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News Release

Nov. 26, 2019

Leet Center receives Nature Explore Classroom certification

By Grace Niemeyer, communication assistant

An outdoor classroom and play area at Northwest Missouri State University is now a Certified Nature Explore Classroom.

The outdoor classroom located west of Everett Brown Hall and used by children attending the Phyllis and Richard Leet Center for Children and Families earned the national recognition this fall from the Nature Explore, a division of the non-profit Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, which focuses on research and collaboration with others to determine how children’s outdoor connections affect wellness and development.

Northwest engaged with Nature Explore in 2013 to design the outdoor classroom. Cindy Rouner, the director of Northwest’s Phyllis and Richard Leet Center for Children and Families, said the certification upholds the outdoor classroom’s intent to combine the beauty of the Missouri Arboretum at Northwest with an outdoor space to support children’s learning in nature along with the city of Maryville’s “Tree City USA” status.

“The times of ‘free range’ childhood are gone, leaving children without developmentally appropriate challenges in nature,” Rouner said. “Families are spread thin with practices and running leaving little time for lying under a tree to see the canopy or experiencing the first snowflakes landing on their eye lashes. The value of this experience for children is a renewed love for our Earth and for the trees and for the environment.”

The classroom is designed as a next-generation space that goes beyond a single sport or activity, and it aligns with the Leet Center’s emphasis on curriculum-driven outdoor education, health and wellness, and environmental stewardship.

Additionally, it enhances Northwest’s ability to train aspiring educators who benefit from the clinical teaching environment at Horace Mann and the Leet Center. Northwest’s School of Education emphasizes innovative teaching practices and creating learning experiences that stimulate each child’s creative learning abilities and problem-solving skills.

“Children no longer experience just recess; they now have outdoor explorations,” Rouner said. “Their memories and discoveries in this space are rich with meaning and heartfelt wonder. They are getting what their bodies and minds need to renew through balanced activity. They are learning to cope through the intense demands of today’s world. Guarded time in the outdoors, even when it’s raining and snowing, allows children a balanced exposure of nature and cycles in nature.”

Rouner said the classroom is impacting children’s development of interpersonal connections and raising awareness of the world around them. Improvements in children’s emotional health and behavior are evident as well as their attitudes toward school and learning.

With the certification the Leet Center joins more than 490 Certified Nature Explore Classrooms that foster highly effective, nature-based outdoor learning. The unique outdoor classrooms offer interactive elements such as musical instruments made of natural materials, garden or pathway areas and natural materials for building and creating art. Research shows children who learn and grow in Nature Explore Classrooms exhibit enhanced concentration, develop creativity and problem solving techniques, manage stress in healthy ways and develop skills across the spectrum of academic and creative learning.

Nature Explore Classrooms are developed by a team of master educators, landscape architects and researchers in response to the documented growing disconnect between children and nature. The classrooms help fill the void by integrating research-based outdoor learning opportunities into children’s daily lives. Classrooms that are designed according to standards and principles described in Dimensions Educational Research Foundation’s Learning With Nature Ideas Book are eligible to become Certified Nature Explore Classrooms. For more information, visit


Dr. Mark Hornickel
Administration Building
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