youth program participant // photo by Sebastian Schmid
At Wild Tenders, the local ecosystem is the classroom — the woods, creeks, meadows, hills, plants, and animals come magically alive through exploration, interaction, story, and consistent contact through the seasons. This direct experience and meaningful play help our students to know themselves as interdependent, ecological beings.
As with all of our programs, Wild Tenders is simultaneously committed to education that cultivates earth intimacy and that interrupts the socialization of dominant, oppressive systems that have caused so many social, ecological, and existential crises that we face today. We do this work in service to our vision of a world deeply rooted in interrelationship, respect for life, and shared protection of the planet upon which we all depend.
Before applying, please read below about how each pillar relates to our youth programs. We present this information so you can decide if our approach aligns with your family’s vision and values. If you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com.
For an additional overview of our curriculum, please take a look at our Core Curriculum page.
In stark contrast to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful words, James Watt — inventor of the steam engine — said: “Nature can be conquered; if we can but find her weak side.” This dangerous idea that humans are separate from and superior to “nature” shape systems, structures, and messages that influence our lives in countless ways. But we are nature, no better or worse than the other beings around us, only different. We believe our future depends on understanding and embodying our interdependent place in the ecological web.
Earth Intimacy is simply the process of nurturing our relationships with the environments we inhabit, loving them, and coming to understand that we are a part of the web of life, not apart from it.
The younger we cultivate that embodied understanding, the more likely it will influence values and actions throughout one’s lifetime. And so, we believe that nurturing Earth Intimacy in kids is vital.
Sadly, research shows that children in the U.S. spend an average of 4 to 7 minutes in unstructured outdoor play compared to 7 hours in front of screens. You read that right: 7 minutes of green time, 7 hours of screen time.
There is so much room for improvement, and we believe wholeheartedly that it’s possible — especially because the benefits of “green” time are so clear. Research confirms that time outside promotes physical and mental health, and that’s true for humans of any age. As we prioritize Earth Intimacy in the youngest generation, relationships founded in connection, love and kinship can guide lifelong actions for protection and care.
Fannie Lou Hamer’s words illuminate the interdependence of all peoples and all struggles for freedom. The sentence is simple, but the reality it describes is truly profound. Freedom is dynamic, individual, and collective, and it requires everyone’s active participation to achieve and maintain. Inspired by Hamer and so many visionaries, we use the term “co-liberation” to refer to the efforts that move us closer to freedom for all, including the Earth itself.
Co-liberation implies that we have work and practice to do together — and we most certainly do! But it’s also essential to recognize that the work is different depending on who we are… and more specifically, how protected and prioritized we are within the society we live in.
How does this relate to childhood education? Well, the truth is that we begin to learn the rules of society from a very young age. The fancy word for this is “socialization.” With each passing year, socialization becomes harder to undo — imagine you’re a salmon swimming upstream, and each year the current becomes stronger. The earlier we can start the process, the less there is to unlearn.
We believe that a better society — one in which all people are free to be themselves without retribution — depends on educating youth about these topics from the get go. With care and age-appropriate curriculum, we can lay foundations that support critical thinking, honest conversations and behaviour change, which we hope will add up to stopping the inheritance of injustice from being passed down any further.
Our bodies undergo remarkable changes as we mature from infancy to adolescence, and these changes are deeply supported by our intimacy with the Earth. After all, as a species, we evolved in intimate contact with our environments: the sunlight, the winds and breezes, the uneven ground… everything that makes up the ecosystem — always living, always changing. We are ecological beings and the outdoors is an ideal playground to cultivate (and celebrate) our senses — taste, touch, smell, hearing, sight, proprioception, and intuition.
Embodiment at Wild Tenders has two dimensions:
1. We support youth to grow more fully into their physical, emotional, sensory and relational selves.
2. We teach tools for self-regulation, which support emotional and relational wellbeing.
As we explore, play, crawl, balance, listen, observe, and reflect, we are attuning our whole individual systems to the whole collective system we are a part of. With guidance, practice, and time, this exploration teaches us to notice more acutely what is happening in our bodies, and how those happenings are impacting and being impacted by what is going on around us. This sensitivity is a crucial skill for navigating the world, both physically and emotionally, and it supports an embodied sense of ourselves as interdependent, ecological beings.
