What I Learned from Writing “The World is Our Classroom”
When I get ideas for a new book, my husband Todd, usually poo-poos them. My 7th and newest book, The World is Our Classroom- How one family used nature and travel to shape an extraordinary education, Skyhorse Publishing, NYC, was no exception.
My story begins in the Rocky Mountain wilderness on our family’s unique and extraordinary journey: leading our young children 3,100 miles on the backs of llamas. This Canada-Mexico trek illustrated to Todd and I, what experiential education can do. Inspired by the experience, we went on to create a new way of supplementing our children’s education, focusing on two arenas for learning: the natural world and travel. We traveled the world, moving about on foot and bicycle, living simply and intimately. But just as important were the opportunities we found for learning closer to home. These adventures brought intangible gifts: values—such as compassion, empathy, resilience, self-reliance, and gratitude, among others— not always fostered in a traditional curriculum but crucially important to raising children. I felt I had a lot to share.
Still, Todd asked, “Why would anybody care to read about our lives and our kids?”
Writers feel compelled to reach out and find connection, and our best work is what we know the most about. For me, it was how we figured out a new and unorthodox way to raise and educate our children. I learned how the natural environment presents a multitude of ways to teach and learn. I learned that one of the most concrete results of a childhood spent closely connected to nature is how it feeds creativity. Creative thinking and problem solving are essential to building and maintaining a healthy, sustainable world. In this age of world connection, it is also increasingly important to raise children who are broad-minded, empathetic and knowledgeable about other cultures. I felt this could best be accomplished by transporting our children out of their insulated, narrowly-focused lives and into the big world.
Still, I drug my feet, wanting to wait until my children became adults so I could walk my talk. Then I got “a message from the other side.” I was hours from home at a festival when a stranger came up to me out of the blue and said, “You need to finish that book on educating your children. We need it.” I said, “OK,” and she walked away, leaving me flabbergasted, motivated and hugely encouraged.
Writing a book is a very hard thing to do. The World is Our Classroom was especially difficult because I had to review twenty-five years of our family’s lives and distill that information down to the prize jewels. When I read through my finished manuscript, I was amazed at the rich life that my husband and I gave our children- a life full of exciting learning opportunities and adventures, all orchestrated on a very low budget by parents with average intelligence. What we accomplished is certainly do-able for other families, at least to a degree. It takes creativity, some inspiration and information (found in my book!) and a genuine interest in your children.
I also learned just as much as the kids, as I sought opportunities and experiences to feed them. As adults, we tend to stay stuck in our world of favorites, doing what we like to do and not being very adventurous to try new and strange things. When you are trying to place the big world in front of your kids, you all go along for the ride of learning, so as adults, it broadens and stretches and opens our minds and lives too. My book is for anyone who believes in lifelong learning- learning until the day that you die
Raising happy healthy children is more difficult than ever before. We need to be there for them as loving, caring, interested parents- educate them not just in knowledge but in wisdom. When it was all said and done, it wasn’t a knowledge bank that was most important, but things like how big our children’s hearts are, how much they care. We have such a short amount of time with our children, we need all the tools we can get to help us do our very important job of parenting. I learned from writing The World is Our Classroom, that I have much to share and indeed, must share.
Todd and I now have a 501c3 non-profit for Veterans who have been affected by trauma, River House PA, where we facilitate healing through nature, in the form of outdoor adventure. We take Vets hiking, paddling and just chillin’ round campfires to help them heal and find peace. I began this organization after my children grew up and left home. We figured out how to raise happy, healthy children via nature and adventure traveling, so why wouldn’t the same knowledge work for Veterans?
Our organization’s motto is a quote from Roberto Clemente “Anytime you have the opportunity to accomplish something for someone else and you don’t do it, you are wasting your time on earth.” This is the exact same reason why I wanted to write The World is Our Classroom and it is the most important thing that I learned from writing it… that it was my responsibility as a human to share what I know to help other parents, just as I now feel that it is my responsibility to share what I know to help others, like Veterans.
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