a healthy, comfortable and engaging outside space for young children and teachers.”
In addition to outdoor learning and play time, children also eat and nap outside. To accommodate extra outdoor activities, the lab has added outdoor sinks, hammocks and cozy areas for children to read. Fencing has also been added to help with group separation. The lab is following all recommendations from the university, Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our top priority is keeping our children, families, student teachers and our community safe and healthy,” Miller said.
Lowering the risk of virus transmission is not the only benefit to outdoor learning. Teachers at the lab strive to create diverse materials and a variety of activities connected to nature. For instance, children are currently growing broccoli, beans, peas, lettuce, pumpkins and fall flowers in a vegetable garden. This activity is supplemented with curriculum about the benefits of eating vegetables and other nutritious foods.
“It is important to us that children build an understanding of where their food comes from and how making healthy choices in eating a variety of food impacts their health,” Miller said.
The lab also recently started partnering with University Dining Services to create a nutritious and well-balanced menu of food offerings.
The Ruth Staples Child Development Laboratory is part of the College of Education and Human Sciences’ Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies. In addition to providing child care services, the lab allows for opportunities for college students to train to be teachers and scholars to learn more about young children through research.
The lab currently has openings for full-day child care and preschool services for children 18 months to 5 years, and is available to the entire Lincoln community and surrounding area. To learn more about the lab or to complete an application for enrollment, click here.