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The Classroom in the Woods

Friday marked the grand opening of Bartlett Arboretum’s Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom — the first of its kind in Connecticut.

On Friday, celebrated the grand opening of its Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom. Located up a short path from the main parking lot, this little clearing in the woods holds exciting new discoveries for Stamford families.

“We wanted to create an outdoor area where children can be as active as they want without making it a playground, this truly is a classroom,” Todd DuPont, Director of Children’s Education at Bartlett Arboretum, said.

Beneath a canopy of trees, children can explore climbing and crawling platforms, “messy materials” where they can get their hands in the dirt, discover plant life, play in a music and movement station, and more.

A collaboration between Keep America Beautiful, PepsiCo, and the Arbor Day Foundation — Stamford’s Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom is the first of its kind of Connecticut.

The Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation created the Nature Explore program to provide opportunities for children around the US to get outside and explore the natural world. Each Nature Explore Classroom — over 80 in total — has seven stations, with additional ones designed to fit each Classroom’s unique environment.

“There’s one in Harlem that’s amazing, right in between two city blocks,” DuPont explained. “The Arbor Day Foundation is great about customizing them for each location.”

DuPont recognizes that this may be the first experience many young children have getting deep into nature. Each station is designed to provide a few suggested activities — looking at rocks on a table or scoping out the woods through binoculars — but keeps it open to anything they can imagine.

“Some kids will come here who have never picked up a pinecone or picked up an acorn,” Susanne Wood, Senior Vice President of Environmental Programs at Keep America Beautiful, said. “It’s a real discovery.”

A brief opening ceremony brought together many community members and people representing the many organizations that made the Outdoor Classroom possible.

“I came here to dedicate a Nature Explore Classroom, so of course I’m thinking “classroom”” Mayor Michael Pavia said. “This is designed to open up their awareness, open up their mind, and open up their future.”

"You can just see it with 30 children running around here," Matt McKenna, President and CEO of Keep America Beautiful, said.

The 4,000 square foot Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom is still a work in progress, and the staff at Bartlett Arboretum aren’t the only ones excited to see what the future will bring.

“I intend to be back here very soon because I have two little guys who would enjoy that digging pit!” Pavia said.

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