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Mountain Sun Announces the Natural Play Project

Brevard, NC

As part of the “Get Set” Early Childhood Initiative, Mountain Sun Community School has partnered with local organizations and is launching the Natural Play Project. Funded in large part by the United Way, MSCS is developing and enhancing its outdoor learning environment in order to provide a space for natural play programs for the diverse families and children of Transylvania County.

MSCS’s local partners include The Family Place, El Centro, Rise and Shine, and Brevard Music Center. During the pilot stage of this project, natural play programs for families with children ages 3 to 5 will be offered at each of the partner sites. In addition, North Carolina State’s Natural Learning Initiative is engaging in a process with Mountain Sun to design an outdoor learning environment master plan that will be developed on campus at the Brevard Music Center to serve the school and the broader community. The NLI will also provide professional development about natural play to Mountain Sun’s teachers and educators from the project’s community partners.

“The Family Place is excited to collaborate with Mountain Sun on the Natural Play Project,” said Erin Drew, Executive Director. “Many of our families moved to this area because we are an outdoor community and they want to raise their children in this environment. This project will be a wonderful resource for our families to access and to play and learn together in the natural world. Child-led activities in the outdoors facilitate self-confidence, experimentation, initiative, and much more.”

“We look forward to building relationships with more community partners in the future,” said Mountain Sun’s newest staff member, McNeill Mann, Natural Play Coordinator. “Natural play is unstructured play in an outdoor natural setting, and it has so many benefits for children’s health and development. It encourages environmental stewardship, and it is fun!”

The Natural Play Project will facilitate community members gathering, playing, and learning together in Transylvania County’s beautiful natural environments. From these shared experiences relationships will grow, with each other and with the natural world that makes our area so beautiful. Transylvania County is increasingly becoming a destination for visiting families that love to play outside, and the Natural Play Project hopes to increase the availability of these kinds of experiences for local residents.

Outdoor education and natural play for children are at the heart of Mountain Sun’s educational philosophy. One child shared that she loves playing outside “because we get the freedom to explore and find out about nature.” This project aims to expand and diversify the school’s programming beyond their student population.

“As we have worked with the Early Childhood Initiative, we have become increasingly aware of the need to offer high-quality early childhood educational experiences to children across our communities in Transylvania County,” said Dr. Michael Brown, Mountain Sun’s Executive Director. “We hope to get more and more children and their families excited about playing outside together!”

The long-term aim of the Natural Play Project is to create future environmental stewards by helping children from a very early age learn to respect and love the natural world. “If you truly have an appreciation for the space around you, you will care for it,” said Janna Carlson, Lower Elementary teacher.

A growing body of research indicates the cognitive, emotional, academic, and health benefits of getting children outside for active play. Unfortunately, many children and their families have limited opportunities to connect with the natural world, a deficit this program will help to address. According to scientific studies cited by the Natural Learning Initiative, active play outside in natural environments supports creativity and problem solving, enhances cognitive abilities, and improves both social relationships and academic performance.

Tina Leonard, lead teacher one of the Primary Classes (ages 3 to 6) at Mountain Sun, recently wrote about play and how it translates into the classroom. “The children bring so much with them when they are outside! Lessons from the classroom overflow to the outdoors. For instance, if the children are learning about clouds, the water cycle, the change of season or the weather, we connect that to their play outside.”

“The goal of Get Set is to ensure that all children in Transylvania County are prepared for success in kindergarten and beyond,” said Michael Brown. “We firmly believe that natural play can be an important part of that preparation for success. Hopefully, we can become a model for what outdoor education and outdoor learning environments can look like.”

Mountain Sun Community School is an independent, nonprofit school serving Preschool through Middle School and utilizes Montessori and other methods to provide a unique, inspired education for each child. Mountain Sun Community School is currently enrolling students for the 2018-19 Academic Year. Mountain Sun is a United Way partner agency. For more information, please visit www.mountainsunschool.org or call 828.885.2555.

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