Children’s Learning Center director Jo-Anne Yearwood seeks donations for two new outdoor classrooms


David L. Dodds

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Children’s Learning Center director Jo-Anne Yearwood seeks donations for two new outdoor classrooms

Jo-Anne Yearwood has one more gift she would like to give to the children of the University Children’s Learning Center (UCLC) before her last day as director.

Yearwood, who has been UCLC’s director for 17 years, is spearheading an effort to build two outdoor classrooms that would supplant the childcare center’s existing traditional playgrounds. UCLC has been working with Nature Explore, based out of Lincoln Neb., to design outdoor classrooms in those spots to promote engagement with the natural world and to make nature an integral part of children’s daily learning.

Yearwood, who will be stepping down as UCLC director on June 26 to assume an assistant professorship appointment at the UND College of Education & Human Development, has been busy raising funds to build the outdoor classroom with the help of Nature Explore Playground Campaign co-chairs: Katy Johnson, KariJo O’Keefe, Kallie Naastad and Stacey Peterson.

So far, the group has raised more than $19,000 from sponsors such as ICON Architectural Group, JLG Architects and Jim and Mary Dale Hansen in Grand Forks and from lead donors such as Jonathan and KariJo O’Keefe, the Naastad Brothers (Kallie and Ben), Katy and Alan Johnson and Tim Shea’s Nursery and Landscaping.

The Center is still looking for donations from the public. Donations can be made online through the Alumni Association & Foundation website. Online gifts should indicate “UCLC Playground.” Support can be sent in the form of checks to the UND Foundation, with “UCLC Playground” in the memo section, 3501 University Ave. Stop 8157, Grand Forks, N.D., 58202. If you wish to pay by credit card, you may submit your payment by contacting the UND Foundation at 701.777.2611 (all gifts are tax deductible).

The goal of the fundraising efforts is to break ground on the Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms during a public celebration and farewell reception for Yearwood on June 17.

“The fact that this project is so close to becoming a reality is amazing to me,” Yearwood said. “When I decided to explore the possibility of a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom almost a year ago, I never imagined that we would be looking at ground breaking at this point in time.”

Yearwood said that the two Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms will support the UCLC’s “Emergent Curriculum” that is designed to promote the physical, social, emotional, language, intellectual and aesthetic development of each child. Like the indoor classrooms, experiences in the outdoor classrooms will provide opportunities for children to make decisions, explore, problem solve, discover and create. Further, children will develop an appreciation for nature and learn to value the diverse experiences available to them outdoors.

The Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms will feature activities such as climbing and crawling areas, building areas (where children can construct a wide range of things with natural wooden blocks), a nature-art area, a water area, dirt-digging area, sand area, wheeled-toy area, a music and movement area, a so-called “messy materials” area for all ages, and a garden.

The seed for the Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom came in the form of a bequest to Nature Explore from the late Carol Anderson, a North Dakota native and former North Dakota educator who designated funds to be used “in support of the education of children in North Dakota.” Last fall, a land scape architect/educator team from Nature Explore worked with the UCLC to create a concept plan for the project.

“Nature Explore believes that a partnership with UND’s University Children’s Learning Center, to create Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms, [will] lead to gratifying results for the students, families and educators that it serves,” said Kara Ficke, client relationship manager with Nature Explore.

UCLC staff and families see the outdoor classrooms as a perfect learning opportunity to effectively transition what happens in the center’s indoor classrooms to the outdoors, using research-based, field-tested activities that support children’s overall development, Yearwood said.

Quite simply: the overall goal is to incorporate nature as an integral, joyful part of children’s daily learning.

Laurie Betting, associate vice president for health and wellness at UND, credits the campaign chairs for having the driving force to move this project from concept to reality.

“They are working tirelessly on behalf of the children,” Betting said.

“Working on this project has reminded me about how giving and caring individuals in our community are as they share their time, talents and resources,” Yearwood said.

About Nature Explore:

Nature Explore is a collaborate project of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. The organization works with a group of workshop consultants, designers and researchers throughout the United States to promote engagement with the natural world where nature is an integral part of children’s daily learning.

David Dodds University & Public Affairs writer

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