Opal School closed in 2021. You can continue to access these resources for free at teachingpreschoolpartners.org/resource-library/.

Nature Play

Nature Play

Since Opal School’s inception, children have created adventure in The Rocky Space. A grassy slope on the side of the building, The Rocky Space was characterized by a few boulders (including some large pieces of petrified wood), a picnic table, a steep grassy hill, and a big tree named Zoom. It was a wild space that invited imagination, risk taking, and collaboration: Children taught each other how to climb the rocks and Zoom and found friends with whom to invent stories that transformed the rocks into dragons and airplanes and forts.

The Rocky Space has been fenced off this year, and the school has felt its absence.  It’s role in developing community has been difficult to replace: While the older groups trek into the Arboretum, that’s a long trip for our youngest citizens.  The inspiration and nourishment we take from the natural world is irreplaceable; nature play has unique affordances.

This week, the fences around The Rocky Space come down and we met it’s new incarnation, Outdoor Adventure. Outdoor Adventure is a blend of intentional and wild spaces that supports children and adults’ need to play together outside – and anticipates and attempts to overcome some of the inhibiting factors to that play.  In advance of the public opening Earth Day, Opal School students explored the space Thursday.


The contributions of Opal School children to Outdoor Adventure is evident in ways both immediately visible and more subtle. Tangibly, there is a large mural that Opal 1 created in collaboration with artist Mauricio R (more about this collaboration here.) Elsewhere, visitors encounter a set of panels showing Opal 2 students’ responses to the question, What stories live here?  Throughout Outdoor Adventure is the less tangible influence of Opal School: The idea that children develop through engagements with open spaces that have minimal barriers and opportunities for the unexpected. An evenly graded path flows through the space to support the needs of people experiencing limited mobility, all are welcome to run off the path or lie in the grass and watch the clouds, and Zoom still invites climbers.

Opal School founder Judy Graves writes that, “inquiry with children into phenomena of the natural world is where we first experienced our huge ‘WOW’s.’” We hope you’ll join that investigation with us – in Outdoor Adventure and at our Summer Symposium dedicated to this theme.  If you can’t make it to Portland (or if you just want more!), we hope you’ll participate in the discussion through Opal School Online.