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whole-life skills for a radically different future

Reaching Nature Connection Q+A
with Wild Intelligence

What did Sarah Hubbard, programs director at Georgia-based nature connection school Wild Intelligence, take away from SOIL’s Reaching Nature Connection conference earlier this year? “That we’re not crazy!” she says with a laugh. “Most of my adult life, I’ve studied alternative forms of education like unschooling and prelearning. Coming away from the conference, I felt very empowered, that my methods for using nature as a classroom had value.”

Sarah and Wild Intelligence adult and youth mentor Bernard Cook wrote about their experiences in a blog post last March, but SOIL recently caught up with them to hear more about their most memorable moments at Reaching Nature Connection and how they’ve been using the lessons they learned. You can learn more about next year’s conference, titled “Fire, Knives, Sticks, and Bones,” at our program page. If you'd like to learn more about SOIL, contact us at info@schoolofintegratedliving.org or (828) 669-2707.


SOIL: When you first arrived at Earthaven Ecovillage for the Reaching Nature Connection conference, what about the setting stood out to you?

Sarah Hubbard: All of the wild space around Earthaven! Being able to actually get out into the woods, even though it snowed, made the information more digestible. We were in the spaces where we would be using the information we were learning at the conference.

Bernard Cook: I loved the buildings — timber-frame structures and cob and composting toilets, things you don’t see all the time in a permanent place with so many people living there. There was a community of people not just talking about how to have nature be a part of their lives, but making a real daily effort to put it into practice.

What was the most memorable activity you experienced at the conference?

BC: Because it was the most fun, probably stick-fighting in the snow. I appreciated the way that the instructors set that up, used rules around it, and had reasons for those rules.

SH: Stick fighting! I think that stick fighting is really edgy for people; I see parents all the time not letting their kids carry sticks. Embodying that ourselves made it so much more digestible, and I bet the large majority of the participants went home and relaxed around sticks a lot.

What do kids gain through “risky play” such as stick-fighting?

SH: They learn their edges, what they’re capable of, and self-control. They’re using their muscles in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise get to use them. For stick-fighting in particular, they develop a relationship with the different types of wood. They have to discern between a poplar and a pine, figuring out which one is heavier and which one is less likely to break.

BC: In competitive, physical games like stick-fighting, kids learn how to read what someone else is doing and become really focused in the moment. In all the programs I teach, there’s kids picking up sticks and whacking trees or damaging plants with them. I discourage that because they’re damaging things for no reason, but when we do stick-fighting, they can get that itch scratched in a productive, playful way.

How have you applied what you learned at Reaching Nature Connection?

BC: My biggest takeaway was the importance of role modeling. Rather than being an authority figure and trying draw kids into a project, I’ll just start doing it myself. Like clockwork, within a short period of time, they’ll come over to me curious about what I’m doing and ready to learn themselves. They come to it on their own terms, so it takes the power-play thing out of the equation.

SH: I just feel more certain that we’re doing something right at Wild Intelligence. Everything the instructors talked about was something that we’re already using in some capacity, so I felt like it acknowledged that what we’re up to has merit. Nature connection, getting these kids embodied experience in nature, has a lot of value.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

BC: The reality of the destruction that we’re facing in the world around us weighs heavily on my heart and on the hearts of most people who are paying attention. But I really appreciated how the instructors were intentional about not bringing that to kids. We have to allow kids the space to fall in love with the world around them and have their own experiences. When it’s time for them, they’ll be in a better position to come up with strategies to remediate that destruction.

Learn more about Reaching Nature Connection: Fire, Knives, Sticks, and Bones, taking place April 14–15, 2018, at this program page. Remember to subscribe to SOIL’s newsletter for the latest program announcements, sustainability tips, and radical inspiration.

Check out Reaching Nature Connection

Join SOIL for this weekend exploration of how to incorporate nature into early childhood education. The conference is designed for beginners and experienced educators alike, as well as therapists, administrators, homeschool families, camp counselors, grandparents, and parents who have an interest in developmentally appropriate nature mentoring for children.

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