Connection is a different process than that of education or recreation, though it relates to both of these; it is connection that we most need in the world at this time. Its deepest expression requires (and creates) a culture of mentoring and support. A simple but powerful way to begin is by connecting with nature through awakening the senses.” (Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature: Jon Young, Evan McGown, Ellen Haas)

Four Stages of Nature Connection

  1.  Sensory Awareness 
Wandering into a wild place, a place that allows for possibilities, is to open a door to connection. The opportunity to follow a butterfly, dip your fingers into a gurgling creek, or watch the clouds form and dissipate in uninterrupted, stretching time creates a rightness in the world and in our body’s core that cannot be replaced or ignored as part of the social emotional ingredients of becoming fully human. When the wind whooshes through the leaves and the owl cocks it’s head as if to say “And you are?”, we find solace and awe. Anyone who has experienced these moments can take them for granted, but more and more children are growing up without access to these moments; to these parts of becoming whole and connected in the world.
  1. Physical Embodiment: Sinking into the water, the sand, the skin of a bobcat or vulture. Know that we are one, we are interdependent, and we are nature together.
  2. Compassion and empathy: We found a dead bird and the child asked “Is it’s mom sad?” Knowing a place and the living things that inhabit that place leads to a knowing, a loving, and a responsibility.
  3. Beauty: Acknowledging beauty, embracing and wallowing and celebrating beauty: Life as art and a value to our wholeness in it’s own right, it’s own purpose within an ecosystem. 
  4. Self Directed Play: To practice, try and direct is to learn. To decide and argue and have control is empowering. 
  5. Mystery and the Unknown: I don’t know, what do you think? Can we be ok with not knowing? 
2.     Skills
The confident learner seeks understanding, challenges ideas and welcomes mistakes.  The skills engaged in Ventura WIld are life skills that provide not only competence and survival strategies, but also satisfaction and self sufficiency.  Scientific Inquiry and critical thinking naturally emerge when observing an anthill or building a raft with a friend. Many experiments and debates later…a child happily floats (sort-of) on their results, constantly storing away experiential data, problem solving and communication skills. Feelings of frustration, satisfaction and wholeness facilitate a curious mind leading to accurate information and informed choices. Mistakes, accidents and misunderstandings lead to humility, compassion and self sufficiency. The skills of nature connection at Ventura Wild come from experiencing a connected life and are followed by reflections that build wisdom in the human condition. Some of these skills include:   (For more info, see the Center for Ecoliteracy)
1: Empathy for All Forms of Life – because each living and non-living thing has innate value.
2: Embracing Sustainability as a Community Practice – engaging in modeling behaviors and choices create the ripples of change.
3: Making the Invisible Visible – water, air, food, natural resources…knowing them from the source provides awareness and knowledge for different choices and a sustainable future.
4: Anticipating Unintended Consequences – the complexity and grand scale stems from the smallest and simplest of behaviors.
5: Understanding How Nature Supports Life – the layers of scale that repeat from micro to universal.
  1.  Knowledge
Awareness leads to curiosity and a desire for knowledge. Nature builds learning skills and ignites not only an interest in the facts and systems of nature, but in the unknown, the mysteries and the complexity of life. Without this humility and potential for “not knowing” students are often overwhelmed with “learning it all”. To explore the differences of ecosystem smells and sounds, to feel the soil under a redwood and in the Mojave Desert, these experiences inform our bodies and minds that life is full of diversity and intrigue. This makes good learners and comprehensive learning that will apply to all subjects, environments and professions.  To experience the natural world in a way that facilitates deeper understandings is to learn responsibly; and leads to true comprehension and application. 
    1. Systems & Cycles
    2. Scientific Inquiry & Curiosity
    3. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
    4. Communication & Leadership Skills
4. Stewardship and Conservation
The way toward a healthy planet is to raise nature connected children. It’s that simple at Ventura Wild. The complex and diverse systems and communities that build a resilient interdependent web of life must include human development. We cannot separate children and nature, nor can we ignore the challenges of division and apathy that pervade our current understanding of wilderness management, children’s education and the failings of both as evident all around us. The social and emotional wellness of the child, the resiliency of family and the unity and diversity of community is a lifestyle that is informed by natural systems not only as literal resources necessary for life, but also in the deep sense of belonging within the global interconnectedness of us all.   An investment in healthy children and families is an investment in local conservation as well as planetary sustainability.
  1. Access and Belonging – shifting the historical paradigm toward equity and the simple feeling of belonging.
  2. Personal Responsibility – the opportunity to take responsibility for nature and natural resources.
  3. Community Engagement – opportunities to support and contribute to the communal well-being
  4. Leadership & Activism – building skills that empower and initiate change and direction in the world.
  5. Professional Opportunities – professional opportunities that support the values and goals of sustainable world, and knowing the ingredients to create our own future.

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
― Rachel Carson

Time in Nature makes for better learners, healthier bodies, and happier people. 

Why we do this work:

If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the Earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”  (From Richard Louv’s book “Last Child Left in the Woods”

How we bring children and nature together:

Learning erupts organically as an intuitive interaction between adult, nature and child. This  is an approach of building relationships, moments of reflection and carefully guiding the learning process toward awareness, curiosity, practice and joyful play.

We honor the natural learning rhythms that mimic the natural world and couple that with nurturing the multiple intelligences of youth in a holistic and playful fashion. There are five core values that we cycle through in our teaching process:

Core Values

        1. Sensory Awareness: Sensory stimulation in a natural setting along with challenges that hone sensitivity toward being more fully alive and present in the moment provides the skills to manage risks, to experience the world deeply, and to connect with the state of nature and being natural.
        2. Mindfulness: Opportunities to focus, practice mindfulness skills, and interacting with complex systems are all lifelong skills. Experience individual and group outcomes in the moment through hands on explorations, projects and positive adult role modeling.
        3. Risk:  Self-reliance and group interdependence are both integral to growth and confidence building. Challenging ourselves to try climbing a tree, hopping to a rock, or just taking off shoes to walk barefoot can be a risk. Trusting our intuition, trusting our group and leaders, and speaking from a place of self reliance gives us all strength.  Sharing in problem solving activities and contributing to stories provides a sense of belonging, confidence and competence as an individual, part of a community and in connection to the larger world.
        4. Stewardship: Participate in local conservation projects, from picking up trash, removing invasive species, designing low water gardens and planting acorns and other native seeds are all examples of meaningful ways children can contribute in real ways to their world. Individual writing, artwork and other forms of expression can also influence our community, and children find empowerment and a voice for change by practicing and being heard. 
        5. Play: Just plain fun, joyful exuberant goofiness and all-out roll around in the mud or crashing into the water is what it all really comes down to. Nature connection is not a metaphor. It is literal, and a perfect learning and growing experience. Creating space, time and opportunities, guiding positive play skills while allowing for child led problem solving and conflict resolution. Allowing for curiosity, creativity and imagination without interruption or interference. Opportunities for independent play and also learning to contribute to group play.
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