The World Is Our Classroom

World As Our Classroom
“Cindy Ross is one of today’s most eloquent and thoughtful writers on the connection between humans and the natural world.”- RICHARD LOUV, New York Times best-selling author.

Cindy’s story begins in the Rocky Mountain wilderness on a unique and extraordinary journey: two parents leading their young children 3,100 miles on the backs of llamas. This Canada-Mexico trek illustrated to Cindy and her husband what experiential education can do. Inspired by the experience, they went on to create a new way of supplementing their children’s education, focusing on two arenas for learning: the natural world and travel.

In this age of world connection, it is important to raise broad-minded and empathetic children who are knowledgeable about other cultures. To accomplish this goal, Cindy chose an unorthodox approach: she orchestrated learning opportunities as the family traveled the world, moving about on foot and bicycle, living simply and intimately. But just as important, and more accessible for many parents, were the opportunities for learning closer to home, as well as those provided by the natural world.

These adventures brought intangible gifts: values such as compassion, self-reliance and appreciation, among others that are not always fostered in a traditional curriculum but crucially important to raising children.

By sharing her story, along with honest insights from her children about the importance of their unusual education, Cindy aims to empower parents to believe they can be their children’s best and most important educators. It is for parents who are seeking inspiration, who love a good story, and who are looking for an unorthodox way to raise the happiest, healthiest, and brightest children they can.

Cindy Ross has written about raising children alternatively, via outdoor adventures and travel, for a variety of publications, and is the author of six published books, she has lectured on the virtues of this education approach and its effects on children’s creative minds and their thirst for learning for twenty-five years. Cindy lives in New Ringgold, Pennsylvania. 

Cindy is available for author talk/book signings as well as offering an inspiring multi-media presentation.


ADVANCED PRAISE for The World is Our Classroom: How One Family Used Nature and Travel to Shape an Extraordinary Education

“This is an astonishing book. A life-affirming, positive, uplifting book. Reading it left me feeling overwhelmed. The story of how Cindy Ross and her husband Todd Gladfelter brought up their children is quite amazing, an extraordinary education indeed. And a joyful, multi-faceted, real life education involving travel, people, and, most importantly of all, nature. An education that taught the most important human values – love, empathy, understanding, generosity, open-mindedness, humility.

Ross’s writing matches the exhilaration, excitement and joy of the story. It’s an enthralling read.

Keen long-distance hikers (they’d through-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail together and Ross had solo-hiked the Appalachian Trail) Ross and Gladfelter didn’t want to give up backpacking when they had a family so they took their very young children on the tough 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail, completing it in a series of 500-mile trips.  That’s impressive in itself. Following it with many more adventures including much foreign travel is astounding. Few if any other children have had an upbringing like this. At the same time the author is keen to show how everyone can bring aspects of it into their own family lives and there are many suggestions as to how to do this.

I think a love of the natural world and an understanding of our place in it are vital for humanity and all other life. Knowing we are part of nature and not outside it is vital for the future. The importance of this come across strongly in The World is Our Classroom. Ross taught it by doing rather than telling. Experience rather than theory.

For anyone who loves nature and the outdoors, especially if they have children, this is a book that shows just what is possible, a book that gives hope for the future. “

-Chris Townsend- Scottish author of 25 books on wilderness walking and travel and the recipient of Outdoor Writers’ Guild Award for Excellence for the Outdoor book of the Year for The Backpacker’s Handbook in 1993 and for Out There: A Voice From The Wild in 2016.


“School teachers are largely bound by classroom walls and the internet, parents have no such constraints. As Cindy Ross reveals in The World is Our Classroom the unbounded opportunities in nature should inspire every parent to create memories and powerful experiential learning opportunities. Significant emotional encounters can be transformative. When children are allowed to explore, and use their curiosity to discover the seemingly magical things in nature, it changes them as no passive learning can. In this rapidly changing world, we must foster a love of nature in every child as they must soon confront profound ecological disruption and play a vital role in restoring, replenishing and relocating elements of biodiversity to retain some aspect of system integrity upon which all life depends.”

–Larry Schweiger- Retired President and CEO National Wildlife Federation. His book on global warming, Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth, won first prize for nonfiction in the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.


“Cindy Ross has long been a hero of mine. For years, I have admired her adventures and writing. Now, with two young children of my own I also look to Cindy’s parenting as a model for experiential education and developmental opportunities outside of a traditional classroom. Navigating the best options for your children can feel like you are lost amid a dense wilderness. The World is Our Classroom cuts a path through that wilderness and gives the reader a map of how to teach their children the resilience, compassion, and problem solving that is part of adventure based learning”.

-Jennifer Pharr Davis is an author, speaker, long distance hiker and record setter. In 2012, she                   was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.


“Cindy Ross is one of today’s most eloquent and thoughtful writers on the connection between human and the natural world. In Scraping Heaven, she told the tale of a grand family adventure across the Continental Divide, one that baptized her young children in rain and wind and spirit, and grounded them in the worlds of other creatures. They live, in those years, an authentic life.  A big life. Her new book, The World is Our Classroom shows how her family took that experience and used it to transform the way her children were raised and educated. With this book, she shows how all of us invite humility and wonder into our lives, not only through great adventures, but through everyday communion with the rest of nature.”

            — Richard Louv, author of Vitamin N, The Nature Principle, and Last Child in the Woods:           Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder


“We are encouraged to treat our children as if one tumble from the monkey bars or spiteful remark from a friend can cause a lifetime of pain. How exciting it is to see two parents put the world in front of their kids from such a young age, believing their kids will rise to the occasion. This book, The World is Our Classroom, will explode some disabling myths about how fragile our kids are!

