Grand Rapids, MI – Little faces peer over the edge of the box. Some eggs were starting to roll a little. Then came the cracks, and the eggs followed and voices of the excited children hung in the air.
When the first chick beaks became visible through the cracks in the eggs, the deal was sealed. This class would be life-long chicken lovers. Experiences like that make an impression and are hard to forget – and that’s the point.
North Point Elementary School’s nature-based preschool began in 2017 with a simple yet profound aim of “a Christ-centered, high-quality education, with academic, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual development goals.” In their program based entirely on God’s creation, they are hoping to achieve those developmental goals by experiencing the natural world by being in it.
Through a mix of outdoor instruction and indoor reinforcement, students in NPC’s program study everything from plants and animals to seasons and the geology and geography of their own state of Michigan. But all of it is taught to be God’s good creation.
Learning at School
On-site children make mud pies in the outdoor kitchen and grow and harvest vegetables in the school garden. They also learn to care for and help maintain a small flock of chickens. Clad in their Oaki suits, students learn in and from nature, rain or shine. And with visits from the Alligator Sanctuary and the Exotic Zoo, life in this school is far from boring or routine.
But the education extends far outside the reach of the school. Each year students take between nine and twelve field trips to experience different aspects of God’s creation and what it means to be a part of creation and be stewards of it. Students visit places like Heidi’s Farm Stand to learn about the growing process and the incredible variety of vegetables that can be grown; nature centers like Blandford to see and experience diverse ecosystems; John Ball Zoo, because, well, who doesn’t love a zoo?! Plainsong Farm and Ministry (here’s an excellent article on Plainsong), Dairy Discovery, where they have in the past experienced a calf being born; Meijer Gardens where the students get to see some of the ways that the beauty of nature and the creativity of humanity can go hand in hand, as well as visit the butterfly house and be surrounded by the exceptional natural beauty God gave his creation. All these experiences help to foster a love and appreciation for God’s good earth.
Why Nature-Based Preschool?
North Pointe Christian developed the nature-based program based on research about effective learning in developing minds. Not only do we know that it is beneficial to learn of God’s word, including all of it’s teachings on creation, but we know academically and developmentally there are also benefits. They focus on four key benefits that help prepare the kids for the rest of life—from the NPC website:
1. Improved Health Outcomes: “Enrolling a child in a nature preschool increases their physical health and fitness, while reducing anxiety and stress through extensive, unstructured play and activities. Students in a nature preschool have a less-sedentary lifestyle, encouraging them to build fine and gross motor skills, agility, muscle, healthy weight, and improved immunity.
2. Exchanging Technology for Sensory Engagement: “While technology primarily engages children’s sight and auditory senses, nature-based play allows children all-encompassing sensory experiences.”
3. Increased Social-Emotional Development: “Through regular sensory engagement and countless opportunities to explore, take risks, and interact with nature, students’ self-esteem and self-confidence blossoms.”
4. “[E]xtensive exposure to nature at a young age grants students a deeper awareness of sustainability practices and ways to care for the earth. Recent research studies have also demonstrated that nature preschool improves students’ concentration and focus.”
There’s so much to learn about God’s creation and in God’s creation, but North Pointe Christian has found a way to learn from creation. They are turning the goodness of God’s world into a classroom that offers their students opportunities and methods that contribute to life-long skills and fosters a deeper love for God, appreciation for nature and our place in it. An incredible way to introduce children to the Creator and his creation.