For Teachers, Parents, and Caregivers

Children cannot bounce off walls if we take away the walls!

Erin Kenny, founder of Cedarsong nature school in washington

Here’s what I want you to know:

I promise that the kids will have fun and they will learn, but it might not look like what you’re used to. It won’t be complicated. It won’t be the kind of busy you associate with school. And, honestly? It doesn’t and shouldn’t require a lot of detailed planning. All of that just gets in the way. In our modern world we tend to think that experiences for children should be either pumped up, excited, and noisy or still, quiet, and packed with meticulously structured, curricular lessons. That is not what I offer nor who I am.

I’ll be honest. Would I love it if the kids came out to the wild and enjoyed it peacefully, quietly, gently, with the same sense of reverence that I have for it? Of course I would! But the reality is that most of these kids have had little to no exposure to natural spaces where they are allowed to do some running amok, get wet and dirty, or to feel at home there. Not to mention, elementary age students are still young children. Developmentally, they still need to play and explore. And so I offer a compromise. Not completely running amok, but I believe it is imperative that there is sufficient immersion in a natural space before I feel comfortable offering curriculum-based directives. Even when I bring with me plans for focusing their thinking on a grade-level science units, it goes completely against all that I know to confine children in a wild, natural space, to a focused curriculum that was determined by distant adults. Rather, if the interest and opportunity presents itself, I am happy to use what the students notice on their own to ask thinking questions and to propose investigations that may relate to said science curriculum. Otherwise known as using teachable moments. But when students choose not to take up my prompting, it is wisest for me to leave it behind for the time being and, instead, follow them to the next discovery. I alternate leading, following, falling back, listening, sharing, and wondering. I model vocabulary in the context of our explorations. If we are wading in water I ask thinking questions about what lives in the water or where the water came from. When we walk along a decomposing log, I model digging into the soft, new soil of it and wonder aloud what turned this former tree into a soft bit of rich earth. There is no end to the science, magic, and wonder of this planet’s natural spaces.

Woods and Wetlands programs are about mostly-unstructured, exploration and play-based learning in local, wild, spaces. I am there as a facilitator and guide. I do expect respectful behavior toward nature, toward each other, and toward any participating adults. My background uniquely suits me to be comfortable taking children out into the wilderness to support their learning about what they discover, and encourage them to think, wonder, and notice. I ask thinking questions. I offer opportunities to answer some of those questions, but also demonstrate the validity of not having all of the answers. It is all quite simple. It is beautifully easy and natural.

Why only 2 programs per day?

I offer just one program slot in the morning and one in the afternoon. I intentionally choose to keep my days low-stress and enjoyable. I refuse to over-schedule myself. When I decided to leave classroom teaching, I set a goal to avoid rushing and hurrying children or myself. Americans’ lives have become far busier, exhausting, and more stressful than I want mine to be as long as I have the good fortune to have choice in the matter. My own sense of peace, awe, and wonder in natural spaces is communicated to your young adventurers. If I am anxious and overwhelmed, they will sense it too. So I keep it simple and allow our explorations to unfold as they will.

Why does it look like the kids are just playing? How is that educational?

Well, because they are playing! And there is no “just” in that statement. The value of play should not be minimized. “Play is the work of childhood.” Play is how children are meant to learn. I could provide you with numerous studies and research-based publications that demonstrate the many reasons why children should be engaged, daily, in unstructured, outdoor exploration and play. I could point to ways play-based learning in nature supports your school curriculums. In fact, click here for a few sources for anyone who wishes to know some of the facts that support what I offer in Woods and Wetlands programs. I absolutely want you to see the value that I see. I hope you will learn about why play is exactly what we should see children doing during these programs.

Did you know?

Education as we know it today got started with the rise of industrialization. Compulsory education in the current model brought about the rise of ADHD as a perceived problem for children. “Not only will exploratory kids feel bored and inadequate in conventional schools, the constrained setting actually makes their symptoms worse.” “In the late nineteenth century, educators saw the need to prepare children, especially working class children, for an industrial work life. Kindergarten shifted to more time indoors and the lessons became more programmatic…” and, “American kindergarten continued its relentless slouch into sit-down academics.” (from The Nature Fix by Florence Williams)

Consider this:

  • All human children learn through exploration.
  • Nature “naturally” teaches us to be Safe, Respectful, and Responsible.
  • Spending unstructured time in wild spaces has significant and proven positive, social, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual effects on humans.
  • We recover from stress more quickly the more we engage with nature.
  • Nature is healing, restorative, and proven to boost NK cells which fight diseases in our bodies.
  • Unstructured time in nature builds empathy and supports memory and attention.
  • Play activates hundreds of genes in the frontal cortex.
  • “If children don’t get enough unstructured play time they are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilize poor problem solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions.” -Pediatric Occupational Therapist
  • In play, the process is more important than the product. It’s the journey, not the destination.
  • Nature play increases performance in: perceptual skills, IQ, verbal ability, mathematical ability, and academic readiness!