"Let's Get Outside!"
Outdoor Education at Rockford Christian School
by Phil Warners, reposted from the Rockford Squire
Something new and exciting is happening at Rockford Christian School this year. The environmental-focused preschool — 8th-grade curriculum at our campus located on Belding Road overlooking Lake Bella Vista was enhanced in August with an expanded co-curricular subject: Outdoor Education (OE).
Just like music class, art class, and physical education, each grade level meets with the Director of Outdoor Education (which is me!) on a weekly basis for age-appropriate, science-based outdoor experiences. This opportunity has quickly become one of the favorite components in the life of many of our students.
People may ask, "why is this program important?" I am not going to cite the latest research (of which there are plenty) or analyze how our students' learning fits into the target goals or the state standards (which it does). Instead, I would respond to such a question with a question: "How can we expect to raise a generation of environmentally aware and active citizens if we never provide positive outdoor experiences to our children?"
When these experiences are coupled with knowledge about topics like sustainability, stewardship, watersheds, survival, habitat loss, and the accompanying social justice issues, our students are better equipped to face the world of important ecological issues and be agents of restoration in our world.
While we have been in-person and on-campus for the entire school year, COVID-19 did force us to adapt some of our plans. But, nonetheless, this year so far, we have:
- Partnered with Grass Lake Orchards and have worked with the Brubaker family in the apple production business.
- Partnered with Plainsong Farm, a local non-profit that educates people about alternative farming methods as they raise quality produce for the community, including organizations like North Kent Connect.
- Continued a strong relationship with our friends at Camp Roger.
- Cleaned up a two-mile stretch of M-44 as part of Michigan's Adopt-a-Highway initiative.
- Built a one-mile trail network on our campus that passes through fields, wetlands, and woods.
- Used trail cameras to capture pictures of animals on our campus.
- Built outdoor classrooms for every grade level at our school.
- Build quinzhees, igloos, snow forts, wigwams, and other types of survival shelters.
- Planted native trees, built a new nature-scape playground, and learned about invasive species.
- Raised money for North Kent Connect, Plainsong Farm, World Renew, Mel Trotter Ministries, and other organizations that are working diligently in the world of social justice.
- Joined the Adopt-a-Park program and visited some local parks to discuss impact, importance, and usage.
When students were asked to write about the value of outdoor education in their schooling, some insightful comments were offered:
"OE is vital for students because it keeps them connected with nature and the future of nature." —Roman, 8th grade.
"OE provides teamwork, problem-solving situations, and is a sense of community that is something of great value to me." —Noelle, 8th grade.
"Scientists predict that soon people are going to be in lots of trouble and the environment is going to have lots of problems. In OE, we learn about that and how we can be a part of the solutions." — Kaitlyn, 8th grade.
While Zoom, Google Classroom, and personal devices have created new learning opportunities (especially during this year of pandemic schooling), all that screentime affords little time for adventures outside. When you start to factor in video games, sports leagues, and family commitments, you begin to understand why "nature-deficit disorder" has been added to the list of modern-day maladies.
Without becoming the critical old uncle in the corner at the family reunions who wishes to tell everyone about what is wrong with kids these days, I lament that our children do not have the same opportunities I had when I was younger to run outside, get muddy, build forts, and learn to appreciate the outdoors. By not having these experiences as children, I fear ignorance and apathy toward the created world will be evident in these same people as adults.
They need to be equipped to face the looming issues of global warming, water table restoration, endangered animal populations, and eco-responsibility. If we hope to train up our children to appreciate the importance of the created world and to wonder at its intricacies, how can that be done without immersing them in that world?
Test tubes and laboratories certainly help, but so does the wind in our faces, the smell of the woods after a gentle rain, the sounds of bird calls, and their activities — this is what can spark curiosity in our students. Too often, schools have become places where teachers are so busy individualizing and managing and hurrying and planning and zooming and documenting all day long.
At Rockford Christian, we have seen that these outdoor experiences can deepen learning, form a child's genuine appreciation for nature, encourage spiritual growth through direct experiences in God's creation, and call students to the action of preserving and protecting the beauty of nature.
For more information about Rockford Christian School, please contact Linda Vellenga, Director of Admissions us at 616.574.6015 or check out our website at www.grcs.org/rockford.
Phil Warners, the author of this article, has followed a strange career path. Phil was a classroom teacher for seventeen years, took sixteen years off to work at Camp Roger near Bostwick Lake, and returned to the classroom five years ago. Current Phil (Mr. Phil) is the Director of Outdoor Education at Rockford Christian School. He enjoys long-distance backpacking trips and resurgent health following a scary cancer experience. Phil and his wife have six children, two sons-in-law, and five grandchildren. Phil also has a really cool pick-up truck.