Press Release: The Hitchcock Center for the Environment announces the release of its Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan

The Hitchcock Center for the Environment is proud to announce the release of its Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan. This plan is integral to the Center’s vision to create a worldclass environmental learning center. The Master Plan will complement the Center’s new 9,000 square foot “living” building, designed and constructed to meet highest standard of sustainability in the built environment through the Living Building Challenge™. The Center opened the doors to its revolutionary new home in the fall of 2016.

The Hitchcock Center is committed to new ways of safely attracting children into natural settings and reintegrating the experience of nature into childhood. Through the Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan, the Hitchcock Center will transform its 2.44-acre site into an engaging, interactive and educational outdoor classroom for people of all ages and abilities.

The sharp decline of time children are spending outdoors and in nature is causing negative consequences including children’s reduced physical and mental health, lack of knowledge about nature, and related misconceptions about human dependence on the natural world. The Hitchcock Center will use its Nature Play and Learning Places to promote and strengthen the practice of nature play and outdoor learning experiences to help the next generation become environmentally literate, acquire strong environmental values, and move human society in a more sustainable direction.

Ten imaginative, thought-provoking activity settings will be developed to include:

ZONE 1: Wildflower Meadow & Permaculture Garden

ZONE 2: Water Play & Shady Grove Area

ZONE 3: Mud Play Area

ZONE 4: Den Play Yard

ZONE 5: Discovery Yard

ZONE 6: Teaching Gardens

ZONE 7: Teaching & Gathering Places

ZONE 8: Nest Play Yard

ZONE 9: Teaching Pond & Aquatic Study Area

ZONE 10: Nature Trail Network

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 Hitchcock Center will:

The Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan is the outcome of a close working partnership with Owen Wormser of Abound Design, a landscape design firm, and the involvement of over forty board, staff, volunteers and community members. The plan was further informed through the professional services of the Center’s original living building design team including designLAB architects, Berkshire Design Group and Stephen Stimson Associates, as well as Conservation Works, Inc., the Conway School of Landscape Design, and members of the Master Gardeners of Western Massachusetts.

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 a $50,000 capital grant and a $90,000 operating grant over a two-year period. With this funding and the continued generous support of its community, the Hitchcock Center will begin construction of its outdoor classroom 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 volunteer work parties will be proceeded by whatever skilled labor is needed to lay the ground work for the work of that zone, such as stonework, ground leveling, accessible pathways, cement footings, etc. 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.

“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.

For more information, please see our Nature Play and Learning Places Master Plan.

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