TreeSong to launch ‘forest school’ for children

The Washougal nature center to offer homeschooled students 'truly unique experience' beginning Sept. 6

Children participate in the TreeSong Nature Awareness and Retreat Center's Circle Keepers Nature Immersion Program in 2022.

Children participate in the TreeSong Nature Awareness and Retreat Center's Circle Keepers Nature Immersion Program in 2022.

Contributed photo courtesy Michelle Fox Children participate in the TreeSong Nature Awareness and Retreat Center's Circle Keepers Nature Immersion Program earlier this year. TreeSong will launch Forest School, an outdoor nature education program with a focus on academics, in September.

Michelle Fox had been wanting to expand the children’s programming at the TreeSong Nature Awareness and Retreat Center for the past several years, but couldn’t come to a final decision until earlier this year, when a series of events lined up perfectly to create an opportunity for the Washougal nonprofit orgnization’s next evolution.

Fox, the organization’s founder and executive director, recently announced that the TreeSong Forest School will launch in September, offering “a truly unique experience to the homeschooled child” and “a beautiful braiding of outdoor education, academics, and support for personal and social development,” according to the TreeSong website.

“I feel that the seed of it has been present for a long time,” Fox said. “In the back of my mind, I was thinking that we’d move towards this. Then I had parents who’ve been with us from the beginning come to me and say, ‘We’re wanting to send our kids more days and have a little more support with the academics.’

“Then you add in the pandemic and (the fact that) a lot of parents are really looking at their children’s education and home-schooling, and looking for support for that. And having a dedicated space for the kids’ programs that (our) yurt is going to provide was a big part of it, quite honestly. All of these things came together to make this an important step.”

The school will hold class sessions from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, beginning on Sept. 6 and running through May 25, 2023 and will, according to TreeSong’s website, offer a “unique, multi-disciplinary, holistic approach to learning.”.

“It’s building on what we’ve already been doing. We’re just adding a bit more integrated academics to support homeschooling families,” Fox said. “It’s going to be (about) outdoor nature connection, but combined with a dynamic approach to academics. I’d say this is an evolution. I explained to a parent that’s been with us, ‘It’s taking a lot of the foundational things that we’ve been doing all along, our outdoor nature education stuff, and making it deeper and more integrated with the subject studies.'”

Weather permitting, the children will spend most of their time exploring, discovering and learning in TreeSong’s riverside forest. But they’ll also have an indoor classroom space as well in the form of a 30-foot yurt that TreeSong recently ordered from Pacific Yurts Inc. in Cottage Grove, Oregon.

“It will be nice to have that space to go into to warm up, or if we’re working on a big mural or painting, it’s nice to do that inside,” Fox said. “The yurt will be our launching pad, a hub where we can keep all of our things. If all of a sudden they’re super interested in map making, I want to have a place where our huge map of the world is so we can just bop in and see it, a place where we can have all of our books and art supplies.”

Fox is building the school’s project-based curriculum around a series of themes from which students will learn about a variety of subjects, including math, science, language arts, Spanish, physical education, music and art.

“There will be a theme — weather, (for example),” she said. “Every time we meet, we’ll check the rain gauge and temperature. You can turn that into so many things (with math) — you can compile the annual rainfall, or work with decimals and fractions. Then you can do more scientific studies about the different kinds of clouds. It could be an art project, where you look at different artists and the way they depict skies and clouds. It could just go on and on.

“It’s contextual and makes sense to the kids,” she continued. “It’s not like giving them a worksheet. It’s attached to something that they’re interested in and excited about and participating in.”

Fox, a former elementary school educator, and a yet-to-be-hired second teacher will serve as instructors. Fox plans on capping the enrollment at 10 to 14 children for a “really low” student-to-teacher ratio.

“I really feel like the state of our world, kids need a lot of support and a lot of skills to help them be confident and connected with what’s going on with our planet and being strong stewards,” Fox said.

“I see that with children coming through (our current kids’) program. They end up so passionate about the earth and its creatures and wanting to take care of them, and I think that’s really important. We’ll do things like yoga and meditation to support their own peace of mind. I’ve seen kids who are a lot more anxious, understandably so, these last couple of years, and with all that’s on the screen with our planet, there’s so much I want to provide them to prepare them.”

Fox believes the Forest School fits in perfectly with TreeSong’s mission to foster a deep connection to nature, community and self while inspiring stewardship for the planet at large.

“I would hope that the students come out very confident and strong within themselves; have strong knowledge about what they bring to the world and who they are; know their gifts; feel connected with their inner landscape; know how to be a dynamic, engaged community member; to love this earth and its creatures; and to be strong stewards and voices in the world,” Fox said.

And she’s already thinking ahead to what the school could eventually become.

“I think my ultimate goal is to have a full-time school, like an alternative school,” Fox said. “That’s something that we’re looking at as we move ahead. When I say this has been kind of percolating on the backburner for a while, what was percolating, really, was a full-blown school, so this felt like a nice next step towards that. I trust that if it’s meant to be, it will unfold.”

To view pricing plans and more information about the school, visit treesongnatureawareness.org/forestschool.

Parents and guardians can register their children by calling 360-837-8733 or emailing hello@treesongnatureawareness.org to schedule a time to talk with Fox.