WORKING OUTDOORS: Wahoo Elementary Principal Ben Kreifels puts together a new cedar bench for the outdoor classroom. He and other outdoor classroom helpers were at the school Saturday expanding the opportunities of the area. (Staff Photo By Lisa Brichacek)

WAHOO – The great outdoors is getting a little bit bigger at Wahoo Elementary.

School staff and volunteers worked in the outdoor classroom on Saturday, cleaning it up after the winter months and adding new features.

Wahoo Elementary Teacher Judy Stukenholtz said the school is continuing its efforts to add to the area set up for outdoor exploration and learning.

The outdoor classroom concept was started several years ago and continues to expand.

Wahoo Elementary Principal Ben Kreifels, who was also lending a hand Saturday, said the area is definitely a benefit for young minds.

“I think the kids can come out here and they kind of design their own challenges,” he said.

It’s not just a playground.

Different areas within the playground are set up for children to explore. Whether they just want to sit in read in the gathering area, spend time in the music area or climb through a tree stump, it is all about challenging the mind and opening the door to nature.

With screen time big in many children’s lives, he said it is good to expose them to nature. He used the example of story time sharing. While this can be a good activity inside the classroom, when the weather is good it can be a good activity outside too.

“It’s getting kids outdoors,” Kreifels added.

The outdoor classroom will offer plant lessons now too.

Garden beds have been set up for each grade.

Kreifels said each class will be assigned one of the beds and will be putting in plants this spring. Small pumpkins or gourds are among possibilities.

“They will harvest them in the fall,” he said.

The great thing about the outdoor classroom, he added, was that it was being done with volunteer workers and any purchases were not coming out of the district’s coffers.

“It’s all private donations,” he said.

Stukenholtz the Wahoo Public Schools Foundation and other donors are helping with the outdoor classroom. JEO Consulting Group and its foundation also continues to be a big supporter of the outdoor classroom.

Overall, the space is really starting to take shape, she said.

The committee overseeing the outdoor classroom project has recently come up for a mission statement too.

“Warriors believe there is a world outside of the classroom that every person should be introduced to as a key part of their personal development, regardless of the person’s ability, age or circumstances. We aim to promote holistic development by fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners,” the mission statement reads.

Kreifels said the mission statement will be on display in the outdoor classroom. Other signs to identify the various areas are also being prepared and will be installed soon.

An event with the students will be held later this month to celebrate the expansion of the outdoor classroom.

But, Kreifels said the space is not just for the school’s students. The community is also invited to use the area when school is not in session.

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