Outdoor classroom helps children find themselves in nature


Brandon Smith is the Riverwalk Park director.

photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Nature lovers will have more to love starting Dec. 17 with the grand opening of the Nature Explore Classroom at Riverwalk — A Family Park on U.S. 1 just north of Viera.

The Viera Company and other local businesses came together with Disney VoluntEARS from the cruise ship Disney Fantasy to launch creation of the outdoor attraction in late October courtesy of a $20,000 grant from Parks Build Community, an initiative of the National Recreation and Park Association and The Walt Disney Company, including Disney Citizenship, Disney/ABC Television Group and ESPN. The Parks Build Community program provides communities with resources to improve local parks through projects that connect kids to nature, help kids and families live healthier lives and increase kids’ access to sports.

Riverwalk was one of 16 such grant recipients chosen this year from across the country.

“It helps to expand our resources and make them go further, to make things like the Nature Explore Classroom possible,” said Brandon Smith, park director and past recipient of the Charlie Corbeil Conservation Awards. The awards, set for April 14, 2017, reward and encourage conservation efforts. The tandem children's art, photography and essay contest encourages children to find themselves in nature. Riverwalk is a recommended site for inspiration of submissions.

The Nature Explore Classroom is an outdoor interactive play area designed to inspire children and families to spend more time outside exploring nature. It includes many of the same principles of a traditional playground, but helps children develop fine motor skills through art, music, gardening, exploration and imagination, all while using natural materials.

Additional contributors to the attraction include: Coastal Health Systems of Brevard Inc., Maple Street Natives, Florida Native Plant Society, Atlantic Environmental Solutions and Royalty Tree Service. 

While the Disney Fantasy was in port for the day, Disney Cruise Line crew members spent the morning assembling classroom exhibit pieces, raking leaves, leveling the ground and spreading mulch.

“Once complete,” Disney spokesperson Mari. E. Mendez said, “the outdoor classroom will be enjoyed by Brevard County families, schools and community groups, building stronger connections to nature and fostering future generations of environmental stewards.” 

Referring to the Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods,” Mendez added, “Research indicates that time spent in nature creates smarter, happier, healthier kids and instills lifelong conservation values.”