What I Learned From Apprenticing at a Nature School

Find out how Soaring Eagle Nature School’s Apprenticeship Program allowed Mikaela to experience what she believes to be the most child-focused educational philosophy & shifted her world view in the process. 

I’m blindfolded on the forest floor playing a game with my adult cohort led by two outdoor instructors. My senses are piqued as I attempt to point to the sounds of encroaching adults nearby. 

“I feel like I just heard the sound of the wind for the first time,” I remark about my experience being blindfolded.

A red flag goes up, telling me that that is a strange thing to say out loud, but my mind is too calm and unmoved to bother holding on to the insecurity, and the flag releases like a balloon in the wind.

After a while, the instructor brings up my comment and uses that train of thought to direct the group to find a spot to count how many different sounds we hear. 

I sit with my eyes closed to enhance my hearing. I hear people’s footsteps on the busy walking path nearby and conversations and laughter from across the lake. That makes three. I try to listen for other, non-human sounds when I hear the sound of a leaf dropping and grazing another on its way down. It’s a while before I hear movement in front of me, but as I wait for it to happen again to identify it, nothing happens. 

I open my eyes, expecting my surroundings to be as still as it sounds, but it’s alive with movement. The trees are swaying gently with the wind, slowly building up to the airy, rustling symphony that I heard and felt earlier. There are ripples in the lake in front of me, but they don’t make a sound. My eyes are drawn to a bird darting down towards the water. 

This is it. This will make a sound. But the bird grazes the top of the water effortlessly, never touching down even a single toe. I can’t help but smile and listen deeply for the rest of the day. 

I hear the sound of each group member’s voice. I hear their energy as they speak and their mind thinking as they pause. And I hear my inner thoughts quiet down.

I find that listening allows me to be present and connected to my surroundings. And so far, from every day in the Apprenticeship, nature has never run out of lessons. 

While the Soaring Eagle Nature School Apprenticeship has six days spent outdoors with the adult cohort, there are also seven days of shadowing an instructor during Monthly Nature School, which happens over nine months from September to May. 

I choose the Apprenticeship to gain skills for teaching outdoors, feeling like I have something to offer and craving work that allows me to be outside more often than not. But it becomes so much more after experiencing the most child-focused educational philosophy and feeling my world view shift in so many ways. 

I don’t expect any epiphanies from thirteen days in the forest with a nature school, but I needed every one of them (three described below) because they have changed my life for the better. 

Traditional education is more ingrained in us than we realize, but it’s worth breaking tradition 

I keep finding myself asking the instructor I am shadowing, “What next?” forgetting that it doesn’t work like that in a passion-based, child-led school. Instead, the instructor allows inspiration from nature and the small group of kids to strike before crafting one of her many back pocket options into the “next thing” so thoughtfully that everyone struggles to determine whose idea it was in the first place. I learn that the art of getting to the “next thing” matters and that when it’s natural, seamless, and collaborative, it makes everyone feel included in the decision making and proud of their involvement, which is more than worth the effort to attempt the art form I keep witnessing. 

Adults and kids need nature connection as much as people connection

Despite extensive time spent outdoors hiking and camping in my adult life, I’ve never so consistently felt the need to tell others detailed accounts of my day as I do after every day I spend with Soaring Eagle Nature School. The key distinction between my personal experiences outdoors and what Soaring Eagle does is nature connection. While hiking, I’m thinking of the meal I’m having for dinner, and when camping, I may be mentally somewhere else entirely. But at Soaring Eagle, every moment is a shared experience designed to connect with nature that leaves me bursting at the seams, alive, fulfilled, and excited to share what I’ve experienced. And I know it’s the same for every kid when parents tell me that Soaring Eagle is the first time their child has so much to share about what they did at school.

Saving the planet doesn’t need to be a scientific act

I feel the weight of the environmental issues our planet faces and felt compelled to take action through educating teenagers in two-week-long courses, only to hear them talking about huge issues with the same language that we’ve taught it until it begins to feel like another indoctrinated subject they are forced to remember. But at Soaring Eagle, no one is telling anyone what they need to be taking away, yet I can tell by how the kids and adults interact with nature in the program that they will notice the changes when the environment is in decline. They won’t need numbers, data, and scientific reports to believe it; they will have a solid understanding from their own experience, which gives me immense hope that the scientists don’t need to do all the convincing.