Ever since my first Free Forest School class that I attended one chilly October morning with my 4 kids (one strapped onto my chest, with two little hands in each of my own, watching my 7 year old sprinting ahead on a log and crossing rushing water!), I was hooked. Not what you thought I'd say? Yep, danger was there. But it was beautiful. And I saw a confidence and instinctual intelligence in my little ones that they experienced nowhere else. Hooked on nature, hooked on nature for my kids, and hooked on pushing myself to make it work even though I am not a natural born nature loving gal. (I much prefer my comfy sofa any day over a seat in the dirt with a hot sun overhead!)
So I have to say, it was a beautiful meeting when I attended a Making Tracks: Earth Education promo class yesterday, along with over 50 kids and their parents. Erik Rasmussen and his team have found a sweet spot in providing families a way to give their kids outdoors opportunities and learning, as well as some sweet survival skills!, while helping parents with young kids find a way to give their older kids a safe and exciting experience amidst giving parents a break from having to do all the teaching while chasing after toddlers and nursing babies.
If I was a teen, I would want my mom to put me in this class. (Well, to be real, based on the teen I was, I'd probably want it maybe only after I had done a few tent camping trips, waterfall hikes, and watched a season of Alone on Discovery+. Then I'd get the awesomeness of this program) That being siad, the kids and preteens? They get. They were all ears. And what about those "ADHD" and neurodivergent kids who can't focus? Couldn't tear them away. Talk about teaching kids to respect authority. The kids SAW authority immediately, and I was amazed at the respect and attention they gave Erik at his promo class as he taught them how to hear, walk and see the proper way in the wild.
So, some details. First, here is Making Tracks' website so you can research them in more detail. Look at their courses--pretty cool stuff they are teaching parents--animal tracking, survival skills (Erik said by the time the kids finish the program, they'll know how to live in the wild without any manmade tools. Even so far as without manmade clothes, if you really want to go that far! You should have seen my 10 year old son's ears perk up at that!)
While on their website, you've go to check out their instructors. They have instructors who have actually been participants on Alone! They are all quite knowledgeable and great to talk with. I went into the promo expecting a bit of a rough-around-the-edges personality with Erik, but was pleased with his energy, enthusiasm, skill set (in the outdoors as well as in teaching all youth ages 5-18. Heck, even the adults were enjoying what he was teaching!), and his polite manners. Super impressed, to be honest, especially since I've also met and talked extensively with one of his instructors, Ember, at the Homeschool Resource Conference of 2023. I wish I lived closer to where she teaches in Salt Lake Valley, I'd sign my kids up for her class in a heartbeat. She was just as well mannered, pleasant, and knowledgeable as Erik. They are training their crew right and it's a crew I'd want my kids to be around.
Enough chat. Here are a few more questions and answers for those who'd like to know more:
Cost: They create custom classes based on what interested parents want. The larger the class, the more economical the price. I've heard quoted anwhere from an annual $250 (25 size kid class) up to $1000+. They can be funded by My Tech High, Harmony Ed, Children's First Education Fund, etc. They've even joined with a co-op to create a class (oh, who are you lucky few?)
Philosophy on Teaching Different Ages: They wholeheartedly believe and have experienced that kids ages 5-18 can do just fine all in one class. Many of you are nodding your heads and saying, "I already knew that!" Well, it was proven to me yesterday without a doubt. I am no longer a doubter.
Flexibility: Classes can be weekly, ever other week, 2x a week. Again, whatever the interested group of parents want, they will work with you to create. Do you have kids who between 5-7 and they want to take the class? Do you need a class for kids 8 and older because you have a nursing baby or busy toddler? They'll work with you on these accommodations. And are you a parent who just thinks this is as cool as your kids do? You are welcome!
Winter? Yeah, it's scary. But they prepare your kids and they'll have a blast. Plan on investing in good winter clothing, though. They'll help you figure that out and teach your kids how to enjoy the outdoors in the winter.
One mom who attended the promo class with me said,
"It was so cool! I loved how much trust he put in the kids. And I love when he asked them “Who is responsible for you? [The kids each pointed to their parents, but he made the point that essentially, they are responsible for themselves.]” I think it will be a great course for teaching autonomy, independence, and responsibility...This is exactly the kind of education I didn’t know I would have loved growing up. My kids had a blast!"
In summary, it was an awesome experience. My kids, ages 12, 10, 8 and 5, are so excited to be a part of his class. And I, as an "Outdoor Urban Enthusiast," with a toddler and a strong aversion to the cold (yes, they teach their classes year round, kids will be prepared and happy in the cold!), I am SO glad they will have an expert and a safe place to learn to love the outdoors. And I don't have to be the one teaching it =)
Making Tracks isn't the only program doing awesome things in the realm of sharing nature with kids and families in Utah. Here is a list of Nature Schools around the state that might be a great fit for you and your family!
Free Forest School (many locations)
Wild + Free (create a free login to see locations)
Cache Valley: Cache Valley Forest School
Grand County: Youth Garden Project
Iron County: Cedar Forest Co-op
Washington County: Wander Wild Homeschool Nature Group