Learning Landscapes: Integrating Permaculture with Community-Based Education

Everyone Should Get Lost in the Forest

How can you leverage everyday experiences, curiosity, and natural relationships in your child’s learning landscape?

Warning: You are moving into another dimension – a dimension of place, a dimension of time, and a dimension of space. You’re moving into a landscape of both science and art, of things and ideas. The story you are about to read is true. You’re now crossing over into the the Learning Landscapes zone…

“Oh no, Mama, we lost the hiking path. I’m too tired to walk alllllll the way back the way we came. How can we get back to our car?”

“Hmm, I don’t know. How can we use what we know about ourselves, hiking and navigation, and what we know about this landscape to get where we want to go?”

Silence… then my son notices the sun setting. Since we parked in the west lot, we should follow the sun. A train whistle cracks the silence. Ah ha! The west lot is near the train station, confirming we need to head that way. But there is no path, so maybe we should head to the edge of the woods. There might be a better way to get back. My two children are using their observational and critical thinking skills to find a solution to this problem.

Now, let me just say that this mother wasn’t lost. Our interests and passions led us to depart from the well-marked walking path to instead forge our own for the day. I stood back while my children’s natural curiosity lead us deeper and deeper into the forest. The journey into the woods started with their questions and natural exploration, so why not let that be our guide to creating our path out? 

We headed for the edge of the forest because the kids thought it would be easier to see the setting sun if we weren’t under the canopy of the trees. Soon, we were on an expedition though a field of blackberry and raspberry brambles on the tree lined edge of the forest. Following many pricks, several scratches, and a few tears (along with munching on a couple of the ripe berries), my kids decided the new plan was to get on my shoulders while I finished walking us through the brambles and back into the woods.

Have you ever stopped to look at the edge of a natural forested area? You can easily walk through a meadow with tall grass and wild flowers. But as you approach the edge of the forest you encounter scratchy shrubs, tangling vines, sapling trees whose branches are so low you have to duck under, and as we did, brambles. An edge is simply where two or more things meet and in nature the edge is where typically the most productivity and diversity occurs. It isn’t simply about the natural resources there, but the natural relationships that occur that make the edge so interesting and productive. After you push your way through the edge, you find yourself inside a forest that seems, relatively speaking, open and once again easy to navigate, only having a layer of decaying leaves to tromp through.

After about another 45 minutes of walking, including over a fallen tree that bridged a deep ravine, we got back to the car. On the way home, my children recalled all the elements of the forest that we explored and then came to better understand while we were “lost.” In addition, my son made a list of things he would want to pack for future hikes to be better prepared if we find ourselves once again in the big unknown. We also discussed the natural elements of the landscape that animals and plants make use of to survive and how we might creatively use those resources if necessary. However, it was only when my son said to me, “You know, Ma, I think it is ok to get a few scratches if you learn a big lesson,” that I knew the physical terrain had become a learning landscape for him. Pretty profound for a three-year-old.

Designing learning based on our children’s passions can be a lot of fun and when we relax and let children and the situation influence the direction of that learning we often gain a better understanding of ourselves, one another, and our learning landscapes. We can teach a child a lesson, but if we can help him learn by identifying and leveraging his natural curiosity, he will continue the learning process for a lifetime.

How can you leverage everyday experiences, curiosity, and natural relationships in your child’s learning landscape?

In future Learning Landscapes articles, I hope to share more about myself, my personal journey from a more traditional educator to parent-educator who uses experiential education by design. I’ll also share details of how my family integrates the values, principles, and framework of a design science called permaculture that is often applied to how we ethically design and live in our physical landscape into our learning landscapes as well. Instead of thinking about natural resources, this framework helps us and our children learn how to value and use natural relationships. And, once children start to see how they are connected with, and have a responsibility to, others and the earth they begin to leverage patterns in all areas of learning and life.


Jen MendezJen Mendez

Jen is a wife, mother of two joyous children, experiential education mentor, and founder of PERMIE KIDs. She has a M. Ed. in International Education and has worked with children in the U.S. and overseas from early childhood through the primary years, as well as parent-educators. She integrates an ethical, design science methodology with her love for education to help others learn to design a customized education with their children that honors themselves, others, and the earth.

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