It is pretty well known among educators that early childhood years are crucial for children’s language and literacy development. In addition to learning words, preschoolers are learning to articulate their feelings and needs, ask questions, convey what they know, interact with others, learn grammar, and a myriad of other foundational communication skills. And it is also pretty well agreed that learning happens best when children are having fun. These tenets are the foundations of a new outdoor, 13,000 square foot gallery at the Mississippi Children’s Museum in Jackson, known as the Literacy Garden.
The Literacy Garden was designed to inspire and educate children through interactive and artful play spaces. Designed for preschool-aged children through the third grade, the garden features a variety of audio/visual and signage elements that focus on phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. And these are presented in some unexpected ways.
Giant pink mushrooms have touchscreen monitors full of riddles and rhymes, and colorful spiraling sculptures offer sounds of musical instruments, wild animals, and letters of the alphabet. A 30-foot waterfall spells words or forms patterns as the water drops fall and the structure itself offers little portals for children to crawl beneath. Scribbling on an erasable creativity wall is encouraged and poems are revealed as visitors walk the meandering pathway. These activities weave together through this outdoor space so children can discover as they move from one place to another.
Fantasy elements also interlace the outdoor garden, with a three story treehouse for children to climb, complete with giant root structures to play amongst. There are giant sand rings, flower-shaped writing stations, a vegetable and herb garden, and even an amphitheater to act out an improvised performances.
The new exhibit has proven popular with children, weather permitting, and offers unstructured outdoor play coupled with learning objectives. Getting excited about reading and words is a first healthy step to early childhood literacy, and learning from the outdoors is a great place to create stories. Find out more about the Literacy Garden at the Mississippi Children’s Museum at http://www.mississippichildrensmuseum.com/exhibits/the-literacy-garden/