When I moved to Keene a few years back, I saw a flyer for an outdoor program, Wild Roots at Stonewall Farm, and registered my daughter. I was pleased that I found something nature-based for my 2 year old daughter, Molly. Three years later, and I am still so happy that I am a part of the Wild Roots family. I am constantly blown away by Molly’s (and now my son, Eli’s) amazing teacher and at how the program has evolved. That is why I was happy to nominate Wild Roots at Stonewall Farm’s founder and lead teacher, Liza Lowe, for the Environmental Educator of the Year Award.
Liza started Wild Roots from scratch when she couldn’t find a preschool for her own children that incorporated outdoor time. She decided to take matters in her own hands and approached Stonewall Farm. She started with just a few kids and, within the past three years, has turned a tiny class of three into something really great. Now Wild Roots has reached capacity on Monday – Friday, has 5 teachers, and is a state licensed early childhood program. She added kindergarten this past year and is hoping to expand the Wild Roots program to include elementary grades in the near future.
More important than the number of students attending the school is what each student experiences every day at Wild Roots. Rain, or snow, or sleet, or shine, the kids spend almost all day outdoors. The forest and farm fields are their classroom. The location of the school, on a working farm in Keene, introduces students to the methods and processes of local, sustainable food production and organic farming. The children are exposed to dairy farming, maple syrup production, and the children are invited to actively engage in hands-on learning by trying their hand at milking cows, feeding livestock, gathering eggs, tapping trees during sap season, and trying on beekeeping equipment. The students also participate in planting and harvesting of the farm’s crops, and share the harvest with family and friends at school events. In preparation for the fall harvest celebration, the children ground corn they had planted to make cornbread.
Stonewall Farm’s surrounding forest houses the school’s incredible outdoor classroom, built within a patch of hemlock forest. The classroom’s shed contains wheelbarrows, rakes, and shovels. There is an outdoor kitchen, and ropes for climbing and swinging. The children use their imaginations and create elaborate ways to play. They visit Roly Poly Hill and Fairy Forest. Along the way, Liza teaches life cycles, letters, math and more. Through their outdoor play, they learn respect for each other and their surroundings.
Wild Roots students are keen observers of their environment. Due to Liza’s program, a family hike isn’t just a walk – it’s an opportunity to actively observe and share what they have learned. Liza’s student-led approach empowers her students to engage in the environment. Over the past three years, I have noticed an increase in Molly’s observation skills and her level of comfort in the outdoors. She is learning her letters, math, science, and communication skills, all using the environment as a context. Physically, she has great balance, stamina, and she is strong, all because Liza gives them the opportunity to climb trees and hike and run and roll. Liza’s lessons reflect the seasons and celebrate the local landscape. She has created liaisons with a diverse set of practitioners, artists, and professionals in the Monadnock community, who bring a wealth of knowledge to her outdoor classroom including agricultural specialists at Stonewall Farm, “bear experts” from the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center, Moco Arts Yoga For Peace instructors, and Ron, a volunteer artist that helps the students create self-portraits.
Liza not only teaches her rootlets but also provides learning experiences for others by being involved in Antioch’s Early Childhood program. Graduate students observe and intern with the school throughout the year. She is involved in the In Bloom Conference and has written articles for the Natural Start Alliance (http://naturalstart.org/feature-stories/sowing-seed-school), helping others who are interested in starting a similar program.
As a fellow environmental educator, I see Liza creating meaningful, holistic experiences for her students, and as a parent, I could not ask for a more nurturing and dedicated teacher. Liza has built an amazing school from scratch and provides an excellent example for others who want to develop a forest preschool.
Thank you Liza Lowe for providing such an important experience for our youngest audience. The NHEE Board of Directors is so happy to grant you New Hampshire Environmental Educators’ 2016 Educator of the Year Award.
~ Karen Rent, proud parent of two Wild Rootlets