“Armed with colorful hula-hoops and small plastic magnifying glasses, a group of soon-to-be kindergartners spent part of Monday morning outside discovering plants and insects before moving inside to learn how to line up for the bathroom and sit quietly in the hall.
It was all part of Kindercamp, a three-day program for area incoming kindergartners from Hamilton, Holland, West Ottawa and Zeeland put on by staff from the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway and Ready For School.
During camp, children spend time in the classroom with their teachers, which allows them to adjust to their new surroundings before the formal school year begins. Pat VerDuin, executive director of Ready for School, said research shows that achieving a comfort level in the classroom very early in a child’s educational career has a profound positive impact on students’ long-term learning abilities.
The time also gives teachers a chance to individually assess students and determine where they stand academically and socially prior to the start of school.
In addition to the in-school portion of the camp, staff from the Outdoor Discovery Center lead the children in activities outside to pique their interest in nature and their sense of discovery and curiosity. Getting the kids outside and playing in the outdoors for a few hours a day is extremely important, Outdoor Discovery Center Executive Director Travis Williams said.
According to the Children in Nature Network, play in nature during childhood is an important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving and emotional and intellectual development.
“When they’re learning about colors and shapes, why not go outside?” he said. “They don’t need a field trip. They don’t need to spend money. They can just come right out here,” Williams said, pointing to a green space outside West Ottawa’s Great Lakes Elementary.
On Monday, the students lay down hula-hoops and inspected the area within the circle to see what kind they could find. “What did you find?” a teacher asked the group. One girl responded, “A stick and an ant!” Another chimed in, “I found all kinds of stuff. I found some beetles. They look like bugs!”