Nature Explorers

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
– Nelson Henderson

When you were a child, did you ever play in the dirt or water — or both, pick up pine cones, run around with sticks or check out what was growing under decaying logs? Did you touch caterpillars, listen for frogs or chase butterflies? Do you remember having curiosity about the natural world outside of your home and being allowed to explore it? Finally, did you come home dirty and tired, but feeling exhilarated and happy? Unfortunately, times have changed. For many reasons, younger children today are staying inside and therefore becoming the first “indoor generation” and it has made an undesirable impact.

Little did we know our experiences with nature gave us critical developmental and character-building opportunities. Studies show that children’s lives and behavior improve when they are exposed to nature and develop an increased understanding of the environment and science. Desire to learn grows stronger, cognitive skills are improved, and in the long run, obesity rates are reduced. For children with special needs, outdoor activities can actually decrease problematic behavior.

JLW’s Nature Explorers project was put into motion to address these issues in partnership with Rainbows United, Inc.
Rainbows United is a dynamic, forward-looking institution that strives to enhance the lives of children with varied abilities and needs through customized services designed in partnership with the family. Rainbows is the region’s leading center for early childhood care and education, featuring the latest practices in pre-kindergarten learning for children of all abilities, and the most advanced therapies for children with developmental delays or disabilities.
They are motivated by a vision to elevate the uniqueness of children and their families and bring potential to life.

The JLW Nature Explorers committee spent the year designing and building an outdoor classroom for the children who attend Rainbows’ Kids’ Point location. The main elements of the classroom include an entryway and gathering space, a nature art area, a garden area, and a music and movement area. We developed classroom kits to continue the curriculum indoors.

We also purchased “croc-style” outdoor shoes for the kids to wear in the outdoor classroom so they don’t worry about getting their own shoes dirty.
The backyard directly behind the Kids’ Point building was a blank canvas of grass, weeds and dirt when we started and was slowly transformed into a beautiful outdoor center that will provide a permanent opportunity for learning for years to come.

JLW members volunteered many hours to make the classroom possible. Impressively, they dug, planted, drilled, hammered, spread mulch, and built fence. We were also greatly assisted by Milestone Construction who generously donated many hours of labor and consistently exceeded our expectations.

As an important measurable outcome, the classroom will be certified by the Arbor Day Foundation for children ages birth to five of varied developmental abilities, including children with special needs. Rainbows will identify nature-based activities that children enjoy and will help parents explore these activities with their child. Because a goal is for all families to increase the time they spend outdoors with their children, Rainbows will hold family events at the outdoor learning center.

We are excited that this project will directly benefit and enhance the lives of children at Rainbows. Whether it’s a child with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, or an array of severe physical disabilities, we know he or she will now have an opportunity to breathe in nature, develop their senses, and enjoy themselves outdoors.
It was our pleasure to bring nature back for these very special children!

Junior League of Wichita

6402 East 12th Street
Wichita, Kansas 67206-1306
Phone: 316.682.7473