During the 2020-2021 school year, Madison High School senior and Girl Scout Bailey Brotz approached the Madison Pre-Kindergarten with a plan to make their courtyard a feast for the senses! Bailey completely renovated the courtyard and basketball court for the Madison Pre-K students, incorporating activities to stimulate all five of the kids’ senses. The Madison Pre-K is located in the old Redbird Elementary School and shares the building with the Board of Education.
Sensory is a huge piece of any preschool, especially for students who learn in different ways. One of the classroom units is all about our five senses and the courtyard is a fabulous place to explore the vocabulary of sensory. Bailey, with the help of one of the Pre-K’s lead teachers and the occupational therapist, planned and created a noise wall, a touch wall, and a Very Hungry Caterpillar veggie garden. Additionally, she added a huge sandbox, bird feeders, and incorporated some of the things that were already in the courtyard. The path from the doorway to each of the parts of the courtyard is now lined with painted bricks, and as you enter the courtyard, you see a beautiful painting of a tree on the wall. Across from the tree, you see the sorting bins where students can check out a variety of textures and examine items through magnifying glasses. An animal print is on every red brick of the Sensory Path to encourage discussions and discovery for the children, and there are plantings in the two raised beds as the “Hungry Caterpillar,” which are plants students can eat, touch, feed, smell, and just enjoy.
The courtyard is totally closed off from any outside visitors, allowing our Pre-K students the freedom to explore. Teachers can take their students to the courtyard to read stories followed by discoveries in specific areas of the courtyard, or they can take learning walks and then have students document what they saw or heard on the painting easels permanently affixed in the courtyard. Toads have found a fun home in the courtyard, and there are lots of discovery tools for the students as they explore the creatures in the dirt and flowerbeds.
This natural environment of light, dirt, and sunshine gives our almost 200 preschoolers a chance to learn through their senses. They dig in the sand and dirt, float objects in the water table, make music on pots and pans, draw and paint on the easels, pretend in the little houses that line the wall, and share language experiences with their friends. Anything that can be taught in the classroom can be taught in the courtyard -- and in many cases, the resources the courtyard has to offer make the learning experiences a whole lot better.
Bailey also renovated an old basketball court that sits outside the doors of another part of the building. She designed it with black paint and bright, colorful game boards, as well as a driving course for our preschoolers. Trikes, bikes, and play-cars regularly take a spin around the course, and teachers often choose this area to give students an opportunity to use their gross motor skills -- such as jumping, running, and sitting -- which is another huge piece of preschool.
The Madison Pre-K is grateful to Bailey’s project for making our courtyard and basketball court come to life, allowing our students to experience school outdoors.