Learning Co-Op teaches about archaeology & more

By Lily Pope & Cham

~First published in the Burlington Times-News, section A10, Spring 2016

SAXAPAHAW — Kids and nature go together like peanut butter and jelly, but what kind of school would spend weeks studying animal tracking, mushrooms, fossils or bats? And what kind of school is devoted to getting its students interested in nature and lets kids teach other kids? Theres a place in Saxapahaw that does just that.

Forty years ago, children spent an average of four hours a day playing outside. Nowadays, children spend only 40 minutes outdoors each week, and an astounding 52 hours engaged with electronic devices, whether that’s TV, social media, or video games. And that’s not including all their online work at school and home, for homework and other educational purposes.

To help counter this epidemic, several local home-school families came together in 2008 and created a learning co-op; the Saxapahaw Nature School. These parents have devoted their time (and love) to getting their students into nature at a young age, in an effort to allow their children the same outdoor experiences they enjoyed when they were kids. These parents are teaching their children to live sustainable, hands-on, nature-based, educationally focused lives.

Several years ago, the school switched over from the parents teaching each unit, to the students, currently ranging from 9 to 17 years old, teaching each other. One parent teaches the first class to kick off each new unit, and then oversees whichever student is teaching that days lesson. Last fall this further evolved into a teach the teachers class. The Nature School students were invited to teach in Dr. Mike Holland’s middle school environmental education class at the Carolina Center for Educational Excellence (CCEE) at UNC in Chapel Hill. Their goal was to teach the students how to teach their peers.

The Nature Schools current unit is focused on archaeology. Their classes center on a one-room schoolhouse, which is more than 100 years old, located along the Indian Trading Path that runs through lower Alamance County. The schools students currently raise bees together, and have also started a microbusiness. They look forward to bringing products to market later this year, and using the proceeds to fund local environmental education programs.

If you are thinking about beginning your own outdoor learning co-op, to help you get started here is a list of the classes the Saxapahaw Nature School covered in the last few years: fungi and mushrooms, pollinators, mosses and lichens, spiders, fairy house building, fishing, water bugs, boating, anatomy, tree identification, orienteering, animal signs, life through a microscope, grossology, birds, rocks, minerals, gems, and fossils, kitchen science, gardening, weather, bats, building debri huts, zentangles, chemistry, wildcrafting and herbs, honey bees, business planning, tiny houses and archaeology.

The Saxapahaw Nature School kids encourage you to start your own outdoor learning program. If you need a hand, feel free to contact them at TheNatureGames@gmail.com.

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