We want young people to feel informed, inspired and resourced to contribute to the world around them. Prayerful action is how we refer to contributions that heal, that nurture life, that inspire, that promote freedom. It is a type of leadership that is considerate of the health and well-being of many generations to come.
Leadership is a complicated word. Our vision of leadership is not rooted in a single expert or a charismatic person who guides everyone else. Rather, leadership is collaborative. It is a balance between knowing one’s gifts and feeling confident to offer them, and at the same time, celebrating the gifts of others and co-creating containers that support the expression and celebration of each other's gifts. It is equally important to understand our limitations and the places where we might grow. We make great effort in Wild Tenders to support the youth to see the gifts in themselves and others, to develop confidence in them, and also to believe that they can cultivate new gifts, skills, and awareness with time and practice (and guidance).
Service to the world can take so many different forms. After all, the Earth and the Earth's inhabitants are ailing (and thriving) in so many ways — we want to support the thriving! Childhood can be a time of innocence, but not every child is fortunate enough to experience that luxury — and kids are often far more observant than we give them credit for ... which is precisely why we need to talk to kids about what ails the world, particularly as they get older. To shield them from such realities is to hinder their capacity to respond — and perhaps their willingness. We believe that youth who are embodied, aware of the world’s ailments and wellness, and supported by an intimate relationship with the Earth will be well prepared for finding what prayerful actions are theirs to make in service to the whole.
For many members of our youngest cohort, Wild Tenders represents one of their first social group experiences outside of the home — perhaps the first. With this in mind, we focus our attention on building foundations of social and emotional learning. Doing so in nature means that the experience is also ecological: the Quail Covey is a place to remember that we humans are nature too. As we make friends with new humans and new wild creatures, the mentors are there to help those budding connections to bloom. And, to water those blossoms with foundations of care and respect for our ecological neighbors, ourselves and each other.
The underlying curriculum in our Quail covey is play. We build confidence through exploration — jumping in puddles, running and falling down, digging, and immersing one’s physical body with the earth. Through tactile experience and free play, we encourage the youth to get their hands dirty and interact with the world. Through structured and unstructured play, we strive to deepen the comfort of each participant with the world around them.
Storytelling is a central practice for deepening relationships with the world around and within. The mentors share stories and picture books that promote ecological understanding and empathy. Stories are told from a diversity of perspectives, genders, races, and species. This approach embeds in the young hearts and minds of the Quail that there are many different ways to be, none of which are “right” or “wrong”. We also encourage the Quail to tell stories of their own – both real-life and imaginary. This helps them to learn that their voice, experiences, and love for the world around (and within) them matters.
In support of socio-emotional learning, we offer and model teachings of consent and body boundaries. These practices teach us to respect ourselves and one another, and make room for needs to change and evolve. The topic of consent deepens through the years as we understand more fully what our personal boundaries are and how they may be different from or similar to the boundaries of others.
We also empower each child to know and inhabit their personal identities and to respect the identities of others. Studies show that kids are aware of identity, and the social benefits or disadvantages associated with those identities, at a very young age. Activities and stories that interrupt dominant storylines and socialized patterns of either/or, right/wrong, good/bad can provide powerful foundations for a commitment to equity as the kids grow up. This involves teachings about interdependence and interrelationship, consent, conflict resolution, compromise, and the reality that we all have different needs and desires in different moments.
The Quail experience sets a foundation that can be layered upon in later cohorts. We begin and end each day in gratitude. We express care for the places we visit and the beings we interact with along the way. We tend to our physical spaces, our materials, and our belongings with respect. We encourage creativity through story, art and song (many of which are co-written by youth and mentors!). We share lineages when introducing activities, songs, and stories. This foundation creates a framework of intentionality and creative expression that is built upon in the older age groups.
Building upon the foundations of the Quail Covey, the older cohorts continue many of the same practices — storytelling, games, structured and unstructured play — while adding age-appropriate developments to support deeper learning and experience.
Some ways this occurs in a given day:
We embark on daily wanders, adventures and explorations — each with a storytelling component to encourage creative expression through movement, song, art and play.
