After 35 years of experience mentoring youth, we are an internationally recognized leader in outdoor education. Our mission is to help children and adults cultivate healthy relationships with nature, community and self. Through nature connection and cultural mentoring, we provide transformational experiences that awaken people’s unique gifts, deepen their relationship with nature, and empower them to enrich the health of their communities.
Mentoring at Wilderness Awareness School begins with child passions, the aspects of the childhood experience that lead to joy and enthusiasm. Do you recall what you loved to do as a child, what naturally captured your curiosity?
Another integral component to play and learning are core routines of nature connection. Core routines are the underlying practices that become a part of how we connect with the world.
Gratitude practices, storytelling, singing, sensory awareness practices, questioning and tracking are just some of the core routines that shape the WAS experience. These habits help us raise our awareness, be receptive to teachable moments and let curiosity lead the way.
Together, child passions and core routines drive our learning culture. They are partners in cahoots, feeding inspiration, intrinsic motivation, respect for self and others and a reverence for our home, Earth.
You can learn more about Coyote Mentoring and best practices in nature connection in the Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, co-authored by WAS staff members Ellen Haas, Evan McGown and Jon Young.
Instructors at Wilderness Awareness School
It’s people who make a school great. To give you a sense of what our exceptional instructors are like, here’s a quote from a long time parent.
“What an amazing group of people that have come together to form the instructors for these programs. We are truly amazed by their joy, gentleness, patience and knowledge. Knowing our children are in the hands of such capable, caring and nurturing individuals give us such peace of mind. Our boys have grown to love these amazing adults in their life – we are so grateful that they are able to be around such warm and generous role models. WAS provides a community unlike any we have ever seen.”– Megan, Mother of Henry (age 10), Bennett (age 8) and Rory (age 5)
We start with meaningful relationships and follow threads of connection with our natural landscape. This is the integrative platform and doorway into our curriculum which is mapped out using the Eight Shields model. The curriculum flows with natural cycles and includes both conceptual knowledge of ecology as well as practical skills for surviving and thriving. Throughout the year, your child will get to explore and engage with place-based topics like:
- Hazards and Wilderness Basics – Things that could be harmful to us and others, and what we need to do to avoid or resolve issues once they happen
- Wildlife Tracking and Mammals – Who lives here, and what we can tell about their lives from their tracks and sign even if we don’t see them directly
- Edible, Medicinal, and Poisonous Plant Identification – How to identify a plant using sketches, field marks, and field guides, and which ones have poisonous look-alikes in our area
- Ecology and Natural Communities – The cycles and relationships that make up the rhythm of the natural world and what we can learn from them
- Survival and Trees – How to select and use trees for shelter, food, tools, and fire
- Birds and Bird Language – What we can learn from birds that will help us stay safe from predators and locate animals that pass nearby
Reconnecting with the natural world in this culture of learning supports the social-emotional development of children in ways that aren’t as easily replicated on the playground or at recess. At WAS, mentors co-create experiences where kids have to make use of their awareness, communication, problem solving and teamwork on a deep level. The social skills nurtured at WAS easily transfer to life outside of class because the memories are embedded in adventure and positive collective experience.
“My son made valuable connections to nature, instructors, and peers. He gained self-confidence and a willingness to do things for himself. I know these assets were gained as a direct result of the curriculum and the supportive instructors. Worth every penny!!“– Parent of WAS student
Commitment to Safety
Your child’s physical and emotional safety is our top priority. All of our Youth Program staff are trained at the Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder level. In order to retain highly skilled instructors, we offer ongoing professional development which supports compassionate response to needs as they arise in the field. To keep your child safe, the Wilderness Awareness School also:
- Has an emergency and medical response plan in place that is specific to each location
- Ensures that the Summer Program Director is a certified Wilderness First Responder
- Ensures that every summer Camp Director AND all instructors are CPR and Wilderness First Aid certified
- Requires Criminal Background Checks for ALL staff and volunteers
- Requires Sexual Offender Background Checks for ALL staff
- Requests and checks both personal AND professional references for ALL staff
One of our priorities is keeping a low child to mentor ratio. This allows instructors to know the children under their tutelage and inform their teaching. Our instructors are among the most experienced in the field. We focus on ensuring small student-to-teacher ratios both for safety and transformative learning experiences.
Diversity and Equity Statement
We believe that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We value respect for the whole human family in its wide diversity. This includes the uniqueness we bring into community as influenced by our nationality, ethnicity, gender identity, spirituality, sexual orientation, body shape or size, economic status, or physical ability. As we move towards widening the circle of accessibility in nature connection, we recognize that at this time, our programs do not accommodate all physical, emotional or cognitive needs.
Please note that equity and diversity topics will be addressed at our programs by instructors and directors as needed. Some possible examples:
- Program Agreements that emphasize treating people well in terms of our differences
- Using pronouns that are appropriate for someone’s gender identity
- Storytelling that may have same-gender protagonists in a relationship
- Developmentally-appropriate response to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, etc. with individuals or groups as needed
- Normalize appropriate exploration and natural curiosity around these topics
Ecosystems, including humans, require diversity to thrive. We find that people learn best in environments where they have a sense of healthy safety and belonging.
While we hire a staff of experienced adult instructors to lead our summer camp programs, we also have volunteer opportunities available for adults and youth. As with our staff, we carefully select our volunteer leaders for their wilderness, survival and nature skills, leadership and communications skills, and ability to work with youth. Volunteer Assistant Instructors play an important role and receive excellent training and experience. We are always looking for volunteers, age 13 years old through adults, who are enthusiastic about sharing appreciation of nature with youth and want to learn more about mentoring. For more information, click here.
Our weekly school year youth programming takes place at Linne Doran and Coho Ridge. Together, they make up our 40 acre campus which is 15 minutes outside of Duvall, Washington. Monthly programs are located in Carnation at Tolt MacDonald Park, Kirkland at St. Edwards State Park, Issaquah at Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park and Seattle at Seward Park. At Wild Within, teenagers meet one weekend each month on our campus and at fantastic locations throughout the region.
We partner with parks in or near Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Kenmore, Issaquah, Redmond, and Carnation; These places offer beauty, extensive opportunities for learning and are close to home for many people. We provide wild experiences that are convenient to access for families in the greater Seattle area. It is our hope that these parks become a place for the whole family to continue to visit and enjoy throughout the year. For a map of our camp locations, click here.
Is Scholarship Funding Available?
Yes! As a not-for-profit organization, Wilderness Awareness School is thankful to our donors that allow us to grant scholarships to families in need of assistance. For more information, click here.
To Apply online, visit our Youth Scholarship Application form.