West Side has Raised the bar on Nature-Based Learning
Outdoor schools have become quite popular in West Michigan as educators see the huge benefits of this hands-on, nature-based learning. Even my kid’s schools that don’t have outdoor learning are still stressing the importance of recess and going outside as part of math or science class. Being outdoors enhances learning.
But when West Side Christian school expanded their outdoor education, they turned it up a notch. With Blandford Nature Center nearly in their backyard, it made sense to partner with this champion of outdoor learning.
“We don’t just do field trips,” says Janet Staal, Director of Outdoor Education at West Side. Instead, they immerse the students in history, geography and the natural world. Blandford isn’t just a destination – it’s part of their curriculum.
“The natural world is something that kids need,“ adds Janet.
If you haven’t visited Blandford with your kids, you need to make it a priority. You can go during one of their community events like the annual Sugar Bush Festival (my kids loved this!!), or hike the grounds on your own for a small fee (also a hit).
Families who want to couple faith-based education with Blandford’s vast resources are really excited about West Side Christian’s growing program.
Students at West Side are Gaining a Broader Understanding of their Community and World
“Nothing came without collaboration,” says Janet. West Side didn’t just want to use the Blandford facility (in addition to the existing outdoor facility at West Side). They saw the goldmine of knowledge at Blandford.
“I talked to a master naturalist and a farmer (from Blandford), and we used their expertise to adapt how we started to use our campus,” continues Janet. “You get the expertise of a nature center and through collaboration we’re continuously learning how to engage kids when we teach outside.”
But beyond basic outdoor teaching concepts, students’ eyes are being opened to their own community and how their personal choices have consequences.
“Our 7th graders are looking at the history of Grand Rapids and realizing that a lot of our problems with water quality stem from our land decisions,” says Janet. “Our middle schoolers are now researching how to add green infrastructure to our campus because they want to improve our watershed and water quality.”
When students investigate life long ago, they are immersed in Blandford’s wild spaces and uncover an appreciation for the Anishinabek ancient lifeways.
“We are seeing love for learning grow because they’re getting these outdoor experiences at a young age,” says Janet.
West Side has Even More Plans for its Outdoor Education Program
Outdoor education is constantly evolving at West Side. Spanning every grade, from preschool – 8th, each class has intentional experiences outdoors, both on site and at Blandford.
After seeing the impact of growing food through Blandford’s CSA, West Side now plans to build a hoop house on site.
Janet has most recently been awed by the 7th grade’s enthusiasm for water quality and how the middle school students apply their science education to take action to solve real-world problems.
“It takes them to the next level of their focus,” shares Janet. “The way that it naturally captures their enthusiasm, we can harness that to reach their goals and objectives.”
“I can’t imagine not having this as a tool for learning.”
Here’s how you can Join in the fun at West Side Christian
West Side Christian School is located in northwest Grand Rapids. They offer preschool – 8th grade classes and are continually growing their outdoor education program in each grade.
School tours are available by contacting West Side Christian through their website or calling the school office at 616-453-3925.
West Side also has some upcoming nature-based summer programs open to all kids. You can check their website for upcoming summer opportunities.