HUDDLESTON, Va. – As technology takes over our lives, parents are looking at ways to get their kids back outside playing and using their imagination. A unique school model is becoming more popular.
At ONE Forest School in Huddleston, kids are climbing hills and playing in the creek.
“I’m not scared,” said a 4-year-old as she was splashing in the chilly February water.
The entire school day is outside on eight acres of land. These schools are a growing trend across the country.
“It’s not what she’s learning, I think it’s how she’s learning. I think it’s shaping her to teach her how to think rather than what to think,” said Eric Theimer, who has a daughter at the school.
Ava is the youngest of this group, starting when she was 2-years-old.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is she’s definitely much more respectful of not only things in the environment, the animals, the plants but also just she learns her limitations much quicker, boundaries,” said Danielle Bird, Ava’s mom. “But also testing her boundaries. She’ll go out on that proverbial limb and do things that other kids are sitting there saying, ‘Maybe that’s not quite what I want to do yet’.”
Kids have to be walking, about 18 months to start at ONE Forest School. The children range in age and that’s on purpose. They want the kids to be able to interact with a variety of ages and animals just like they would see in a community.
Catherine Eubank founded the school in Huddleston and is the Director of Education.
They explore in rain, snow, summer and winter.
“The kids aren’t made to sit down at any time even during snack time. They can wander around, they can do what they want. This is their classroom,” said Eubank.
They can see the same areas and how they change over the seasons.
“What we’re doing is looking for new ways to challenge the children in different areas of thinking and problem-solving,” said Eubank. “We’ll find a really cool hill that’s really slippery and we’ll see if we can’t climb the hill. It’s all those different types of things that challenge the kids in all of their physical and mental growth.”
In the Critter Creek area, there’s a mud pit, sandbox and other obstacles.
“We’ve got our mud kitchen that the kids named Forest Cafe which is cute. We’re starting to build a new trail that’s going to head down that way and be on the other side of the creek for a secret garden. That’s really exciting for us. We just opened last summer and so we’re still building, we’re still fine-tuning,” said Eubank.
And the kids are enjoying every minute.
“She absolutely loves the outdoors. Being out in the woods 95% of the time she’s just had a blast here,” said Bird.
The school is located on a nature preserve because Eubank doesn’t want it to turn into Disneyland. She wants as much nature as she can possibly get.
Kids can come up to age 12 and they have camps during breaks and over the summer.
Eubank is a certified first responder and there are boxes throughout the school with emergency supplies. Eubank says this is the first accredited forest school in Virginia and that accreditation is an internationally recognized designation.
You can learn more about ONE Forest School here.