I stumbled across an amazing book at the library almost two years ago, and it spoke to my soul like no other homeschooling philosophy I had researched. It had everything that would fill Squishy up, mind, body and soul. It was a philosophy that would engage his interests, and challenge his mind. The problem was, it wasn’t a home school philosophy. There were no local groups to join for collaboration and co-op classes. My new handbook was “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. I finished the book with excitement and a new vision for our future. I just had to figure out how exactly to turn what I read into a solid foundation for our schooling.
Squishy was just barely two at the time, and I had only met a handful of other homeschoolers. Some were unschoolers, but most went the more traditional route. I loved that each family was able to choose the right path for their children. It just left me wondering how I could find the right path for us. When I went on my local homeschooling Facebook page, there weren’t any groups that met out in nature. I didn’t even know what kind of group that would be. There had to be other moms with kids who felt drawn to mud in the same intense way. How could I find them? And what would our homeschool life look like??
I started Googling, because (I’m learning) that is a homeschool mom’s secret weapon. I came across the most beautiful Nature schools all over the country. I found some magical private Preschools and Kindergartens that looked straight out of a fairy tale. There were whimsical painted signs and gnome gardens. They had mud kitchens that put my real kitchen to shame. The children were dressed for all weather conditions and learned outside no matter what. With slogans like “kids are 100% washable and air dry” or “skin is waterproof” or my personal favorite (and one I quote often) “kids can not climb the walls if there are no walls”. It was perfect, ideal even…except there wasn’t one anywhere near us. Even if there was, I couldn’t afford it. Plus, I wanted to homeschool. I wasn’t doing all this research to find a school for Squishy to go to. I was trying to find a system that would nurture his curiosity at our school. I felt lost and a little frustrated. I had a name now, though, “Forest School” or “Nature School” depending on which school I looked at, but I had no idea where to go from there.
I needed to find a tribe. I needed other moms who were not afraid of bugs and let there kids climb trees.
I was devouring information on this forest school thing , and one thing kept standing out. I needed to find a tribe. I needed other moms who were not afraid of bugs and let there kids climb trees. Squishy needed friends who would explore under a fallen tree’s roots to find what was living there, and would help him identify what bird was flying over head. A huge part of the forest school philosophy is the collaboration among the children. That is hard to duplicate with an only child in a homeschool setting. I had no idea where to find these people, but I knew they had to exist. On a whim, I posted a picture of my Library book (I had renewed the checkout 3 times already and this was the forth time checking it out) to my local homeschool Facebook page…and someone responded. A couple of someones actually.
Miss Katie felt the same way about learning as I did. She mentioned that she was starting up a loose Co-Op with a couple of her friends, that they would be meeting out at a nature preserve on Fridays. My excitement started to bubble up when my phone pinged again. She left a link under my post! I could join!!! The excitement I felt when I got the acceptance notice was probably way more than was warranted. I couldn’t help it, though. As Squishy and I packed up the car and drove to the site our first Friday , I was a bundle of nerves. I felt like I was going on a blind date. Would they like me? Would they understand Squishy’s exuberance? So many questions, and so many doubts.
Our Nature School does not look like the pictures I have seen online. It is raw nature, grimy clothes, mud, some more mud, bugs and second hand gear. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Real learning happens at our Adventure School. We ask questions, and get messy. Squishy and I have found our tribe. These ladies with warm open hearts and accepting minds have included us and become as close as any life long friends.
In the beginning we let the kids explore freely, answering questions the best we could. Having the kids research what we couldn’t figure out. We delighted in the changing of the season and foraging in our little slice of wilderness. Slowly, almost organically, the children started latching on to topics that they wanted to dive deeper into. We now have a monthly topic that is chosen by the children, and we have just recently started incorporating a circle time . Mostly a short song or story that goes along with what they are interested in.
I have to admit, I get just as excited about the discoveries as they do. Maybe a little bit more, because I get to see the awe and wonder on their little faces. I have a vivid memory of last spring, when we came upon a tiny pond hidden in the reeds. It was full of at least 100 bull-froglets. We stepped into the clearing and they all jumped into the weeds at once to flee the danger of advancing children. It was a magical moment, and we didn’t need a whimsical sign to show us the way. The discussions that followed were even more amazing. Talk of how did the frogs get there, what were they eating, what kind of frogs they were. Real scientific questions coming from the minds of these little people. It was amazing. As we left the frogs to their pond, Squishy stopped and picked a piece of mint. He rubbed it between his fingers, deeply inhaled its scent, then popped it into his mouth fully confident he knew what he had found.
Every week it’s a new discovery, or a new skill mastered, and every week I am thankful for these people we call friends that share the experience with us.
I have included some affiliated links to our favorite Nature school resources. We do earn a small commission if you make a purchase.