Story and Photos by Holly Morgan
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I walk up a wood chip-covered trail to the clearing in the woods known as The Homestead. There are children playing chase through a small meadow full of raspberries and wild roses; one child hangs proudly from a low tree branch, while others spread hay and move rocks around a newly formed circular garden bed, each immersed in the present moment. This is not the conventional school pick-up line where vehicles full of waiting parents stretch down the street; this is the beautiful energy and space of an outdoor learning program, where the classroom is redefined by a sprawling eighty-acre conservation landscape, and its newest stewards, children ranging in age from three to fourteen. Imagine as a child beginning your school day with a walk into the woods, noticing the seasonal shifts through plant and animal behavior, and learning about the collective responsibility we hold to living interdependently with one another and Earth. Does it sound like a dream?
Humble Oak Outdoor Learning and Arts Collective
This unique outdoor learning experience encompasses respect and reverence for one another and cultivates a relationship of reciprocity with the land and the natural world. And for the children and adults of Humble Oak Outdoor Learning and Arts Collective, the offerings are an environment where meaningful work includes engaging in good relationships with the surrounding community and Earth and deepening the knowledge of themselves and their interconnectedness to human and more than human life.
On any given day, the children interweave their work and play through forest trails, over the Grandfather Story Stones, across a winding creek in the Fen, and offering gratitude and bits of nature to the gnomes and fae of their beloved Humble Oak Tree. This year with the guidance of a local consultancy that specializes in regenerative design and healing of people, communities, and ecosystems, the school began several projects, including a living walking spiral, cascading herb garden, a medicine wheel garden, and a simple hoop house. Through the donation of seeds, starter plants, and the Barebones gardening tool collection, the children have been present in the learning, planting, and tending of the Spring season.
The Importance Of Outdoor Community Experience
This budding relationship between The Woods and the people tending it extends far beyond the physical stewardship. It is collaborative work to perpetually hold land so that it may be honored and cared for by people across generations as a form of place-based nourishment. As stated in their vision and mission, “We envision vibrant human communities that are nourished, physically and spiritually, by the land. The land is freed from speculative ownership and spiraling real estate markets. There is just access to healthy places for all, and the livelihoods derived from regenerative stewardship and associated enterprises are the foundation of thriving regional economies….Living Lands recognizes that access to land and place is part of developing a more just and inspiring world.” (https://livinglandstrust.org/our-story/ )
These fundamental practices recognize the importance of collective community experience and hold ecological integrity at the heart center. What beauty to witness and take part in- the continuing generations of Stewards and the deepening kinship of people and the planet.
Humble Oak is a nature-based outdoor learning center located at The Woods conservation area in southeastern Wisconsin through Living Lands Trust. This land was inhabited and stewarded by the Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, and other First Peoples before European colonization and settlement of the region. To learn more about the mission and offerings of Humble Oak Outdoor Learning and Arts Collective, visit their website.