Fawnskin, CA, August 30, 2013 — The Big Bear Discovery Center has long been an education portal to the outdoors. Now, it is the first certified Nature Explore Classroom in a U.S. National Forest. Nature Explore Classrooms are part of a collaborative project of the Arbor Day Foundation and the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation developed in response to the growing disconnect between children and nature. Certified classrooms help fill that void by integrating research-based outdoor learning opportunities into children’s daily lives.

This national certification was awarded by the Arbor Day Foundation — a conservation and education organization of one million members — and the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, whose mission  is to inspire children, families and educators to connect more deeply with the world around them by providing innovative, research-based programs and resources.

Outdoor classrooms designed according to standards and principles described in Dimensions Educational Research Foundation’s Learning With Nature Idea Book are eligible to become certified Nature Explore Classrooms, which are being developed across the country. They offer interactive elements such as musical instruments made of natural materials, garden or pathway areas and natural materials for building and creating art. Activities are designed to enhance concentration, develop creativity and problem-solving, relieve stress and improve skills in many areas of development.

The Big Bear Discovery Center is co-managed by the nonprofit Southern California Mountains Foundation. Stacy Gorin, Director of Operations for the Foundation, said, “We are one of the busiest National Forests visitor centers with more than 250,000 visitors annually. But many of our visitors come from surrounding urban communities and are unsure how to interact with nature. The Nature Explore Classroom will help these visitors reconnect to nature and enhance their experiences.”

Nature Explore Outreach Director Susie Wirth added,  “The Southern California Mountains Foundation through its many family-centric and youth development programs has shown tremendous leadership in growing the next generation of environmental stewards. Their commitment to providing research-based and nature-rich learning offers a wonderful example to educators throughout the country.”