It’s been a busy day for the six students at Growing Wild Forest School. The 4- and 5-year-olds have scrambled up trees, painted watercolors with the morning’s rainfall, consulted their well-thumbed “Mammal Tracks and Scat” book and worked with child-size tools in their garden, where they have so far planted rutabaga, strawberries and peas. It’s a typical day for this anything-but-typical school, where all activities take place in the woody lot behind a West Asheville church.
Before lead teacher Kathryn Long co-founded Growing Wild in 2016, she taught in a conventional preschool. “I thought the kids were miserable, and it showed in their performance and behavior,” she recalls. “I started taking them outside for longer and longer periods of time, doing lessons with natural materials, and everyone did better.”
Long then researched outdoors, nature-focused preschool programming, particularly approaches practiced in Germany and Sweden. She says she found local people “willing to jump into this crazy idea with me — Asheville is just the place for something like this.”
The school day at Growing Wild runs 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., with options for one to five days per week for a 10-month calendar year. Parents are advised that their children will get dirty, fill their toilet needs outside and participate in stick play, climbing and supervised use of sharp tools. “We believe children rise to our best expectations,” says Long. “Every day in the forest is a gift.”
Editor’s note: As part of our monthlong celebration of this region’s commitment to sustainable ways of living and working in community, Xpress is highlighting some of those who are making a difference by taking action on a variety of creative and inspiring initiatives.