Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT IS NATURE SCHOOL?
In nature-based schools, nature is at the center of the curriculum and pedagogy emphasizes inquiry through play and hands-on experiences (Natural Start Alliance, 2020). In nature-based schools, children play freely in nature, taking healthy risks like climbing trees and wading through muddy puddles. They spend the majority of the day outside in a natural setting, such as a nature preserve, forest, or school garden. The nature school movement in the United States shares many similarities with the forest schools of northern Europe and nature schools in New Zealand and Australia. Nature schools are characterized by a calmer, quieter, and safer context than indoor traditional schools. The learning is more cooperative and social, and learners have more autonomy and control. As a result of nature exposure during the school day, learners are more able to concentrate, experience less stress, demonstrate greater self-discipline and engagement in school, and are more physically active and healthy than their peers in traditional indoor schools. Over fifty peer-reviewed empirical studies show that nature schools correlate to increased retention of subject matter content, higher standardized test scores, better numeracy and literacy skills, and higher graduation rates.
WHAT IS PLACE-BASED EDUCATION?
Place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and the arts. Children, led by their own inquiries, learn about “the nearest things” first, making their learning relevant and meaningful to their lives. As they grow older their knowledge of the basic concepts of the nearest things is applied “to those farther and farther off” (Sobel, 2005). The children's learning experiences are not merely designed to mimic real-life, they are real-life. Place-based learning is integrated, interdisciplinary, and project-based. In this way, teachers do not have to try to "make" the learning relevant to the students because it already is relevant. The learning is directly connected to their immediate surroundings and daily lives. Place-based learning provides an incomparable approach for empowering children to fight for the things that matter to them. Their social and environmental activism starts at the local level, enabling them to learn about and advocate for developmentally appropriate concerns. Then their activism and leadership broadens in scope and grows increasingly complex in both content and process as they grow older.
IS IT DANGEROUS? WHAT ARE THE RISKS, AND WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT THEM?
There is certainly some risk inherent in outdoor learning and play. The weather, plants and creatures, and physical play all pose risks. At Cocoplum, we mitigate the severity of risks to keep children safe from serious physical harm, and we embrace the psychological benefits of healthy risk-taking. We also understand the distinction between healthy risks and hazardous situations, and we know how to avoid or altogether eliminate the hazards. Additionally, just like any other school, we prepare and plan for extreme and potentially dangerous situations. A comprehensive list of risks, mitigation strategies, and benefits is in our Family Handbook.
WHAT AND HOW DO THE STUDENTS LEARN IF THEY AREN'T IN A CLASSROOM?
Our collective understanding of a classroom emerged in only the last century or so. For most of humanity, the classroom has been our play groups, the natural world, our markets, the farm, and other settings not bound by four walls. Everything that is taught in traditional schools with textbooks and rote practice can be learned by children outdoors with natural materials through play, exploration, and inquiry. Study after study shows children learn better outdoors, in nature, while actively engaging all of their senses. Through a delicate balance of self-directed learning and explicit teaching primarily experienced outdoors, they will learn mathematical operations and applications, how to read and write a variety of texts, and important scientific concepts and skills. And they will do so joyfully, connecting with nature, persisting through challenges by their own intrinsic motivation, and developing academic knowledge and skills along with (not at the expense of) their social and emotional well-being.
WHAT AGE CHILDREN CAN ATTEND?
In our inaugural year, 2021-2022, Cocoplum will serve children ages 5 through 8. These are children who would enroll in Kindergarten, 1st grade, or 2nd grade in a traditional school.
WHAT IF MY FAMILY CAN'T AFFORD THE FEES?
Access regardless of family income is central to our mission. We offer financial assistance and will work hard to ensure no child is excluded and no family experiences undue financial burden.