By Conner Board and Maddison Cervantes
Did you know that a natural environment contributes to healthier child development? According to the Natural Learning Initiative, a child’s play experience is diversified through outdoor learning activities and interaction with nature.
The University of Nevada, Reno’s Child and Family Research Center focuses on teaching the children at the center’s Early Head Start Program, a preschool for low-income families, through their environmental exploration.
However, Sherry Waugh, director at the Research Center, categorized the preschool’s general playscape as lacking in scenery, consisting of dirt and rocks surrounded by a fence. Waugh explained that plant life of any kind would provide a more appealing environment. Therefore, the university’s first Shade Tree Planting event was put into effect.
Last Saturday morning, volunteers, parents and the faculty of the university’s College of Education involved in the Early Head Start Program gathered at the preschool to plant a variety of trees around the playground. Some of the preschool students also attended.
“Learning about trees at a young age will be effective because kids are ready and curious as soon as they start moving around,” Waugh said.
The Early Head Start Program members were thankful to receive help from outside resources. The UNR Arboretum, an organization dedicated to preserving and planting new trees in the community, partnered with the City of Reno because they obtained a grant from the Nevada Division of Forestry to plant 12 trees around the preschool.
Cheryll Glotfelty, chair of the UNR Arboretum, stated that the event was held to celebrate Nevada Shade Tree Week during the last week of October, and to recognize the value of trees, particularly in the desert.
According to Glotfelty, the Nevada Shade Tree Week Council, a committee that promotes the importance of public shade trees, argued that when cities set aside a portion of their budget to plant trees throughout the community, it encourages positive and healthy activity.
Leah Sanders, Head Start program specialist at the Research Center, said that a natural environment is one that children of all ages will thrive in. She explained that the program has prepared trees that will serve a variety of functions. For example, spruce trees will operate as a windbreak from the mountains, buckeye trees will provide seeds for the children to explore, and apple, chestnut and maple trees will offer knowledge of where fruit comes from.
Calena Long, the site supervisor for the Early Head Start Program, agreed that incorporating nature into the program will benefit children’s development.
“We have applesauce for [recess] a lot of times, and now we can ask the kids how the applesauce is made and where it comes from, since they will watch the apple trees grow,” Long said.
Since children attend the preschool during the summer in a desert climate, Glotfelty is pleased that the value of trees has been recognized in this specific area, and has hopes for other areas as well.
“I like the idea of planting new trees every year, wherever they are needed on campus,” Glotfelty said.
Due to the help of the volunteers from the fraternity Phi Delta Sigma and the partnership between the UNR Arboretum and the City of Reno, the children of the Early Head Start Program will now have a natural environment where they will be able to learn and grow alongside their new trees.
Conner Board and Maddison Cervantes can be reached at email@example.com.