We balance high energy games with quieter practices. Sit spot — one of the simplest and also most profound Earth Intimacy practices — helps the older kids to develop their observation skills while providing a quiet, slow, attentive and reflective routine.
We bring together curiosity, observation and intellect to begin to think like an ecological designer, asking: how does water move? How could we support the flow of water? What does this forest need to be healthy?
We deepen these questions to encourage the embodied experience that we are ecological beings too: What happens to our bodies when we are dehydrated? What happens to the soil when the soil is dehydrated?
We attune to birdsong, balance on uneven terrain, crawl through the brush and find outlets that support their personal developmental edge and sensory stimulation.
We learn tools for physical as well as emotional regulation. What is the shape my body takes when I’m angry, sad, or feeling defeated? How can I move my energy in a way that does not harm others, while still communicating my needs?
We deepen in co-liberatory practices. We celebrate each other’s similarities and differences. We play games that introduce ourselves via many layers — interests, family backgrounds, pronouns, etc. We steer away from language and activities that reinforce binary gender norms. We share lineages when introducing activities, songs, and stories.
We interrupt language that can or does cause harm and do so in a way that does not emphasize good/bad, right/wrong, but instead supports learning, care and love among peer relationships. We work directly with consent and body boundaries. And we respond in the moment to what arises (as things inevitably do!).
The Otters and Bobcats have the opportunity to choose personal pathways to follow their curiosities and more deeply cultivate a skill. They may choose to learn how their wild neighbors can be used as food, medicine, fiber or vessels; explore which plants are good for fire-making; create a mini field guide to the birds of their backyards; or write a song to teach to the group.
As each youth follows a pathway, we encourage them to share their learnings with others. This empowers the youth to proudly celebrate their passions and it also benefits the group by spreading the learning around through peer-to-peer mentoring.
Each child is encouraged to take initiative to protect what they love. This can look like attending a youth-led climate action, or sending letters to local government officials, or tending to the forest or the creek. Our aim is to provide a container that is FUN and a Prayer for Action!
12 program days
19 program days
*The lower end of the sliding scale is less than the annual cost per child needed to meet our organizational expenses, which include staff pay and benefits, program site rent, materials, and insurance.
We have some scholarship funds available and we prioritize supporting indigenous families, black families, and other families of color, as well as folx from other marginalized groups, single working parents, parents between jobs, parents with disabilities, et cetera. If financial assistance beyond the sliding scale would be supportive for you in joining this program, you can indicate that in your application. Once we have a sense of the overall need, we will do our best to accommodate everyone’s requests.
Additionally, we offer flexible payment plan schedules. We will ask you to specify in your application what your financial plans/needs are for the Wild Tenders Afterschool Program, but please note that you will not be asked to sign an official financial agreement until after you have been accepted. For now, we want you to have this information for your planning purposes.
Some families choose to make a one-time full payment before the start of the year.
Many families elect to pay their tuition in installments. This option is available to anyone, including families who are receiving scholarship funds. We ask for payments starting in July to hold your spot and plan the program accordingly. Refund policies are outlined in the Financial Agreement you receive upon acceptance into the program. We offer two Payment Plans:
Under the Quarterly Payment Plan (QPP), you will make four equal tuition payments spread throughout the year. These payments will be due on:
Under the Monthly Payment Plan (MPP), you will make ten monthly payments starting on July 15, 2022 and concluding on April 15, 2023.
If you submit an application before Monday, May 30th, we will consider your application as part of our first round of acceptance decisions. Submitting an application does not guarantee that you will be accepted in this first round. We will notify you of a decision on Monday, June 6th. If you are accepted, you will have two weeks (until Monday, June 20th) to complete all of your registration paperwork and make a deposit to secure your spot.
If you submit an application between Monday, May 30th and Monday, June 13th, you will automatically be placed on our Waiting List and we will consider your application as part of our second round of acceptance decisions if there is space. We will notify you of your updated status on Monday, June 20th. If you are accepted, you will have two weeks (until Tuesday, July 5th) to complete all of your registration paperwork and make a deposit to secure your spot.
If you submit an application after Monday, June 13th, you will automatically be placed on our Waiting List and we will consider your application as part of our third round of acceptance decisions. We will notify you of your updated status within two weeks of receiving your application.
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