Ennis Community Children's School look to take learning beyond four walls

"The big focus in early learning is to incorporate the curriculum and take that outside to continue their exploration." Lacey Keller, ECCS Director

ENNIS – The Ennis Community Children’s School has been a part of the community since 1982, when it was first founded to serve the needs of Ennis’ youngest members. Their mission is to increase children’s perception of the world and become enthusiastic learners. One way they are looking to do that is through an outdoor learning environment. 

“The focus of the outdoor learning center is to focus on taking what you’re teaching indoors and apply it outside,” said Lacey Keller, ECCS director. Keller has been with ECCS for two and half years and holds a degree in elementary education, working toward a minor in early childhood development. 

Keller, who is the brainchild behind the outdoor learning environment, said the it will be more than just playground, but a safe, independent place for students to explore and learn fine motor skills. “The big focus in early learning is to incorporate the curriculum and take that outside to continue their exploration.”

Tom Kuntz is on the ECCS board and said they have been working toward making improvements, both inside and outside the facility. 

“Inside we’ve really been focused on painting everything and sprucing things up,” he said. “Lacey structured and organized the building inside in a series of stations, so the kids can go from blocks to reading to puzzles to art – all sorts of different things. They rotate around and that gives them a playful activity but they’re learning at the same time.”

Kuntz said ECCS feels more like a preschool rather than a daycare because Keller and the rest of her staff are working to develop the youngsters’ skills. The school accepts students ages two and a half to five; currently they have anywhere between 16-20 kiddos on a regular basis.

“The idea with the outdoor learning environment is to take that sort of structured education play activity outside and continue learning skills,” said Kuntz.

Keller hopes to expand her classroom outside with music stations, art stations, science and math stations, gardens and much, much more. “At the science station it could be something to do with sorting or there could be different size tubes and the students test different theories,” said Keller. “The music station will have a stage and there will be a construction zone with a sandbox and a fort and we’re going to expand our garden.” Keller said she even hopes to build a greenhouse, so the kids can continue to learn about planting and growing crops. 



Fundraising efforts are in place for the new outdoor learning environment, according to Kuntz, who said they hope to build the week of October 9-14. They are working with a company out of New York on design and are now in the process of working on different fundraising events, gathering donations and working toward earning grants. 

“One thing we hope to continue through the entire summer is our Catch and Give fundraiser,” said Kuntz. 

Catch and Give was started by a high school student a few years back who visited the area and wanted to give back to the community. The fundraiser works with different fishing outfitters in town and asks people to pledge a certain amount per fish they catch. 

Other fundraising ideas the fundraising committee is considering are possible dinners, ping pong ball drop, etc., as well as going out and asking for donations as well as volunteers to help during the building process, according to Kuntz.

“We think the build will take about a week and we’re thinking about $75,000,” said Kuntz of the project. There are other needs at the school, including a new roof and rebuilding the ramps into the building and incorporating a new floor. In total, Kuntz is projecting around $90,000 for it all. 

Kuntz said they received a grant from 3 Rivers for $2,500 to go toward the outdoor learning environment.


Community help

“I love being here and being able to utilize our space,” said Keller. “It’s a wonderful environment for our kids and we have such great community support.” 

Kuntz echoed that sentiment, saying he feels the community is always willing to help with ECCS. “We’ll be looking for lots of help – from sourcing materials to build teams to volunteers supplying food to daycare,” he said. “In a place like Ennis, it’s easy to get the help because everyone wants to help and that’s pretty special.”


*If you’re interested in volunteering or donating to the new ECCS outdoor learning environment, contact the school at 682-7388 or via email,

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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