Fall is traditionally the starting point for a new round of learning, with new goals and new experiences ahead. And it will be again this year. Sequoia’s Farm and Forest School guides children through experiences that ground them in Pacific Northwest cultural and environmental understanding. By spending time immersed in homesteading activities, environmental education, spending most of their time outdoors, interacting with and caring for animals, and field trips to natural habitats, kids will observe how they are a vital part of the cycle between humans, nature, and where food comes from. What a fantastic way to spend the school year.
The school day will begin at Sequoia’s Treehouse for Before School Care or at the 4.11-acre Farm. Children ride to the Farm on a Sequoia’s Treehouse mini-bus or they can be directly dropped off at the Farm. The day begins with a formal morning meeting. The children’s day is organized into activity sessions with lunch and snacks in between. Learning includes homesteading skills, environmental education, reading time, interacting with, and caring for animals, outdoor survival skills, field trips, as well as time for artistic and musical expression.
Assessing the weather for the day helps us make decisions, so observing the meteorological sciences in our surroundings is an essential skill activity. “One of our main focuses every day at the Farm school will be to determine the weather,” says Sequoia Hartman, owner of Sequoia’s Farm and Forest School and Sequoia’s Treehouse. “I feel this is an essential skill when caring for gardens, planting, caring for animals, and taking care of your home, environment, and personal care.” Sequoia’s school has technological forecasting equipment which they use in their integrated learning style. “We will also take part in a daily skit after we’ve checked the sky for cloud formations, the wind and wind direction, temperature, precipitation, and barometer,” she continues. “Together we will keep a log of our daily determination and what actually occurred to see how accurate we are. Then we will discuss what this means for the farm, the gardens and fields, the animals on the farm, and our own comfort and care.”
Cross-Curricular Homesteading Activities
Skills such as weaving and knitting, woodworking, pickling, drying fruit or meat, learning to cook using Dutch oven, helping to build a new cob oven, sewing may be on the day’s agenda. Building and creative construction require children to practice goal setting, planning for steps and gathering appropriate materials. Projects, like a cob oven—a dome oven made from mud and grass—are educational and fulfilling. Kids get to experience the whole process from preconstruction to post-pizza topping, perhaps with veggies from the garden they also helped tend. Reading directions and using teamwork are essential to project implementation. Calculations and measurements are made, tactile and spatial awareness is nurtured. More than just an oven is built, confidence is too, as the children learn that they can build something and use it to feed themselves.
Caring for crops and farm animals properly requires problem solving and planning skills, the sciences, gardening, and weather knowledge. Being able to manage this cycle of interconnected functions is empowering. At Sequoia’s Farm and Forest School, the children take part in the process at every stage, from planting in the garden and weeding to harvesting and composting to affect the process as it begins again. They feed the hogs, rabbits, ponies, and chickens. As all learning is connected, students witness the cycle of feeding the animals, composting their droppings, and bedding material and then seeing how that compost assists in growing food for either animals or people.
After lunch, a quiet reflective time allows everyone to relax and just “be.” Whether it is through reading a book, spending time journaling, or listening to music, children have time to process and reenergize before commencing with the rest of their day. Additional activities fill the afternoon until the bus takes children back to the childcare center or they are picked up at the Farm. An after-school snack, time for art and group games and free play finish up the day.
The Big Picture of Learning
At Sequoia’s Programs the focus is on kids’ experiences in the outdoors, that they are authentic, that they provide an opportunity for children to participate fully and explore new knowledge. For kids, learning how the world around them works helps to build awareness, and being able to take part in a hands-on way empowers them and builds self-esteem. Research studies have shown benefits to learning outside, and to studying plant and animal life and the environment. Outdoor, natural environment learning is a method practiced in multiple countries, and research supports benefits ranging from increased academic preparedness to increased motivation for learning and social emotional growth.
“Experiencing and learning about the environment in early childhood builds a foundation for lifelong environmental literacy,” claims the Natural Start Alliance, an association supporting natural early learning. The environmental education group also reports that the number of schools such as these has doubled in the last three years from an estimated 275 in 2017 to 585 in 2020.
Sequoia’s Farm and Forest School, at 2525 36th Avenue NE in Olympia, is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and is for children 4to 7years-old. Extended care is available both before and after school hours at Sequoia’s Treehouse Children’s Center just four minutes down the road.
Learning starts September 9. To learn how to enroll your child, visit the Sequoia’s Treehouse website.