We joined the Wilderness Awareness School 7 years ago. We stumbled upon this gem when we moved to the Pacific Northwest and I was looking for an engaging “activity” for my daughter. At the time, Emily was 4 years old and she entered the Roots and Wings Program. We were impressed by the School’s focus on building strong interpersonal connections. The low student to faculty ratio allowed individualized attention and nurturing. At dismissal, we would often find Emily sitting around a fire on her instructor’s lap. Her sister Maddy, joined Roots at Wings two years later. She was coaxed and mentored into developing a sense of comfort in the great outdoors. I am convinced that her instructor, Sol, carried her through the woods for the entire first year of the program! The staff at the school have a sophisticated understanding of individual differences and learning styles. The programs at WAS have been fulfilling emotionally and intellectually for both girls. The school has also expanded their comfort zones.
The curriculum includes skills in shelter building, working with medicinal plants, identifying edibles and learning about animal tracking. However, the program’s greatest strength is that it develops a sense of self-reliance and confidence. The children are supported in understanding their strengths and gifts. The Rites of Passage that are an integral part of the curriculum at the School punctuate developmental milestones. Thinking back to the Earth Quest Challenge presented to 6 year olds still brings tears to my eyes. At the end of the Roots and Wings program, children are presented with the opportunity to make their way from a “sit spot” in the woods, while blindfolded, to their mentor. They accomplish this task by following a drum beat. This experience made a lasting impression on both of my girls.
The girls are now in the Foxes and Coyotes Programs. They come home from the Wilderness Awareness School full of enthusiasm and joy. The time that they spend in nature stokes their life energy. I believe that the qualities that their mentors cultivate are crucial in their development as healthy human beings. They are taught to become observant, sensitive, aware and patient. They have had consistent mentors that are gifted at helping children navigate through difficult group dynamics. The instructors promote inclusivity and model excellent conflict resolution skills. They also manage to foster a sense of belonging in each child. In this program, my girls also experience a sense of freedom, fun and adventure.
Many of our close friends are part of the greater WAS community. We feel very fortunate to have stumbled on this “nature connection program.” It has been instrumental in helping us feel connected to our greater community. My girls are surrounded by caring, passionate, intelligent and competent role models.
Our family recently experienced a difficult transition, and for the past two years, we have received generous support from the Scholarship Fund. I am grateful that the girls were able to continue in this incredible program. We are all looking forward to next year, when my third child joins Roots and Wings. I will have three girls coming home smelling like cedar and smoke and covered in mud!