Wildschooling: A Simple Guide for Understanding Its Links to Inquiry-Based Learning
You may have heard of wildschooling before – a parenting philosophy that encourages children to be creative and curious about the natural world around them. It has become incredibly popular with homeschoolers and families who want to support their children’s bond with nature. There are several amazing benefits of wildschooling, but I want to focus on how to combine a wildschooling approach with inquiry-based learning, since there are many overlaps between the two approaches.
Wildschooling is an approach to learning that utilizes nature and innovation to nurture children and teach them in a more holistic way. Wildschooling emphasizes children’s connection with nature and allows them to explore, honour, and connect with the world around them.
It is a popular way of teaching children who are homeschooled, or for parents who are interested in reconnecting their child with the natural world. The driving idea is that connecting with nature can teach children valuable lessons that extend beyond the rigid parameters of a curriculum. However, wildschooling looks different for every family; this depends on a number of things including location, access to outdoor space, and other factors.
How is wildschooling similar to inquiry-based learning?
Remember that inquiry-based learning focuses on the process involved in student learning, and is driven primarily by student’s curiosities, questions, and interests. This is similar to how wildschooling works in a few ways:
1) Questions are at the center
Inquiry learning stems from the questions students have about particular topics or interests. Students ask questions to:
- Stimulate new ideas
- Give context and meaning
- Foster exploration
- Narrow down their curiosities
- Guide their research
- Provide structure to their inquiry
- Make connections
- Deepen their understanding
With wildschooling, questions also play a huge role in the progression of learning. The natural world is full of stimulation and has a lot to offer students in terms of exploration. Questions allow students to focus their attention on specific elements of nature and make connections between different ideas. For example, if a student is curious about the rocks along a river, they might be motivated to collect them and sort them based on colour, shape, or texture. This could lead to a discussion about the different types of rocks found in different parts of a forest, such as beneath a tree, at the base of a hill, or along a river. Eventually, students might be interested in learning about different classifications of rocks, where we find them, and the role they play in an ecosystem.
2) Real-world experience
Depending on the age of students, real-world experience can look very different. For example, younger students can learn about utilizing natural resources to build a shelter or a useful tool while learning about environmental stewardship. Older students might benefit from learning navigation skills such as reading a compass for orienteering, or learning how to start a fire safely. Any kind of real-world experience is likely to touch on many traditional school subjects like social studies, science, or math. In many cases, outdoor education unintentionally provides a cross-curricular approach to learning that is truly invaluable. Here are a few examples:
- Teaches students about land ownership, migration patterns, and the history of the land
- Highlights the abundance of biodiversity in that area
- Provides students with experience in collecting food, finding water, building shelters, and other survival-related skills (depending on age and comfort-levels)
- Inspires students to simply observe and record the world around them
- Introduces students to navigation and teaches the importance of staying on the trails
- Helps teach students how to get from point to point in diverse terrains
- Teaches students geography skills; for example, how to read a topographic map
- Provides experience with judging practical measurements like pacing and distances
- Teaches the importance of packing a backpack – proper clothing, food, water, essential tools and items, and any natural consequences that might arise
- Introduces students to trail signs, tree markings, and other navigational aids
- Helps students become aware of their surroundings, exposure to light and shadows, the relationship between elapsed time and distances traveled, etc.
- Keeps students fit and healthy and teaches the importance of exercise and active living
One of the beautiful things about inquiry-based learning is that it gives students the chance to pursue their passions. They have the space and flexibility to explore their ideas and make sense of them in a way that is meaningful to them. It can also allow students to practice mindfulness. Similarly, wildschooling honours students’ innate desire to explore and observe. This doesn’t mean letting students run completely wild and do nothing all day; it simply means providing them with the tools and flexible parameters they need to explore the world around them.
Exploration also doesn’t have to mean planning a 2-day hiking excursion through the mountains. Start simple; bring a blanket out into the backyard or to a nearby park and read a book together. Then ask them what their favourite parts were, or which characters they connected to. Another idea would be to bring some pencil crayons and a nature journal on a walk through the woods. Have your children observe some plants, birds, or a small animal and sketch what they see, and encourage them to describe it with words or sentences.
Exploration can also mean exploring new ways of using existing materials. For instance, rocks have plenty of uses – they provide habitats for insects, create sediment to nourish soils and plants, and filter river water – but they can also be used in other ways. Some examples include gathering rocks to sort by colour, shape, size, and characteristics, grouping them to learn multiplication or division, collecting a variety of rocks to build a structure, or learning about the history of rocks in relation to settlement patterns and Indigenous history.
Probably the most important similarity that wildschooling and inquiry-based learning have in common is their focus on the child. Gone are the days where the teacher stands at the front of the room and lectures students on a topic. Instead, child-centred teaching methods have seen a surge in popularity, and this indicates a growing shift from traditional education to education that’s relevant to the 21st century student.
Education should be about giving students the tools, resources, and support they need to succeed in an ever-changing world. They need to gain confidence in order to practice these skills. Moreover, they need to make sense of the information they receive each day. Unfortunately, a lot of the information they receive on a daily basis isn’t going to serve them much purpose in the future. For example, in high school I learned about trigonometry and Euclidean geometry. While this information is certainly useful for someone studying engineering, they probably aren’t the most meaningful concepts to the majority of high school students.
Wildschooling, by nature, is child-centred. It offers opportunities for children to pursue their interests, and honours their competent and curious nature. In addition, wildschooling is unique in that it meets students where they are and creates a safe, non-judgmental environment for them to try new things and take risks. Incorporating the principles and values of wildschooling into an inquiry-learning environment brings enormous value to students and to their confidence, development, and resiliency.
Incorporating the principles of wildschooling into inquiry learning
Here are some more specific examples of how to infuse wildschooling principles within an inquiry classroom:
|Wildschooling Activity||Connected Inquiry Questions|
|Rock math: Observe the different rocks in a particular area. Encourage students to sort them into piles, then perform calculations by removing or adding rocks to the groups. Discuss what is happening and play around.||What math do you see here? How can we sort rocks? What criteria can we use to sort objects we find in the forest? How can nature help us understand math?|
|Mud painting: Bring small buckets or containers on a walk (preferably during or after a rainy day). Encourage students to mix colours with the mud and rain, utilizing natural elements to make different colours. Create brushes out of sticks and let students paint.||What colours can you make from using leaves? How can you make a brush out of leaves? How does your mud paint change colour when you add different elements to it?|
|Building a fort: Encourage students to work in groups to build a fort using materials from the surrounding area, making sure not to break branches directly off trees, or pull on living things. Tell students to create a fort that includes an entrance and kitchen.||What supplies would work best for the walls of my fort? How can I use what’s already on the ground? What is the most efficient way of transporting large branches or stones?|
|Scavenger hunt: Provide students with nature journals, a notepad, a basket, or these cut-outs. Encourage students to find a variety of loose parts. Discuss the importance of environmental stewardship and respecting nature.||What is similar about my items? How can I create a story using my loose parts? In what way can I create art with my items? Why might my items be special or valuable to the animals or insects in nature?|