The Nature Explore Classroom at

Gretchen’s House Dhu Varren

Several years ago, Gretchen Preston, the owner of Gretchen’s House Child Care Centers, attended the Nature Explore Leadership Institute in Nebraska. This conference inspired her to design all new outdoor classrooms to meet the Nature Explore standards and to redesign existing spaces.

Flash forward to 2019 when Gretchen encouraged three of our current administrators to return to the institute. We returned to Ann Arbor with a renewed sense of import for bringing all of our outdoor classrooms consistently in line with the Nature Explore guiding principles. To ensure that staff had the resources they needed to meet the outdoor classroom criteria at their individual centers, we have been meeting with representatives from each of our eight centers on the first Friday of the month since June of 2021.

As we continued our work on our physical spaces together, we were also more intentional in sharing this information with staff and families. During the summer of 2021 we had all staff trained by Nature Explore. All staff either attended, “Learning Outdoors with Infants and Toddlers” or “Using Your Outdoor Classroom.” We have also posted to our social media about outdoor learning opportunities for families and have shared activities from the Family Resources tab with our community once monthly for almost a year.

This past summer of 2022, we took 10 staff to the learning institute. The staff returned with many ideas and with a real sense of the difference that being outdoors makes both to adults and to children. Their time at the institute inspired them to plan and carry out a 4 hour staff training – for all 150 Gretchen’s House staff- based on their time at the institute.

The specific changes we have made at our center at Dhu Varren include clearly defined and labeled areas on our preschool and infant/toddler playgrounds, many more loose parts such as various sized logs, wood cookies, sticks, shells and pinecones, and the use of materials to create forts. Shelving and storage additions have made keeping materials stored and sorted much easier for children and teachers.


1580 Dhu Varren Rd
Ann Arbor, MI 48105