Louisville Magazine

FEB 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 2.19 33 In the Woods Where trees grow, minds thrive. By Mary Chellis Nelson / Photos by Joon Kim EDUCATION I was four when the 1994 blizzard silenced Louisville. I remember trudging through the snow with my brother, and how the powder's surface must have been at my chest. Looking back, the snow was both exciting and familiar. Even though I may have only experienced snow a few times before, it didn't feel foreign. It was like it was a part of me. In that moment, I was nature. It's easy to forget sometimes, that we're nature. at we come from the same place as weeds and mosquitoes and polar bears. It's easy to forget, because what do you more commonly see: a kid in a restaurant hypnotized by the glow of a tablet, or a kid sitting on a stump in the forest, enjoying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? e latter is how a group of nine three- and four-year-olds often spend their mornings. On a freezing but sunny December morning, the kids begin their day bundled up in pants, hats and gloves, which make up for their tiny size with bold purples, greens, pinks, reds and yellows. Carrying backpacks that showcase Elmo or Paw Patrol, the preschoolers march, meander, skip and tumble down a leafy path (falling down seems to be the thing to do), over sticks and under boughs. eir destination is an open area surrounded by stumps of ash trees, logs and large piles of winter- shriveled sticks and leaves. e little humans are in their classroom. e rive Forest School, a preschool at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve in Goshen, began classes in September, after a muddy summer camp left some parents wanting more and others wanting in. eir desire is a child- led, nature-immersion education. It's a growing, now close to 300-school movement in the U.S., modeled after the European forest schools that originated in the '50s and continue to garner support from education studies and childhood experts. In forest kindergarten (the technical term that includes children ages three to six), school happens outside, where toys are mud and sticks, music is one's own voice and games are imagination. "Bring them inside and they start to bounce off the walls," says Creasey Mahan education director Ryan Devlin, "so we just take the walls away." Devlin spent the last 10 years as an actor. (You may have seen him on Brothers & Sisters, Grey's Anatomy, Veronica Mars or Cougar Town.) A few years ago, he and his wife, screenwriter Kara Holden, were living as new parents in Santa Monica, California, wanting their son's upbringing to resemble the outdoorsy experiences they enjoyed, away from the bustling, season-less Los Angeles area. Devlin, who grew up in Michigan, says his childhood was full of "exploring, making up stories, being creative, letting kind of our inner-self come out in ways that you can't do when you're guided so strictly by a piece of technology or by a tight pedagogical philosophy." He studied forest preschools for two years, at Wauhatchie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Cedarsong Nature School, one of the country's first forest kindergartens, founded in 2006 outside Seattle. Holden, who grew up in Crestwood, got a job last year in the film department at the University of Louisville. Having fallen like an acorn for the nature preserve near their new home in Goshen, Devlin approached Tavia Cathcart Brown, executive director of the nonprofit Creasey Mahan, about starting a school. Brown, whose sunny demeanor and whimsical voice could pass for a wood fairy's, thought it sounded wonderful. e first day I observe the kids, frost has blanketed the ground. One boy picks up a stick wrapped in crystal circuitry, studies it for a moment, then licks it, noticing how the patterns disappear at the same moment his tongue feels cold. "Is it warm or cold?" asks Devlin, squatting down at the kid's level. "Cold." "Why did your tongue melt it?" "Because it's cold." "Because your tongue is cold?" "Mmmhmm." "It's probably cold now. Do you think maybe your tongue melted it?" "Mmmhmm." Devlin's attention is diverted, and he says to some other kids, "You can throw yourself on the ground but not on top of a person." Other outdoor preschools exist in Kentucky, such as Natural Start Preschool outside Cincinnati, and Red Oaks Forest School at Red River Gorge. ere are forest meet-up groups locally, and Jefferson Memorial Forest has programming for preschool-aged kids. Other area preschools emphasize the

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