CONNECTION TO NATURE:
The earth is filled with so much beauty, diversity, and life! As we explore alongside our children, experiencing the natural world with all five senses, we grow deep connections to the earth, one another, and our creator. We have seen in our own lives and the lives of our children that time spent in nature is never wasted. Outside, imaginations flourish, teamwork and cooperation are the norm, and curiosity leads to understanding.
We were created for community. Discovery Wilderness School hopes to be a catalyst for families to create lasting friendships that go beyond our weekly classes. We actively seek to connect families through meals, nature walks, and mom's nights. We realize that there are as many ways to school as there are children in the world. None of us have it all figured out, and we have a lot to learn from one another.
As children spend time outdoors, they grow in understanding and connection to the natural world, developing a sense of pride and protection for it. If we want our children to respect the earth as adults, they need to fall in love with it as kids. We are all called to be stewards of creation. As adults we try to model good stewardship habits to our children. This can be as simple as separating out compost and recycling from our lunches, and choosing to fill our water bottles rather than buy bottled water. Pointing out these small choices throughout our day shows students that even small choices over time, can have a big impact on the health of our ecosystem.
Our curriculum follows the principles in Jon Young’s book, Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. We begin with the roots of nature education by engaging children in direct experience with plants and animals. As we get to know the students and their comfort zone, we gently guide them just beyond that comfort “edge” to new experiences and knowledge. The core of our approach is a sense of connection to nature while embracing the science curriculum that qualifies a well-trained naturalist (cross-referencing, technical names, replicating results). We borrow from worldwide indigenous cultures who demonstrate deep connection to and respect for their part of the earth. “With the Coyote as our guide, we learn both the scientific map and our landscape terrain. When we embrace fact with imagination, and combine logical evidence with intuition, we develop intellectual understanding through first-hand experience.”
To the outsider, this may look like running around in a park or forest playing games and telling stories. Our underlying intention behind this is the subtle use Child Passions to get students to practice the Core Routines of Nature Connection, and learn to read the Book of Nature. Children are learning without ever knowing it. Jon Young coined the term “Invisible School” after studying indigenous cultures’ methods of cultivating a continuous, in-depth understanding of natural history within their villages without formal schools, teachers, or textbooks. With stories, games, songs, and acting, students’ knowledge and skills are stretched each day, and learning happens without realizing it. Nature connection through this kind of mentoring proves to be fun, healing and empowering.
Our guides and mentors use the art of questioning to open a child’s mind to the natural world. When outside amongst the vast array of natural artifacts, children are bound to bring several objects over and ask “What’s this?” Our job as nature guides and mentors is not to answer with a scientific name and move on, but to ignite children’s curiosity by asking more questions back to the child, encouraging them to discover for themselves the intricate details of the natural world. Once this object has been studied (in a fun way where the children don’t even realize they are learning), then this object that has made a deep impact on the child, can receive a proper scientific name that will be imprinted in the mind and heart of that child.
We intentionally use an Emergent Curriculum with a core of Project-Based Learning. Teachers plan for about 50% of our time together in nature, and letting the other 50% of learning emerge from whatever the children find that piques interest. We build on that curiosity the following week, by using those child passions to plan the first 50% with games, stories, and experiences that enhance the learning experience, allowing space for more learning to happen when we allow children to explore and find their next learning adventure. The “focus project” emerges as students’ explorations lead them to find a passion to dive into learning about. Students then use teamwork under the guidance of instructors to research and plan a project, and then solve a real-world problem.
Our goals for student growth focus on four areas: Nature Connection (Heart), Nature Awareness (Head), Social Development (Community) and Physical Development (Body). Every class together includes stories, games and music specifically designed to stretch a child just past his/her current edge of knowledge, skills, and comfort to a new place of connecting deeper to the Natural world.
To learn more about our approach to Nature Mentoring, I highly recommend the book, Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. We would love to talk more with you about the curriculum plans and specific goals you may have for your child. Feel free to reach out to your child’s Guide or to the Program Director at any time.
Discovery Wilderness School is a Limited Liabilities Company, registered with the State of Michigan for the purpose of providing courses to enrich a student's connection to nature. We have developed a partnership with Grandville Parks System, and we are permitted to teach our outdoor courses at Wedgewood and Mill Race Parks in Grandville, Michigan as well as at Little Pine Island Salvation Army Camp in Comstock Park.