Friends of Georgia State Parks partners with and supports the state park system. They recently joined forces with NatureExplore, a national leader in bringing certified outdoor classrooms to public spaces to bring a series of family-fun spaces within the parks called DigIn! Other partners include Keep Georgia Beautiful, Lowes and Georgia State Parks.
Each space features specialized stations to encourage interactive play while children simultaneously discover the natural world through sensory experiences. The spaces are sometimes referred to as outdoor classrooms, but they are so much more. Think of DigIn as nature-based learning spaces designed for free play. While a class or groups are welcome to play, the spaces are also designed so that individuals and families can walk in and start exploring.
Damon Kirkpatrick from Friends of Georgia State Parks has worked closely with Friends partners and has done extensive work toward its success. “We feel that creating safe, natural environments for kids is essential for their development! What better place than our own state parks?!”
The first classroom began at Red Top Mountain State Park. Panola Mountain is in the middle of its building project and is expected to officially open this summer, but a date has not been set. Don Carter State Park will follow.
Friends raised approximately $30,000 for the Red Top Mountain play space through grants, partners and donors. Thus far, they have used volunteers almost exclusively to help build it. Volunteers are the driving force of Friends of Georgia State Parks, and their efforts have reduced the total cost dramatically.
Red Top’s DigIn space is expected to officially open in April, though it will never be “complete.” “We plan to always be improving and changing the classroom to keep it interesting for repeat guests. It, along with the other sites, will likely never be truly “finished!” says Amy Toft, communications manager at Friends of Georgia State Parks.
Here is one mom’s thoughts from a recent visit to Red Top’s DigIn play space: My family has enjoyed the space at Red Top several times. My two-year-old runs from station to station not even realizing of course that this is an outdoor classroom. To him, it’s natural messy materials that provide for climbing and building opportunities where he’s safe. It’s fun to watch his imagination at work. His favorite area is the music area. He could play the xylophone all day. It was fun to come back home and see xylophones in his alphabet book, which he responded very animated “Just like Red Top Mountain!”
Maria Montessori says “Play is the work of a child.” I think that these outdoor learning spaces really capture the spirit behind that statement. We’ve also been there as other families have enjoyed the space. I love watching the grandparents gravitate to the building area and create sculptures of their own! It’s really a fun spot for the whole family, not just the kids.