Friday, April 19, 2013

Granger Community Church: Early Learning Center

This morning I met with the director of the Early Learning Center at Granger Community Church. I've been researching natural playscape areas with the intent of creating similar elements at Woodlawn Nature Center in Elkhart and was overjoyed when I found out about one so close to us. I took my family to visit earlier this month. We had a great visit and it was good to see my children interact so much with the natural elements. Here is an introduction video of their program. Their core mission is centered on: Faith, Family, Foundation. This mission was evident in all details of the school down to the symbolism of the dandelion in their logo. The staff is very knowledgeable in the early childhood field. I appreciated that even the teachers take risks. Managed risk is good for all of us!

Chris Whitmire, the director, talked to us about our plans and also the process they went through to get where they are now. One thing about the tour was finding out all the planned details that went into the natural play area, such as the verse inscribed in the carving, the barn beams from a nearby farm, the rocks middle school children picked out a local area, and the 100-year-old pavers from the old homestead. Culture is honored and respected. Oak was milled on site for the play house. Attention to detail was everywhere.

I didn't take as many pictures as I would have liked as school was in session in most of the rooms; however, many are available here. There was such attention to detail at all levels. Nature was a part of every nook and cranny in the Early Learning Center, from the wooden tables to the themed rooms. The children's artwork shows recycling and their own freeform art, rather than a cookie cutter approach to children's crafts. The mission shined through the active learning.

This is the younger children's classroom, based on the concept of "My Backyard" as learning occurs in our backyard spaces and with our neighbors as the first environment out of our homes. Other rooms are based on Farm Life, the Garden Patch, and Under the Sea. What neat rooms that help children understand nature and the love of learning! Furniture is appropriately sized. I saw dress up, imaginative play, exploration, reading, and lots of SMILES!

Charts, graphs, alphabet boxes and other learning tools were readily accessible and showed evidence of learning.

Outdoor and field experiences are brought back to the classroom and used to further extend learning opportunities. This showed the process of making maple syrup, which was part of a field trip and then brought into the learning area.

There were natural elements throughout the facility. Nature is a HUGE part of the school and learning process. Food is made by a local chef and catered, with as many natural, local, and organic foods included as possible. Looking at the menu, I wanted to eat there! This is a big difference from my children's menus at our local school.

Chris shared the basics of a recent presentation at the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children Conference that looked at why children need natural play spaces, the benefits of this learning interaction with the outdoors, and the process they took to get to this stage. What a great labor of love!

I checked out their Facebook Page--it's great to see the kids engaged in active learning! I saw field trips to tap maple trees, baby animal visits, worm studies, etc.

Chris also has Nuts & Bolts Playgrounds to help others in their journey to create more natural spaces for learning! She is well versed in helping others achieve their dreams! I truly appreciate her help in thinking through what we want and how to connect children to nature through a natural playscape. She had valuable advice and resources.