The Rewilding School Offers a Connection to Nature for Kids and Adults
We are very lucky to have access to nature in Westchester. However, in our day-to-day, fast-paced lives we sometimes don’t always take advantage of what’s all around us. Eric Stone is changing that through The Rewilding School, a program/nature connection movement for kids and adults that you can find right in Westchester. The program offers year-round outdoor programs for children of all ages where they can learn, explore, forage, and connect to nature. Check out more about this awesome program and some of their offerings for kids and adults.
Westchester Family: How did the idea for The Rewilding School come about?
Eric Stone: It all started from a deep desire to connect kids to the natural world. The Rewilding School is part of a much larger nature connection movement where nature schools all over the world are trying break down the barriers of access to the outdoors and build a genuine relationship between people, their communities and the natural world.
When I was growing up in Shrub Oak I was constantly playing outside. Whether it was flipping over logs in the woods to find salamanders, fishing in the lake by my house, or playing pretend in my backyard with a pile of sticks, I was always outside. The biggest problem I had was there weren’t a lot of other kids interested in the same things I was. I was the last child in the woods in my neighborhood.
When It came time for summer jobs, I was privileged enough to teach at Cranberry Lake Preserve Summer Ecology Program for kids for five summers, which gave me the basis of what a summer nature program is like but I wanted to learn more of what was out there. A few moves around the country taught me what environmental and placed based education could be and I was happy to bring those skills and knowledge back to Westchester.
Westchester is filled with amazing natural spaces are we are extremely grateful to have partnered with wonderful land conservation organizations like the Marsh Sanctuary, Saw Mill River Audubon, Westchester County Parks, and Somers Land Trust who allow us to teach at their preserves and parks and we are glad to be able to contribute to the conservation of these lands, too.
Westchester Family: What ages is the program for? And what can kids expect?
Eric Stone: We offer classes for all ages. All classes are outdoors and geared to age-appropriate exploration and activities. Classes are organized loosely into three categories: preschool age, school age, and adult.
Our preschool age classes are built to meet each child’s needs and abilities and foster curiosity for new explorers! Our Wild One’s (12 years old) and Wildlings (two-four years old) classes allow kids to build social skills around pretend and play. They also have a snack, storytime, and learn about the garden by planting the seeds or harvesting the veggies. Children learn about bugs by flipping over logs. They use nets in the pond to catch tadpoles. Its a great way for families to bond with kids and create a lifelong love of the outdoor for kids who aren’t ready for a drop-off program.
Our half-day Forest Preschool, which operates in both Croton and Mount Kisco, is for kids who are ready for a bit more independence. Its a mixed age, school year program for kids ages 2.5-5. We start in September and the kids get to explore a full year in the woods. We work closely with parents to ensure that the kids have the right gear for the weather and do seasonal-specific activities that indoor preschools just can’t do. In the fall we forage acorns and process them into delicious acorn cookies.
We make leaf wreaths and crowns. In the winter, we go sledding and track foxes around the fields and walk across frozen ponds. Springtime is for tapping maple trees, catching frogs and planting trees. We have the perfect mix of structure and free time for kids to build their curiosity and social skills. Parents can expect tons of communication from teachers, lots of social and emotional growth, and muddy smiling. kids.
Our school age programs give kids confidence outdoors and build skills and community alike. Our signature Wild Summer program for kids in grades K-6 takes place from July-August with weekly sessions and different themes. One such theme is the Stone Age Tinkerers where kids build a stone age survival kit complete with stone cutting tools, hand-sewn leather bags, and cordage made from plants, to Forest Craft, which combines kid’s love for all things Minecraft-related and teaches them the reality of making campfires with flint and steel, made pickaxes out of sticks, and complete all kinds of woods-lated challenges. Kids often cook lunch over campfires, go fishing, and even learn stealth and camouflage games that they bring back to their friends.
During the school year, we offer weekday nature club, weekend archery, winter camps, and a Saturday class called Hunter Gatherers. This gives kids get a chance to forage food from the woods and build woodland shelters year-round.
For adults, we offer seasonal workshops such as spoon carving, wildlife tracking, leather-working, and more.
Westchester Family: How are you different from what’s out there?
Eric Stone: There are tons of wonderful nature programs in Westchester. We are just a bit more hands on. We hire amazing naturalists as our educators. They spend a lot of time on social and emotional training to make sure that every child in our programs is supported. At The Rewilding School, we teach dangerous things like wood carving, archery, and firemaking in a safe manner. There is an emphasis on building community with people in nature. We operate on the principle that people are a part of nature — and not separate from it.
We have a rule, leave it better than you found it. This applies to picking up trash but it goes beyond that. Our classes remove invasive vines that choke out native trees. We plant wildlife-friendly bushes and pollinator plants. As a result, our students get more out of the program than just an appreciation for nature. They gain an understanding of their role in nature and a toolkit for how to interact with the natural world in a way that supports everyone. Plants, animals, and people included.
Westchester Family: Why do you think nature skills are so important for kids?
Eric Stone: What we see from kids outdoors is exactly what you would expect; they have fun, but it goes a bit deeper than that.
For 95% of human history, we lived entirely off the land with stone tools. Our brains evolved to have deep connection and satisfaction from learning to work with these skills outdoors.
Many kids, including those who may struggle in highly structured indoor programs, come alive when they step into the woods. They visibly relax when they are watching turtles sunning themselves on a log. The skills of foraging, shelter building, fire making, and wood carving almost universally give a deep sense of accomplishment and excitement that comes alive even in adults.
I remember one family whose daughter came to our Forest Preschool after pulling out of her indoor preschool near the end of the year. Over the course of the year, she started speaking less and did not want to go to school at all. With three weeks left to our school year, she came alive in our program and ran out of the car every day to see what new games and adventures her peers were on. The mother was practically in tears because the transformation was that quick and that significant.
Westchester Family: Tell us more about Forest Fest!
Eric Stone: We are hosting our first ever Forest Fest at the Marsh Sanctuary in Mount Kisco on September 10th and 11th. It only $20 per car and is chock full of foraging walks, fire making practice, archery, preschool storytime, and games. It’s the perfect chance to see what we are all about. All ages are welcome!
Westchester Family: Where can we learn more about you?