Andy Atkisnon / Mail Tribune Jihan Nicholas (left) and Mlissa Moore sign with students at Forest Park in Jacksonville on Wednesday morning.
Andy Atkisnon / Mail Tribune Students Rowan and Sterling search for wildlife at Forest Park in Jacksonville on Wednesday morning.
Andy Atkisnon / Mail TribuneBen Moore helps students build a teepee at Forest Park in Jacksonville on Wednesday morning.
Andy Atkisnon / Mail TribuneBen Moore helps students pretend to cross the creek at Forest Park in Jacksonville on Wednesday morning.
Andy Atkisnon / Mail TribuneJihan Nicholas interacts with students at Forest Park in Jacksonville Wednesday morning.
JACKSONVILLE – Park on Reservoir Road, get out of the car, start following the steep winding paths and you might start to hear the faint sound of school children.
Children can play with sticks and make shapes with them or dig in the earth with shovels.
After some free play to start the morning at Freckled Fawn Nature School, there is always a “circle time”, which involves instructors leading the children through singing.
This week’s “big idea”: fall. Timely, given the recent change of seasons. So it was only fitting that one of the songs the kids sang on Wednesday was about the leaves.
“I need to hear your voices sing with me. Ready? I know you will like this one, ”instructor Jihan Nicholas told the students, holding several sheets. “Five golden leaves hanging in the tree / dancing golden in the sun / when the wind has come.”
This morning routine of games and songs is just a sampling of the events at Freckled Fawn, which educates students from preschool through grade two.
The idea for the school came from Melissa Moore, a former student of Southern Oregon University. After graduating in early childhood education, she found work in a nursery and began to focus on the development of children 0-5 years old.
“The group of students I worked with had a lot of trauma in their life and I found it to be healing, being in nature,” Moore said. “It was pretty amazing to watch this healing process happen. Their energy levels have plummeted. There was this feeling of calm.
Moore married her partner, Ben, also a SOU graduate, and the couple started having children. When Moore watched her oldest daughter go to preschool, she felt the need to go out more often.
“I had this desire to provide them … a safe place to explore [that was] based on nature, ”Moore said. “So I can stay at home and give something to my children as well as to the children in the valley. “
Ben, who earned a degree in environmental science, once taught children about salmon habitat. His love of science eventually turned into a desire to teach nature school with his wife.
“I went back to my childhood thinking, ‘I used to love being outside all the time and a lot of kids aren’t that lucky,” he said. “After teaching here for a little while you are so excited to see the kids getting excited here, it’s just contagious.
While the Nature School’s teaching methods include “play-based learning,” Moore stressed that “studies are important” even though Freckled Fawn does not have a school with desks. .
“Everything we do for the primary school follows the state standard,” she said. “It’s just the way we educate this state standard.”
This is true for a common standard like the ability to count from 1 to 10.
“We take that standard and we implement it in a way, in nature, that will be more practical for them because they use their whole body,” Moore said. “They might not have paper and pen all the time, but it’s something they use.”
Jamie Diamond, who recently moved to Jacksonville with his family from Wyoming, enrolled his 3-year-old, Brooklyn, in Freckled Fawn after his wife Googled the term “wild schooling.”
“As parents, we weren’t as concerned with Brooklyn’s A, B, C and 1,2,3 as we were with her emotional well-being and her ability to play and learn a lot more through play than she did. a traditional game. school, ”Diamond said.
Another factor in sending Brooklyn to Freckled Fawn was the couple’s previous experience in the mainstream school system with their other children.
“We didn’t want that kind of pressure this early on for Brooklyn,” Diamond said.
Brooklyn has been outfitted in rain gear to brave Oregon’s fall and winters, and it’s clear she approves of Freckled Fawn.
“She came home the other day and jumped into a giant mud puddle and it looks good on her,” Diamond said. “I want my kids to be able to jump in a mud puddle and not be a bad thing at 3 years old.”
Brooklyn attends Freckled Fawn during the afternoon session. In just a few months, his family began to see the return on their investment.
“You can just see the fun she got in wanting to go and also when she was done how much fun she had in a positive atmosphere,” Diamond said.
In an age when it is difficult to lead a life without electronics, he and his wife’s approach has been to let their children start using things like iPads “in moderation” from a certain age.
“We can see an impact if our kids don’t go out or do creative games,” Diamond said.
Less time spent in front of a screen encourages the children of Diamond to take an interest in more creative games, a bit like nature school. The family did a “very steep and adventurous” hike on a Friday when they were not in school and the kids seemed to be enjoying it.
“I’m so glad we can do these things rather than being locked inside thinking we have to be within four walls to survive,” Diamond said.