Playing in the mud is okay at HumaNature School
Listen closely to the birds in the forest canopy, taste the edible roots and feel the wind in your hair. This is part of a primary satisfaction – the moments we experience first-hand, inaccessible by television, recollections in a magazine or Facebook status.
Finding an immediate connection to nature awakens discovery of one’s self and others. This is the core curriculum of HumaNature School, the Traverse City-based education program geared toward students of all ages.
UNPLUG AND CONNECT
Kriya Townsend and Matt Miller started the HumaNature School after attending the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington, the inspiration and basis for HumaNature’s curriculum and structure.
Both Miller and Townsend are from Traverse City and wanted to bring what they learned in Washington back to their hometown.
The Wilderness Awareness School was founded by Jon Young, who is considered a prominent leader in the nature connection movement – a worldwide “campaign” to bring together people, community and nature.
A 2009 report by the Children & Nature Network on “Children’s Nature Deficit” finds that, in comparison to previous generations, more children today • are obese • are less physically active • spend less time outdoors • spend more time in front of media such as television and video games • know less about common wildlife • are supervised more • are vitamin D deficient (which comes from sun exposure) • are less concerned about the environment • are being raised in smaller indoor spaces.
“That disconnection from nature was a huge inspiration for Matt and I to bring this back,” Townsend notes about the nature connection curriculum. “It’s about nurturing and seeing that this is fundamental to being alive.”
There’s a difference between showing the importance of something and allowing one to discover that importance, Townsend added.
“Our niche is establishing a connection,” she explains. “It’s not just telling a child, ‘This is a chestnut tree,’ it’s asking questions and encouraging curiosity.”
HumaNature goes beyond simply identifying plants, animals, rocks and bird calls.
This form of education is called “coyote mentoring,” which goes beyond showing versus telling; rather, it’s a way for the child to come to his or her own conclusion.
A MUST FOR RECESS
At first, the activities look merely like a bunch of kids at play (adults included), but below the surface is a group learning collectively through experience. This could involve walking barefoot in the grass, running through the woods or digging up edible plants.
Townsend is quick to point to Richard Louv’s 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children form Nature-Deficit Disorder, to illustrate this. “I knew my woods and my fields; I knew every bend in the creek and dip in the beaten dirt paths. I wandered those woods even in my dreams. A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest — but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move,” Louv wrote.
“Play in nature, particularly during the critical period of middle childhood, appears to be an especially important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development,” states Dr. Stephen R. Kellert in his book, Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection,” on the subject of nature and childhood development. “Unfortunately, during at least the past 25 years, the chances for children to directly experience nature during playtime has drastically declined.
For many reasons, most children today have fewer opportunities to spontaneously engage and immerse themselves in the nearby outdoors.”
“Parents will pick up their kids after school and they’ll be covered in dirt,” laughed Townsend, “and they’re ok with it.”
After some time in the program, students will surprise their parents with all the information they’ve picked up through that time spent “playing in the dirt.”
“I’ll receive the information while hiking with the kids,” said Sarah Payette, about two of her three children who are attending Huma- Nature. “They’ll start talking about poisonous and edible plants…all kinds of facts. It seems to come out so naturally.”
NATURE FOR EVERYONE
“Nature school is awesome!” said one child in Jake Moran’s class. Moran, who enrolled in the adult program a few years ago, now serves as a student apprentice.
“It’s exciting to help someone make that connection,” he said.
While children’s programs are heavily attended, the HumaNature School offers a variety of adult programs, including basics in winter survival.
“We learn fire by friction, what trees to use for shelter, how to find dry firewood,” said Townsend. These are skills that teens will also be able to learn at HumaNature.
The adult classes meet every fourth Sunday of the month (excluding December), now through the end of May. Youth classes are available weekly to homeschoolers, Tuesdays for ages 6-12 and fall and spring after-school programs for ages 10-14.