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The City Journals

Down to Earth Nature School gets kids outside

Feb 10, 2022 08:54AM ● By Peri Kinder

If you visit Crestwood Park in Cottonwood Heights during the spring or fall, there’s a good chance you’ll see children exploring the area, starting fires and tying knots. These kids aren’t getting into trouble, and they’re not unsupervised, they attend the Down to Earth Nature School where the great outdoors is their classroom.

“I’m giving kids fun and exciting days outside with the goal of connecting them to their local nature and hopefully creating a lifelong passion,” says Sean Vallefuoco, the school’s founder and owner. “If they connect to their local park and start to care enough, maybe they can start understanding the bigger issues too, like cleaning up our oceans or atmosphere.”

Students in the class range from ages 5 to 13, attending either a weekly or monthly program. Each class is six hours of outdoor skill development that teaches kids how to be good stewards on the planet and enriches their relationship with the outdoors.

Classes are held during any type of weather, with rain, snow or sunshine providing different opportunities to learn. During a rainstorm, kids might be taught how to construct a shelter. In the fall, they might learn how to flag and navigate a trail for others to follow. And building fires is an activity that everyone wants to try.

“Kids love fire,” Sean says. “We teach fire safety and the more foreign and unique ways to start fires using flint, steel or friction. When they do that they’re connecting to nature in a new and fun way.”

With a background in environmental science and wilderness therapy, Sean says he attended a nature-based preschool when he lived in Texas and it made a big impact on his life. “I was meant to run around in nature barefoot.” 

This experience is completely tech-free so kids aren’t distracted by phones or tablets as they explore and work together to problem solve. Parents with children in the program say the class has made a huge improvement in the lives of their kids and they look forward to a new adventure every time.

Each class is geared toward focused activities that allow natural integration with the outdoors. Wood carving, compass reading, navigation, identifying plants, insects, birds and local wildlife mixes outdoor play with skill building in a way that will change each child’s engagement with nature.

Weekly classes meet on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the monthly program takes place on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Kids and parents really crave this opportunity. I haven’t seen anything similar to this,” Sean says. “It’s one thing to come out here for an hour or two but it doesn’t get you the same experience as just being outside all day.”

For more information, visit DownToEarthSchool.com.