Outdoor School seeks to empower students to explore the natural world and encounter their Creator God. This program had been on hold due to COVID-19, so students in grades K-8 were excited to gather again for a week at Northern Lights Camp. Outdoor School provides an opportunity for students to enjoy a unique educational environment, foster scientific curiosity, develop friendships, learn about God through experiencing nature, and create a desire for lifelong outdoor learning.
Students were divided up into grade groups to rotate through learning stations that correlated to this year’s science curriculum. Teachers led out in a food chain art project, classification of animals, and a very exciting fish dissection. Students also visited Metigoshe State Park’s Learning Center for a lesson in wildlife ecology and to play a new game called Ranger. Cooler weather prevented lake activities but learning to forage for edible plants and a photo scavenger hunt kept students active and exploring the fall flora and fauna.
Afternoon STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) projects were a highlight as students were divided up into multi-grade teams, with an 8th grader leading each team. TJ Roberts, teacher from Sioux Falls, led out in a rocket-building project where students developed a simple paper prototype before moving on to create a large bottle rocket. Teams created a supply budget and then proceeded to build a decorative rocket with hopes that it would fly the longest. Lower-grade students excitedly counted down “3-2-1,” before performing their role as rocket launcher.
Another STEM project found students working in upper and lower-grade pairs to build a boat using only string and nature supplies found around camp. Sticks were tied together, leaves packed in for waterproofing, and makeshift sails hung. As the boats were launched off the beach students could be heard saying, “Wow, look at that one made with bark; it’s not sinking. That was smart!” or, “Our leaf sail is catching the wind!” Innovation at its finest.
Dakota Adventist Academy seniors spent the week leading out in evening games and assisting with the meals and learning stations. Their help was greatly appreciated, and their energy even more so as games of Banana Tag, Capture the Flag, and Duck Duck Goose encouraged teamwork and healthy sportsmanship. Anytime a high schooler invests in an elementary school student, a difference is made.
The week’s theme was “All Creatures Great and Small,” based on Job 12:7-10. Morning and evening worships drew students together as they connected the wonders of nature with a wonderful, loving God. Each school took turns leading out in worship music followed by devotionals shared by Dakota pastors and conference personnel. Initially, students would only sit with their friends from their school, but by the end of the week, everyone had made so many new friends that you couldn’t tell any of the schools apart. It was a beautiful visual of the family of God!
All week long, students were encouraged to engage in activities in God’s classroom, so that they might discover God through His creation and seek to know Him more deeply. Outdoor School is a time and energy commitment for all of the teachers, pastors, and support staff, but their dedication is greatly appreciated.
The Dakota Conference is devoted to its young people and looks forward to future opportunities to minister to all of our amazing Dakota kids.
Kelli Wasemiller is the Dakota Conference’s superintendent of elementary education.