Nature provides classroom at expanding private school

Evergreen Brick Works site of new Gradale Academy campus in September

A lily-dotted pond so clear that dozens of fish can be easily seen swimming about. Trees that betray nothing of a nearby highway.

Doesn’t sound like your average classroom, but that’s exactly what the Don Valley will become this September.

Private school Gradale Academy is expanding with a new campus at Evergreen’s Brick Works.

Gradale founder Michelle Gradish has been operating the Rosedale-area preschool to grade 3 school for 10 years. She says a new campus at the Brick Works, a nature conservation area, fits in well with her teaching philosophy: small classes (8-10 students) and outdoor education – the kids spend at least one hour a day outside.

Having a second campus right in the Don Valley will allow students to be even more engaged with nature.

“The key with this space is that we really bring education to the outdoors, that’s what we really want to do,” Gradish said.

Having another location will also allow the school to accommodate students up to grade 6.

The students studying at the Brick Works will have access to hiking trails, and will be able to fish in the pond and plant trees — even build with clay. Aside from the nature, she said the students will also have access to a pioneer-style playground, a skating rink and an art gallery.

Daily outdoor activities during all seasons have always been a part of the education at Gradale Academy, Gradish said.

She feels children are bogged down by too many structured programs.

“It’s almost like the students lost the whole sense of how to just creatively play outdoors.”

Gradale tries to bring that back by taking the students outside every day and playing games, including ones that don’t require too many tools: hide and seek and kick the can, she said.

She said she finds children are calmer and more focused after they come back inside – both because they were surrounded by nature and because they’ve exhausted some energy.

The school otherwise follows the Ontario curriculum, with languages and math studied in the morning and more creative activities in the afternoon, Gradish said.

Gradish said she is excited to have the new space for her students this fall.

“I just think it makes them feel free and it’s educational, but they don’t know that,” she said. “It just opens their minds to a whole different level of learning.”

About this article:

By: Alina Smirnova
Posted: Aug 3 2010 11:53 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto