Students at Rockford Christian School get the Ultimate Experience in God’s Creation
There’s outdoor school, and then there’s a 30-acre outdoor school with access to a nearby camp with even more learning resources, and numerous community partnerships.
Rockford Christian’s Outdoor Education program is every kid’s dream nature school.
And right now is a really special time to be a student at Rockford Christian School, as they expand their longstanding outdoor education program to include all grades. Kids at RCS can be part of the ideas and inspiration for growing their outdoor classroom and are learning what it means to care for God’s creation.
Principal Ben Buursma is excited to watch students and staff collaborate in their vast outdoor classroom and beyond.
“It’s really a super creative and exciting time right now as we are building the program and trying all kinds of things to see what works and rises to the top,” says Buursma.
Phil Warners, Outdoor Education Director and Environmental Concerns Advocate at Rockford Christian, is thrilled about the expanding program at Rockford Christian School.
“I am so excited to be facing this new challenge and the excitement it brings our students,” says Warners.
The Historic 5-6th Grade Program is Expanding to Include Grades PreK-8
It’s surreal to think that the COVID-19 pandemic could have any positive impact, but Principal Buursma says that it helped confirm their plan to expand their outdoor education program, which has been a core part of Rockford Christian School for years.
“COVID in a weird way got us outside,” observes Buursma. “It shaped how we did (school) and prompted us to get outside and prioritize that.”
Now all grades have dedicated outdoor time, off-campus trips and opportunities to grow their outdoor classroom.
This has been especially beneficial to older students. Warners loves how Rockford Christian can give these 7th & 8th graders unique tools to carry with them into high school.
“Curiosity is often suppressed as students get older,” shares Warners.
“We have them doing homework, assignments, and essays that rely on doing work accurately. But in outdoor education, I feel we need to enhance that sense of curiosity. I want our students to look, smell, hear, and notice things outdoors that make them start sentences with, ‘I wonder why…’ as opposed to, ‘Is this right?'”
“This is my favorite class in school. Coming from a school that did not have Outdoor Education I can say it is a blessing to have. It always impresses me how crazy the woods really are.”
And as they expanded outdoor ed to all grades, their outdoor classroom has grown, too.
“We built over a mile of trails through the woods and prairie meadow areas. We built outdoor classrooms for every grade level,” shares Buursma.
And when he says “we” he means the students, with the help of staff. There is a huge sense of ownership and pride in what the students are building with their own hands at RCS, and families love being involved when opportunities arise.
They’ve built a sledding hill for winter and students are researching what it takes to add a rain garden. Last year kids got really excited when an old blacktop parking lot was torn up and a new natural playscape was built.
“For us, recess time is just as important as the classroom and learning outside,” says Buursma. “It’s got rocks and logs and all sorts of implements you’d see on a playground, but with natural materials. It’s really cool to see kids gravitating towards natural places to play (at recess).”
Rockford Christian Uses Local Assets for Their Students – Including Farms, Lake Bella Vista and Camp Roger
In addition to their incredible 30 acre+ classroom, kids at Rockford Christian can go on off-campus adventures. Warners looks for unique learning opportunities anywhere he can.
“A tenet of our program is creating community partnerships,” says Buursma. This allows the school to combine service and learning, two of the school’s major themes.
Rockford Christian has partnered with Camp Roger, Plainsong Farm, Outdoor Discovery Network and even went ice fishing on Lake Bella Vista this past winter through another community connection! Each grade is adopting a park to be stewards of as well.
Basically, if a learning opportunity can be taken outside, Rockford Christian will try it.
“A sense of wonder and excitement resides in every child and gets a space to come alive during outdoor education,” says Buursma.
“It’s such a natural time to ask questions and make observations. What you want to know is just a Google search away, but those inquiry skills of asking good questions are lifelong skills. Outdoor education is such a natural way to teach that.”
Students are Learning to Care for God’s Creation
“I think that Outdoor Education is important because our world is in need of people who know how to care for it.”
Another aspect of outdoor education that’s very important to Warners is teaching students to care for our earth. Kids are learning about issues in our world and given chances to find ways to solve some of these problems.
“Our students learn that historically people have used resources, disposed of trash, and damaged our world in a way that leaves us with unintended consequences,” says Warners.
“Everything is connected. As we deal with topics like watersheds, invasive species, water scarcity, landfills, sustainable energy and the like, we are confronting our students with the issues they will be forced to solve as adults.”
There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather at Rockford Christian School
“We love taking advantage of the elements,” says Buursma. “It changes kids’ perspectives on it.”
Whether it’s a 0 degree or 90 degree day, RCS encourages kids to look at the neat things you can do in that weather.
When winter struck, instead of being grumpy at the loss of sunshine and the frigid temps, kids started looking at where animals go in winter. Students used the snow to make shelters, ice forts and igloos, and went ice fishing.
Each student has a yoga mat or chair to take outside for class and knows to always have the right gear for the elements.
“Time outside is better for kids and their development, their focus and attention. We want to be intentional about carving out those spaces,” adds Buursma.
Want to Know More? Visit Rockford Christian and be Wowed by This Outdoor Learning Experience
Interested families really should visit Rockford Christian to see this vast outdoor classroom firsthand and see how kids are being inspired daily by the outdoors. Curious kids thrive in outdoor education. It fosters their sense of curiosity and gives them a bigger perspective.
“Kids love outdoor ed,” says Buursma.
To schedule a tour email Linda Vellenga, Director of Admissions, or call her at 616-574-6015. You can also catch a glimpse of their offerings on their website. Rockford Christian School is part of Grand Rapids Christian Schools.
“Our mission is to prepare effective servants for Christ and we have this hope that when kids have these meaningful experiences outside, they fall in love with creation and want to take care of it, “ says Buursma.