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Kindergartners immerse in nature, for a whole week

Quite possibly the very best thing a kindergartner can carry into the woods is a magnifying glass, because everything seems way more fascinating. At least it did to a pair of kindergarten classes from Bushnell Elementary.

Students in Emma Kluge’s and Angie Christians’ classes spent a week at the Wittenbach Wege Environmental Agriscience Center as part of a pilot immersion program. It was loosely based on Annie’s BIG Nature Lesson, a study program tailored to mid-Michigan nature centers, but modified for kindergartners.

Kindergartners also did service-learning projects, including spreading wood chips on trails surrounding the center’s pond. Left to right: Makenna Buning, Jenna Phillips, Maci Buning, Aubrey Kraft, Raya Longway, Evie Russell and Bria Kavanagh (courtesy photo)

“Miss Courtney, is this poison ivy?” asked Bria Kavanagh as she held her lens up to a purplish stalk that bent under its own weight.

“Nope. Just a standard old pricker bush,” answered center Director Courtney Cheers.

Lessons focused on science and STEM objectives that related to weather and plant and wildlife adaptations. They included observation and writing skills, as well as service learning projects and unstructured nature play.

Jenna Dinka said the best thing she learned during the week at the center was “that animals make their own highways,” or paths through the woods.

Peyton Melnik said she learned that “puddles on the ground go back up into the sky.”

And in addition to predators, animals need shelter “from avalanches,” said Aubrey Kraft.

Mason Kiefer examines tree bark

Christians and Kluge called the pilot kindergarten immersion week a success.

“We’ve been able to hit all our science standards, and here, it’s been uninterrupted time to focus on them,” Christians said. “There’s been a lot of free-form imaginative time, and a lot of freedom within the structure of the lessons.

“It’s also gotten some really good, authentic parent involvement, and that’s been very positive.”

Added Kluge: “This should be kindergarten.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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