"Education is not the filling of a bucket. It is the lighting of a fire." -William Yeats
A photo tribute to the 8 magical years of nature immersion education at Tryon Life Community Farm in SW Portland and Jean's Farm in SE Portland. There are so many people to thank, without whose help this project could never have happened.
Mother Earth School (MES) was an affiliate year-round, farm and forest outdoor-immersion school for ages pre-K through third grade. Kelly Hogan (co-founder, MES & IPEC) and Matt Bibeau (co-founder, IPEC) ran Mother Earth School for many years before transitioning to other projects. The program closed a couple years after their departure. Much of the content presented through IPEC courses and programming is based upon the Mother Earth School model, drawing from the wisdom of both the successes and challenges of running that program.
The children in an outdoor immersion setting develop a deep nature connection with their surrounding environment, resulting in curiosity and confidence because of such intimate engagement with the mysteries and challenges of the natural world. Children become noticeably aware of their bodies' limits and capacities through being allowed an healthy range of physical exploration. When children spend their days outdoors in all weather they begin to naturally acclimate to their environment, and when properly dressed, the outdoor environment seems to boost the immune system as they develop stamina and are breathing fresh air.
The forest and farm provide many creative ways to take refuge from cold and rain. Having an outdoor kitchen provides cover for warm meals (find out more about rocket stoves and cob ovens) and herbal tea. A cob sauna becomes a warming hut for story time. A greenhouse is a dry space for picnicking and activities and a Cedar tree canopy becomes a natural umbrella. A cozy yurt classroom serves as a warm, dry space for focus and productivity during daily academic main lessons and for fine motor activities in cooler weather.
Outdoor school children are in daily contact with the elements and are learning important skills that are foundational to a core understanding of what it means to be human. Since sensory development is akin to brain development, the foundations of academic learning are achieved through playful engagement with the natural world. The children begin to know the plants of the forest and the garden as they participate in growing and foraging food. They learn to compost, gather wood for fire, make herbal teas and remedies, and build shelters in the woods. They witness bees pollinating flowers, dip beeswax candles, harvest food from the land then preserve it for winter. They knead bread dough to bake in the cob oven, prepare wool from local sheep, gather eggs from chickens, and make cheese or ice cream from farm-fresh goat milk. These experiences cannot be matched in a classroom, as they involve engaging in the fundamental processes of life in a hands-on way. Age-appropriate academics can become reinforcement by relating subject matters directly to the experiential portion of the learning, creating context and relevance for both aspects of the learning.
When the skills children are learning embody the ethics and principles of permaculture, we consider this style of hands-on curriculum 'permaculture education for young children'. Permaculture is a holistic design approach that mimics natural ecosystems and encourages beneficial relationships. Since young children are naturally imitative, learning in an outdoor setting is like a language immersion program - the wisdom of nature's patterns are absorbed into each child.
Permaculture education is not only outwardly demonstrated through physical projects and skills, but is also implicitly demonstrated through healthy school culture, balanced administrative design and empowering social development. When teachers are trained in the art of teaching, they are working from a place of inspiration toward each student as an individual (instead of presenting a lesson plan to a group). Redirection is a powerful tool for anyone working with children. Instead of saying "no", positively reinforcing what can be done speaks more clearly to a child's understanding (especially when we engage along with them). When activities each day happen in the same intentional order and this rhythm is designed to serve the needs of the class, then the children know what to expect next. Not only does this predictability provide a sense of security and stability, it also averts most needs for discipline by creating consistency into which the child can calmly integrate. Free play is a valuable and essential daily element for every age, providing an inspired fusion of freedom within boundaries.
The roots of humanity are being tended when we raise children who harmoniously integrate with the natural world.