The Hitchcock Center Unveils New Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan to Enhance and Engage Outdoor Learning

The Hitchcock Center for the Environment recently released its Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan, a plan to transform the Hitchcock Center’s grounds into an engaging, interactive and educational outdoor classroom. Ten activity settings will be constructed to offer fun and imaginative nature play areas, hands-on teaching gardens and accessible nature trails for people of all ages and abilities.

This project represents a completely new resource unrivaled in our region. It will play a central role in fulfilling the Center’s vision to create a world-class environmental education center that can meet the urgent environmental literacy needs of our community, state, and region. It is also a direct response to the sharp decline children are spending outdoors and in contact with nature. The negative consequences of this trend have been linked to children’s reduced physical and mental health, lack of knowledge about nature, and related misconceptions about human dependence on the natural world.

With this new resource, the Hitchcock Center will grow and expand its professional development programs for K-12 teachers and early childhood educators, develop new partnerships with healthcare professionals, and create new children, youth and family programming to engender a meaningful, lasting connection between children and the natural world.

The estimated budget to implement the Center’s Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan is $285,000. The Center will raise these funds as part of Phase II of its Building for the Future capital campaign. Phase I of this campaign was completed when the Center successfully raised $5.8 million and opened the doors to its new building in 2016.

To kick off fundraising efforts for the Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan, the Kendeda Fund, a national foundation that invests in transformative leaders and ideas, has awarded the Hitchcock Center with a new $50,000 capital grant and a $90,000 operating grant over the next two years. With this funding and the continued generous support of its community, the Hitchcock Center will begin implementation of these outdoor spaces this coming spring. 
This will involve an exciting community-build process that will engage volunteers in constructing many of the learning spaces. For example, summer camp families will help establish the Fairy Village and Willow Structures. There will be a community program on Native Gardening for Greater Biodiversity to help educate, plan and recruit volunteers to implement Zone 1: Native Wildflower Meadow and Permaculture Garden and to expand the existing Butterfly and Pollinator Gardens.

Monthly or bimonthly work parties will be scheduled between late spring and early fall. These community build parties will be fun day- or weekend-long opportunities for volunteers of all ages to do hands-on work for a good cause together outside in the sunshine (hopefully) and learn new skills.

Those interested in volunteering their time to implement the Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan can contact Casey Beebe, Special Projects and Community Programs Manager at (413) 256-6006.

With your support, you help empower the Hitchcock Center with the resources and tools it needs to leave our children and our children’s children a safer, more prosperous, and sustainable world. Learn more about our next steps to strengthen and expand the resources our Living Building and site have to offer. Your donation makes this possible!

Here’s what people are saying about the Hitchcock Center’s Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan:

“The Hitchcock Center’s Nature Play and Learning Places offers an exciting new destination to learn and play! Currently, there is no such resource in our area so this project will immediately fill an unmet need.” –Bridgit Litchfield, Master Gardener

“The Center’s Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan represents an exciting new resource for our region that will promote the cognitive, social and physical health and wellbeing of our region’s children.” –Joanne Marqusee, President and Chief Executive Officer, Cooley Dickinson Hospital

“The Hitchcock Center is a cherished resource for both the Hampshire College community, and for our community at large. We see you creating a world-class environmental education program through the Living Building Challenge and, more recently, through the Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan.” – Jonathan Lash, President, Hampshire College

“School grounds offer a unique potential for integrating nature play and learning in places that children use every day. However, the majority of our school grounds are not designed or managed for this purpose and lack the level of ecosystem diversity required for viable, onsite, outdoor environmental education. We can learn a great deal from the Hitchcock Center’s Nature Plan and Learning Places project as a demonstration site to inform ways we can transform our school grounds.” –Louise Law, Director of Elementary Education, Frontier Regional and Union #38 School District.

Those interested in volunteering their time to implement the Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan can contact Casey Beebe, Special Projects and Community Programs Manager at (413) 256-6006.

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