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'Play is learning,' EverWild Forest School makes a splash in Garden City

Erica Hermsen started the outdoor nature school this year and it has received a lot of interest.

GARDEN CITY, Idaho — Tucked in the trees along the Boise River is the EverWild Forest School. Students have fun while learning about nature.

Erica Hermsen started the school this year. Although, it's been her dream to connect kids to nature for decades.

"I really wanted to do something that also helped to protect it (nature), and in my opinion we can only conserve what we understand, and we can only understand what we're taught, so I figured that forest schooling or environmental education in general would be a great way to do that," Hermsen said.

EverWild Forest School has very small groups with about six kids and there is a 3:1 student-teacher ratio. The youngest students bring a guardian along and starting at age four they're dropped off for outdoor learning.

Although watching the classes in action may look just like playing, Hermsen says play is learning, especially at a young age.

"For example, a bridge over a creek utilizes physics with gravity, geometry, and they get to test it out. How does is creek and bend? So they are literally experimenting. They're little scientists out there and this is the best way to do it instead of a worksheet or workbook," Hermsen explained.

There's positive health impacts too being out in the open air.

"There's a number of studies that point to being outside and in green spaces," Hermsen said. "It lowers cortisol level and helps children in stressful times like COVID with resiliency and it builds them up in that way."

Classes at EverWild Forest School happen rain, shine or snow.

"The main question (from parents) is 'what are you going to do in winter?' And we will gear up and go out! There's no such thing as bad weather if you have good gear," Hermsen said.

She's looking forward to many more days teaching kids about her passion.

Hermsen says she had planned to open this year with just 12 kids to get started, but there has been so much interest that 95 kids are now enrolled with a waitlist. Most classes happen twice a week.

If you would like to nominate a teacher that is going above and beyond right now send us an email to innovativeeducator@ktvb.com. Educators, for more information on submitting an application for a classroom grant through the Idaho CapEd Foundation visit www.capedfoundation.org.

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