This is a new series of posts in which I interview Portland personalities that are making a difference in connecting children of this region to nature. Richard Louv, the premier voice in the children and nature movement, has written several times about our natureful city. In Last Child in the Woods, he remarked on Portland’s Greenspaces program’s “call for the creation of a regional system of parks, natural areas, greenways, and trails for both wildlife and people;” PSU students’ research on possible greenroof design in downtown; and the 40-Mile Loop. In The Nature Principle, Louv commented on research in Portland on the health benefits of nature (outdoor “prescriptions”); profiled a teacher who worked as an assistant for a study of small mammals in an urban green space (Marshall Park); described Mike Houck’s work to make room for nature in a big city at a time when the consensus was that nature and wildlife were elsewhere, not within where people dwell; and how the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge provides access to nature via the bus system. There are other mentions of Portland, too. Patrick, Catherine, and I feel lucky to live in a city that values what the Earth gives to it. Moreover, we feel privileged to share this city with folks who strive to not only instill a love of nature into its citizens’ minds and hearts, but in providing better access to that nature.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a suggestion for someone to be interviewed for this series.
Today I talk to Kelly Hogan, co-founder at Mother Earth School.
Hi Kelly, welcome to Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas. Would you please share with us your background – education, jobs, etc. that relate to nature in some way?
I am the co-founder of Mother Earth School, an all-outdoor preschool, kindergarten, 1st & 2nd grade located on forested urban farms in SE and SW Portland. We are about to start our 6th year of programming and we just completed our 5th year of summer camps that serve ages 4-12, including rite of passage work with the pre-teenagers. I have completed rite of passage training with an organization called Rite of Passage Journeys, an Art of Mentoring training at the Wilderness Awareness School, I participated in the Wilderness Survival immersion program through Trackers NW, I have my Waldorf teaching certificate and a Permaculture Design certificate. I lived and volunteered at Tryon Life Community Farm sustainability education center (the site of our early childhood programs) for 5 years where I focused on homesteading skills (specifically animal husbandry).
Describe for us how you connect Portland kids to nature. Tell us about your programs.
I teach preschool at Mother Earth School. The programs at Mother Earth School are outdoor immersion experiences year-round that focus on homesteading skills, nature survival skills, community building, sensory integration and forest exploration. The children are nurtured in an environment full of awe, discovery, connectedness, adventure and celebration. We honor the seasons through song, storytelling, puppetry, craft projects, skill building and play. This relationship that the children develop with the natural world is the foundation of a future generation of environmental advocates. The mission of Mother Earth School is to support the healing of humanity by transforming education with reverence to the wisdom inherent in nature.
Do you have any moments in nature from your childhood that left an impression on you?
I grew up playing outside every day in the forest behind my house. All of my childhood memories center around nature. I have one very clear memory of running through my yard, fully immersed in an imaginative experience. Then, all of a sudden, it was as if I “snapped out of it” and caught a glimpse of my surroundings from a perspective that was not based in imagination. I stopped for a moment, glanced around at the forest which in that moment looked simply like scenery, and then made the conscious decision to re-enter my imaginary world, in which I was much more connected to the essence of what was around me, rather than just how things looked. It is a difficult moment to describe in words, but is quite a profound look at the level of engagement of the “child’s mind”. I want to nurture that in children and encourage its expression.
Do you have children yourself? If so, tell me about their relationship to nature.
I have 2 children. Talon is 12 and Yarrow is 10. They also grew up engaged in outdoor adventures and playing freely in nature. My son is a pre-teen and currently prefers skateboarding and basketball to hiking or fishing, but he doesn’t hesitate to spend a week camping or a day rafting. My daughter is constantly making herbal remedies (mostly in the form of tea). She loves plants and animals and enthusiastically participates in goat milking and other types of animal tending. She writes songs and stories about homesteading and loves to come with me to primitive skills gatherings throughout the year.
Describe for us something about Portland’s focus on nature that you think is valuable for the city’s youth.
I love the diversity in the types of programming offered for youth in the Portland area! Mother Earth School offers an experience that is media-free, dreamy (in a good way!!) and idyllic whereas Trackers uses media trends to offer programs that are attractive to children that might otherwise prefer playing video games. I value the experiences on both ends of the spectrum, as well as everything in-between. We get contacted almost every week by an individual, school or organization that is looking for guidance in how to incorporate more nature into their programming. From public school garden classes and higher education credits for outdoor education training, to child care facilities that are committing to using all-natural materials, it is truly heartening to see that this movement is so quickly permeating the Portland area (and beyond!).
Is there anything missing that you would like to see happen in Portland?
I would like to see more access to these types of experiences for low-income families. Mother Earth School is a tuition-based school (necessarily so, because in order to be a registered school with public funding, we would have to change aspects of what is so foundational to our educational philosophy and practices). With more private funding, we would be able to reduce our tuition as well as to offer scholarships to families that can’t afford to pay for school. It seems that so many enriching experiences are costly, including nature immersion, which is really ironic. Either the government and insurance sectors are going to have to take a leap of faith, or the movement needs more people willing to invest money to support the accessibility of connecting consistently with nature as a means of education.
Do you have any advice for parents looking to connect their kids to nature?
Yes, my advise is to prioritize it. It is easy for the busyness of urban life to displace outdoor experiences to occasional weekend outings (especially in the rainy season, which is most of the year in this area). Invest in some sturdy outerwear and long underwear (utilize the amazing second-hand market here in Portland to keep costs low) and play outside along with your children! P.S. – adults, it is still fun to splash in puddles and climb trees!!
What is you favorite natural space in our city?
I absolutely adore Tryon Creek State Park. It is such a magical forest that is so appreciated by its patrons that I feel like it is bursting with joy. Mother Earth School has special names for so many of the places that we love there. One of our favorites is the ‘owl tree’ where baby barred owls are born every spring. The baby owls are actually flirtatious!! The parents of our school children will hear all about the baby owls and want to take a walk after school to see the owl family. They will ask me for directions to the tree and all I have to say is “your child can show you the way” (and they will likely also introduce their parents to all the edible plants along the way as well).
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Kelly! Patrick is just about to start first grade. Perhaps when Afton goes to preschool (she’s not even two weeks old yet!), she will go to Mother Earth School.