Ada Christian School in Ada, Michigan, moved to its current 37-acre site in 2002. The campus includes the main school building as well as an athletic complex, but “we have always recognized that our property offered many unique learning spaces: prairie, woods, wetlands,” said Melissa Brower, the school’s principal. “It was not until recently that dreams of integrated outdoor education really took firm root and plans started to take shape.”
The result: an integrated outdoor education initiative that will engage learners from preschool to eighth grade.
Much of the work on the outdoor space was done over the summer, including the construction of an outdoor education classroom; a prayer walk that includes a garden area, mountain, wilderness area, valley, and a crossing of the seas; a WoodshED with amphitheater seating; and a frog pond. Native plants have been planted toward a goal of having about 200 species of trees on the property. The students also helped to clear a two-mile hiking/biking trail last year.
Upcoming projects nearing completion include a barn and a wind and solar tower. Animals are part of the experience: three goats will help to keep invasive plant species at bay, and chickens will also find a home on the property. Further out, plans include construction of a pioneer village, complete with a log cabin and a Native American long house.
“At Ada Christian, outdoor education is an integrated approach from preschool to eighth grade,” said Brower. “All of our faculty and staff members have been part of the dreaming and doing of this initiative. We know that motivated students learn and that the kinds of engaging, hands-on opportunities our outdoor education program offers are great for educating students and teachers.”
The school has educators on staff dedicated to assisting classroom teachers in the integration of outdoor education, and all teachers have planning time with the outdoor ed teachers in order to brainstorm learning and service opportunities linked to the curriculum. “The outdoor education teachers are also available to co-teach with the classroom teachers,” said Brower. “Having outdoor education specialists on staff is a great way to help us all learn and grow together
The students love the opportunities the campus now provides. The mother of a kindergartener told Brower, “My child would rather be outside finding leaves, sticks, and worms than anything else. Although I am doing a lot of laundry, I am happy! So is she."
“Balancing screen time and green time is something we see as a growing need for our youth,” said Brower, “and we are eager to partner with parents in Christian education to provide well-balanced, engaging, and authentic experiences for our students that connect our boys and girls to creation and, ultimately, our Creator.”