Olympic Nature Experience
What: Sequim-based nonprofit that nurtures the community’s connection with nature through immersive outdoor experiences.
Instead of hallways leading to classrooms, trails lead to rivers, fields and mudflats. Instead of four walls, towering trees circle. Instead of a ceiling, the sky hovers above with an endless sense of depth and instead of a floor, the earth’s crust crackles and pops beneath one’s feet.
Centered on educating through experience, exploration, discovery and children’s intrinsic sense of curiosity and playfulness, at Olympic Nature Experience the outdoors inspires the learning and lessons each day.
“It’s all flow learning, so whatever comes up in the moment, that’s what we explore,” Sarah Salazar-Tipton, director of Olympic Nature Experience, said.
Through “inquisitive-based” teaching techniques and training, Salazar-Tipton and instructors are able to ask and answer questions and incorporate ongoing learning while the students of Owl’s Hollow play outside.
Owl’s Hollow, a school program for ages 3-6 years is one component of Olympic Nature Experience, a nonprofit founded by Salazar-Tipton and her growing passion for nature. Both a weekly outdoor club and summer camps also fall under the organization.
Olympic Nature Experience grew from a weekly outdoor children’s club, Dungeness Adventure Club, Salazar-Tipton spearheaded in 2012 as an avenue to work with children outside.
With some outside help, the club developed, but Salazar-Tipton knew she wanted to expand, offer additional programs and become a nonprofit. By last year Salazar-Tipton’s vision became a reality with the guidance of a supportive board of directors.
“I work with great parents, teachers and board members,” Salazar-Tipton said. “I wouldn’t be doing what I am without the people involved.”
The organization is now nearing the end of its first academic school year with classes held biweekly at the Dungeness Recreation Area.
Having spent her own childhood in San Diego, Calif., Salazar-Tipton had an appreciation and interest in nature, but was somewhat disconnected. Through the Coast Guard, however, before being stationed in Port Angeles, she lived in a variety of more rural areas and pursued a science-centered education at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
“Connecting with nature has been an adult process for me,” she said. “It’s been years of studying about tracking, native edibles and going on hikes.”
Becoming a mother herself cemented her understanding of how critical nature is in developing a holistic and critical mind, she said.
Olympic Nature Experience is one of few forest schools on the Olympic Peninsula, but Salazar-Tipton said the Seattle area has “quite a few forest schools.”
“In some ways we’ve lost the practice of thinking holistically,” Salazar-Tipton said. “So I think there’s been a shift away from education in a traditional sense to experience. You can’t create a love for something you don’t understand.”
There are vary degrees of forest schools, but certified forest school instructors “are trained to keep children (and adults) safe in the woods and how to explore with them so they can delve into whatever topic may come up,” Salazar-Tipton said.
By capitalizing on an experience, such as the discovery of earthworms for example, Salazar-Tipton can easily expand on the importance of worms in the environment and thus help development critical thinking skills and a more holistic view.
“It’s not just about learning facts, but how to think through things,” she said. “It’s about going to the same place, but with new eyes and we’re there to help them (the students) develop their sight and abilities to do that.”
Although Olympic Nature Experience still is evolving, Salazar-Tipton already has aspiration with for growth, including a potential senior program and integrating a homeschool curriculum.
Olympic Nature Experience has open enrollment for the 2015-2016 school year.