MCDS and Slide Ranch: A Natural Partnership
students play in Slide Ranch tidepools

Photo credit: Sharlene Simonson

by Stephanie Deitz, Lower School Division Head

During the early days of the pandemic, Marin Country Day School, like schools everywhere, was challenged with how to bring children back to in-person learning safely and help them find joy in learning. Peeking into our classrooms back then, you would have seen students sitting at desks in rows that were physically distanced. Students worked individually rather than sharing supplies or working collaboratively. They learned in cohorts that didn’t mix with others. The restrictions around sharing spaces made our spacious campus feel cramped. 

As educators, we understood that more than ever children needed to be outdoors, for their mental, emotional and physical health. This understanding led us to our partnership with Slide Ranch. 

student drinks fresh goat milk

Photo credit: Sharlene Simonson

Located just 14 miles from MCDS, Slide Ranch is on a magical, undulating road along the California coast. The ranch has a rich history of connecting people to food and environmental education. Our similar vision and values made integration with our curriculum seamless. 

At Slide, our kindergarten through fourth grade students and teachers were able to learn weekly with an immersive outdoor education experience that was truly memorable and impactful. Children cultivated a sense of belonging and wonder in the outdoors, they had life-changing experiences in nature, and just like while learning at MCDS, students continued to grow their connections, between their own health, food, and the environment. They grew a deeper understanding of ways to protect the environment and live in ways that sustain it.

As educators, we understood that more than ever children needed to be outdoors, for their mental, emotional and physical health. This understanding led us to our partnership with Slide Ranch.

Slide Ranch is located on land once fished and foraged by the Miwok people. In the late 19th-century Portuguese dairy farmers purchased land and produced milk and butter for the residents of the area. The landscape offers a rich variety of ecosystems, from native plants and animals in the coastal scrub to the rocky intertidal zones of the coast, at the edge of the continent! Slide Ranch also represents the edge where the wildlands meet human habitation and agriculture, with a herd of goats and sheep on pasture, beehives, chickens and ducks, and an organic garden. These environments naturally inspire curiosity and myriad possibilities for observation and inquiry-based learning.

[View the Slide Ranch Photo Gallery]

students sitting on grass overlooking ocean

Students and teachers felt released and renewed while at Slide Ranch. They learned about the Miwok people and how they stewarded the land. They gardened and made healing salves from herbs. They foraged and made delicious meals, baked loaves of bread and cookies, and created energy drinks in the outdoor kitchen. They milked goats, fed chickens, examined beehives and collected honey, explored tide pools, witnessed baby lambs being born, and hiked along the coast. Slide Ranch taught us all—students and teachers alike—a lot about biodiversity, interconnectedness, and joy.  

MCDS continues to partner with Slide Ranch. On a recent kindergarten visit, students used their day to extend their recent Farm Study unit with a “farm to table” experience. In the garden, they examined the different parts of plants, made seed art, and harvested and cut their own veggies to make stir fry tacos wrapped in nasturtium leaves. Perhaps the highlight of their day was playing with the baby goat triplets—Petunia, Cowboy, and Toad. The day ended with lunch by the ocean and playing in the Fennel Forest. 

In May we held a Family Community Engagement Day so that MCDS families could experience Slide Ranch side-by-side with their students. In these tricky Covid years, when things have felt so hard in so many ways, Slide Ranch inspired a new respect for nature in our students and teachers and further highlighted the immense benefits of learning outdoors.