By Eliza Screenplay—
MUNCIE, IN—This fall, the Ball Brothers Foundation took a group of eleven grantees on a special trip to Leland, Michigan, where the foundation hosted a Northern Michigan Summit. For several days, the group explored the intersection of outdoor recreation and education, specifically the value of outdoor learning in the lives of children and young adults. The group stayed at the historic Leland Lodge and had the opportunity to meet BBF board members who live in the Leland area, an area where generations of Ball family members have summered.
While attending the summit, members of the Indiana group met their counterparts from like-minded organizations in Michigan.
Participating organizations in Indiana included:
- Muncie Community Schools
- Redstart land maintenance
- By Minnetri
- Cardinal Greenway
- Burris Laboratory School
- Camp Crosley
- Daleville Community Schools
- BSU environmental education
- Ball State University
Organizations in Michigan included:
- TART trails
- inland seas
- Leelanau Conservancy
- Leelanau Outdoor Center
- The children’s house
- Art Academy Interlochen
- Leo Creek Reservation
- Boardman River Nature Center
Together, the groups visited nature reserves, saw children learn in schools that put outdoor learning at the heart of their curriculum, and even had their own hands-on learning adventures. The journey is designed to stimulate new ideas, innovation, collaboration and create new ‘peer’ connections.
Sarah Milligan-Toffler, President and CEO of Children and Nature Network, served as the keynote speaker for the Northern Michigan Summit hosted by the Ball Brothers Foundation. Children and Nature Network works to create “green schoolyards,” to integrate meaningful natural playgrounds into parks and public spaces, and to promote the vital role of free play in nature.
The group enjoyed visiting The Children’s House, a Montessori school in Traverse City that places outdoor learning at the heart of its educational philosophy. The school’s outdoor playgrounds are infused with natural play elements, and the learning environment is carefully designed to harness children’s natural urge to explore and cultivate intelligence through purposeful, independent and interesting work.
In Traverse City, the group also made a stop at the Boardman River Nature Center, built in 2008 on the banks of the Boardman River. The nature center is adjacent to a 505-acre residential laboratory that is home to a nature-based preschool, home school programs, school field trips, a hugely popular nature day camp, and more. A new nature playground recently constructed on site inspired the teachers, principals and nature preschool leaders in the group.
Additionally, the group enjoyed spending time at Leo Creek Preserve, an outdoor learning lab, wildlife sanctuary, and botanical garden in Suttons Bay, Michigan steeped in learning, rest, and recreation. From the 1980s onwards, children from the local Montessori schools ran out of their classrooms into the woods every day, whatever the weather, where they played in the creek. They sat on its banks, eating lunch, telling stories, dipping their toes in the cool, clear water, wading on the sandy bottom, and balancing on fallen logs. They formed alliances and made peace, learned to negotiate, resolve conflicts, and formed lifelong friendships.
The Leelanau Outdoor Center, another site visited during the Northern Michigan Summit, is perched on a 300 foot bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, surrounded by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and with 2500 feet of beach frontage. The LOC was founded almost two decades ago by a group of local school teachers who saw a need for quality outdoor and character education. Today, the LOC hosts nearly 3,000 students from across Michigan for one to five day overnight programs in on-site cabins. Showing the location to friends from Camp Crosley was exciting and inspired the group to consider the potential for Muncie Community Schools’ Camp Adventure.
The Summit group was also pleased to hear about a multi-phase project underway in northern Michigan to create mountain bike trails that will eventually extend 14 miles through a majestic forest reserve that already supports miles of hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoe hikes. The incredible collaboration between TART Trails, Norte and Leelanau Conservancy (all based in the Traverse City area) reminded the group that recreation, economic development, wellness and outdoor adventure are complementary and key to quality of life.
Another exciting highlight of the trip was a sailing adventure on Lake Michigan in partnership with the Inland Seas Educational Association. The group boarded one of Inland Seas’ traditionally rigged tall ship schooners, where participants learned about the organization’s work to inspire a lifetime of curiosity, responsibility and passion for Great Lakes in people of all ages. In addition to the beautiful vistas, the group was motivated to consider ways to provide hands-on learning experiences for Delaware County students using the rivers, creeks, reservoirs, and lakes that east-central Indiana abounds in.
Over a decade ago, Ball Brothers Foundation staff read Richard Louv’s book, The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. In response, the foundation has launched a special grant initiative called Outdoor Pursuits, which aims to strengthen outdoor recreation and nature education in and around Muncie. Since then, the foundation has helped build nature playgrounds next to daycare centers, supported the growth of MCS’ Camp Adventure, funded the establishment of a nature preschool program, and more. As the foundation plans for the future, the experiences at the Northern Michigan Summit helped set the stage for reflection on how the Ball Brothers Foundation’s grant strategies might evolve to build on this momentum and expand the existing outdoor educational opportunities and – Strengthen Delaware County experiences.