The Carpinteria Children’s Project (CCP) has a clear mission: To make sure every child that enters Kindergarten enters happy, healthy, and ready to learn. Modeled in part after the Harlem Children’s Zone made famous by Geoffrey Canada, CCP focuses on pre-K youth by providing support services for children and their families while pushing children to their fullest potential in a safe and loving environment.
CCP is a collaborative among a host of agencies including The Orfalea Foundations, The Hutton Foundation, The James S. Bower Foundation, the Carpinteria Unified School District, the Carpinteria Education Foundation, First 5 of Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara’s Community Action Commission (CAC), and a suite of other local organizations.
CAC, in addition to being a core member of CCP and its activities, also runs an innovative Head Start program out of the building. Here, site supervisor Betty Sanchez has pioneered outdoor classroom (OC) and other hands-on activities that in the past would challenge the conventional norm on what it means (and takes) to be an effective educator. Now, Betty’s programs are highlighted as a model of effective teaching and nurturing.
“We started the Outdoor Classroom because our children are not in nature enough,” said Betty in a recent interview. “Our kids may not
even have backyards…they stay inside their homes, play in parking lots. This is no way to learn.”
As part of Outdoor Classroom activities, CAC’s teachers are encouraged to take the kids outside as often and for as long as possible. “Anything we can teach indoors we can also teach in an outdoor setting,” says Betty.
And this is evident. On the day of my visit, I happened upon a tub of toys, cups and other devices with which the kids could play with and measure water by volume. A bicycle track with tandem trikes encouraged kids to share, take turns and work together to complete a full lap. Large boulders and wood stumps were scattered throughout the yard, much like they would be scattered in the hills, so that kids could jump on, off or around them. Everywhere I looked, kids were talking, sharing, collaborating and learning.
“Nature is innate,” says Betty. “This set up allows children to develop who they are. It’s more than just playing in the mud. It’s a lesson in life skills at a very early age.”
Betty is part of a committee to approve outdoor education demonstration sites across the region, working in partnership with the Orfalea Foundation’s Outdoor Classroom approach. Through CAC, Betty focuses on Santa Barbara County’s south coast, encouraging other learning centers to consider Outdoor Classroom formats. Many, including some of CAC’s other 22 Head Start sites across the county, are using Betty’s example as they develop their own unique approaches to hands-on learning.
“You don’t learn if you don’t experiment,” says Betty. “But this experiment is working.”
CAC, collaborating with other like-minded agencies through CCP, strive to provide resources from which young and often less-advantaged children can grow and flourish. By the smiles and camaraderie that were observed upon my brief visit, it seems that the magic formula has been found.
To learn more about Outdoor Classroom project, click here.
Story and photos by Eric Cárdenas, LoaTree