Go Play Outside – And Get an A on Your Report Card!
Snowflakes fall from the sky on a cold February morning. Fresh tracks leave behind animal clues. Young students learn in a classroom of towering trees and whirling wind with curious deer wandering past.
When I learned about West Side Christian’s new Forest Kindergarten, I immediately thought of my five-year old son and how enchanted he would be. Being outside exploring and learning is one of his favorite things to do. He would pass up video games any day to be able to go on a nature hike and find fun treasures.
This snowy exploration is a normal day for kindergarten and nature-based preschool students at West Side Christian School, located on the northwest side of Grand Rapids.
After the success of its nature-based preschool, West Side Christian has been piloting Forest Kindergarten. This year they began integrating forest school into the curriculum, and will launch the Forest Kindergarten program in the 2019-2020 school year.
“The benefits of outdoor learning are undeniable,” says Janet Staal, Director of Nature-Based/Outdoor Education at West Side Christian School.
Technology has Driven This Desire to Learn Outdoors
Over the last few decades, the amount of time that children spend outside has decreased dramatically. With the rise in technology and the fear that comes with leaving our children to explore the outside on their own, kids are often kept inside, engaged with a screen instead of people or God’s creation.
Daily, students spend intentional time outdoors. Children will learn sight words written in the dirt or snow, count leaves or rocks, observe animals to learn more about living things and their life cycles, plant flowers to observe their growth, and graph weather cycles.
The school has an onsite nature preserve, school garden and seven acres of outdoor space which makes nature-based learning a natural fit. The new Forest Kindergarten builds on the nature-based preschool program, currently in its third year.
Benefits of Being Outside are Diverse
West Side Christian School is helping to meet this vital need for students, especially as research shows how interacting with the outdoors not only lifts our spirits and increases student learning, but reduces stress, anxiety and levels of depression.
“What children learn at an early age becomes a part of them.” says Kindergarten teacher Delia Roberts.
“Learning in class is one thing, but going outside and experiencing it is another. Their learning becomes real.”
Being outside ignites excitement and curiosity in young children that cannot be replicated in the classroom. Students gain problem-solving skills, have increased positive social interactions, have a strong motivation to learn, and more.
Want to Learn More About West Side Christian?
You’re invited to join West Side Christian’s BUDS, free educational events for children ages 0-5 and their caregivers. Visit the events section of WSCS’s Facebook page to view upcoming events. Enrollment for kindergarten and early childhood is open now. Visit wscsgr.org or contact the school office for more information or to schedule a tour.