The Nature Explore Classroom at

Gretchen’s House Child Development Center
Oak Valley
Lake Playground

Our center was built in 1998. The owner of our organization, Gretchen Preston was a certified playground inspector and she used that knowledge along with her love of nature and the outdoors when planning for the outdoor spaces. Over the years, our commitment to children spending quality time outdoors and to their exploration of the outdoor environment has been a hallmark of Gretchen’s House-Oak Valley.

We have separate outdoor classrooms for infant/toddler and preschool children, meeting children at their developmental levels. Our outdoor spaces are filled with trees that provide natural shade. Each outdoor area contains a sand and water area with several outdoor classrooms having manual pumps and troughs for water exploration. The manual pumps offer children the chance to use their upper bodies while also allowing for water conservation. Rock walls instead of steps to platforms/climbers were used to offer all body movement. Elevations include steps and hills allowing children to learn to navigate differences. On the hills children are often observed rolling or running down them alone or with a group of friends.

Our designated children’s garden is maintained by the children and their teachers. You will also find many planting boxes and barrels throughout our outdoor spaces. Children are involved in planning, planting, weeding and watering. The garden provides vegetables and fruit for the classrooms and for children to share with their families. Flowers from the gardens are enjoyed both indoors and outdoors.

During summer months, you might see children playing under a soaker hose suspended between trees. During winter months, children are building snow forts, sledding, exploring snow and icicles. Recently, we have added more tree stumps, branches and logs, many donated by our families. Wood picnic tables can be found throughout the spaces, used for mealtimes and small group activities. Wooden glider swings are where you often find a teacher with a group of children, singing and telling stories to each other.

Our focus on curriculum happening outdoors is beneficial to our children and staff. It lowers stress levels and allows exploration and learning that is self-driven and powerful. Making sure that children and teachers have the materials they need and that are readily available has been important to our success. Wooden storage shelves and cabinets provide us with those tools.

One of our favorte things is to host potlucks for families and staff, utilizing our outdoor spaces. These potlucks are typically held in the spring and fall. We often welcome visitors from other programs, states and countries. We have been fortunate to observe adult visitors enjoying themselves in our spaces, whether it be spending time in one of the hammocks, playing tetherball, or picking something from our garden to eat.

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2340 Oak Valley Drive
Ann Arbor MI 48103