– Lenore Skenazy, founder of the book, blog and movement Free-Range Kids


“Cindy has much to teach all of us—about the natural world, about raising kids, about the truly important things that so many of us have forgotten as our noses get more tightly glued to our electronic devices. She taught her kids, by unwavering example, that they should follow their joy, no matter what. She taught them about science, spirituality and nature, not from a boring textbook, nor from a computer screen, but from direct immersion in the very lessons they were learning. Their classroom for many years was the Continental Divide Trail where they witnessed spectacular displays of nature, their senses stimulated with double rainbows and night skies littered with stars. Other years, they explored foreign lands, exotic countries that most kids only experience in the pages of National Geographic.

From living with a Muslim family in Morocco to visiting the Swiss Alps where Heidi lived, their education was tasted, smelled and felt in a way no child in a classroom could ever know.

While other kids in sterile labs across the country were dissecting worms, Bryce and Sierra, her children, were in the wilds of Kentucky peeling back the hide of an elk, cutting its ribs with tree loppers, accompanied by a wildlife biologist looking for the culprit (it was a meningeal worm) of its demise. They learned about nature by becoming part of its rhythm, by squatting on beaver dams and paddling through treetops swaying with gibbons on remote Thai lagoons. But most of all, Cindy’s kids learned that life’s possibilities are endless and that absolutely anything can be achieved.”

– Pam Grout, #1 New York Times best-selling author of seventeen books and internationally bestselling author of E-Squared, E-Cubed and Thank & Grow Rich.


“People love what they know, and they protect what they love.”

Thanks to Cindy Ross and The World As Our Classroom, Americans and the entire world may enjoy longer, healthier lifetimes.  In a culture increasingly alienated from nature and dependent on technology, Ms. Ross’ book shows how our love for the world can be reanimated. Her own family and children are the product of their immersion in nature, and its efficacy is demonstrate in their outstanding academic and civic accomplishments. Cindy provides a unique template and guide to parents – a “how to” family immerse and learn in Nature, our life support system. After 22 years advocating for people to reconnect with nature, I owe her a debt of gratitude because I believe this brings us closer to harmonious living on our planet.”

-Audrey Peterman, President and Co-founder of Earthwise Productions, Inc. doing pioneer in the movement to reconnect Americans with Nature and our National Parks and Forests since 1995.


“Someone once said of Ginger Rogers: ‘She does everything Fred Astaire does, but backwards and in high heels.’ For me, that’s what it’s like watching Cindy Ross. She and I have both walked across countries, traveled all over the world, maintained freelance careers, and authored books. But in addition, Cindy and her husband Todd built their own log home with their own hands, and raised and schooled two children. In their case, home schooling included wild-schooling and travel-schooling — for example, hiking the entire Continental Divide (equipped with a llama whose job was to carry diapers for a two-year old) and undertaking such projects as an in-field necropsy of a diseased elk (under the supervision of a research scientist). Cindy’s kids grew up with the world as their classroom. Today, she and Todd continue roaming the globe, occasionally reuniting with their offspring in places as far-flung as Nepal and Vietnam. Want to live a big life? The World is Our Classroom takes you on the journey of how one family did it, and it doesn’t get any bigger, wilder, and better.”

-Author Karen Berger. Karen’s most recent book is Great Hiking Trails of the World (Rizzoli International, 2017) and America’s Great Hiking Trails, which was a New York Times travel bestseller and received the 2015 Lowell Thomas Award for best travel book. She has seventeen published books.


“I’m always excited whenever Cindy Ross has a new book coming out since she has never disappointed in the forty years I have known her. Cindy is one of the most consistently principled people I know of. Cindy, and her husband Todd, have succeeded in accomplishing one of life’s noblest goals – “to make one’s avocation, one’s vocation, as our two eyes see as one.” They have exhibited the courage, fortitude, and just plain old hard work, to create a life they fervently believe in and then effectively sharing it with their two children – the aptly named Sierra and Bryce. The message in this book is genuine because it carries the truth born from actual experience. Read it, think about it, feel it, and then get on with making, rather than earning, a life for yourself and your loved ones.”
-Warren Doyle, PhD, 36,000-miler and hiked the Appalachian Trail more times (18) than

anyone; Founder: Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association & the Appalachian Folk  School


“The World is Our Classroom presents an alternative approach to raising children that is rooted in the sense of groundedness and sometimes challenging lessons that come from time spent in the wilderness and unfamiliar cultures. Whether tightrope-walking a fogged-in Knife’s Edge, ascending through the mist of Half Dome, or traversing slopes in grizzly country, Cindy and Todd present their children with breath-taking experiences that instill a sense of wonder, creativity, resilience and self-confidence. The mental health benefits and lifelong lessons that come from extended time in Nature resound through the book. Read this book before your children get sucked into the video-game vortex.”

-Leo Walker, an avid hiker, is president and co-founder of HIKE for Mental Health, an all-volunteer not-for-profit group that promotes the health benefits of wilderness hiking while raising money for trail preservation and mental health research.


“The World is A Classroom is an enthralling education in itself for anyone eager to intimately experience the mysteries of the natural world. Cindy Ross has given us a treasure of environmental consciousness, empathy, and gratitude for the life we share on this Earth. “

–Gail D. Storey, author of I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award



“I can say with some certainty that no one has had a more profound influence on how my wife and I have decided to raise our children than Cindy Ross. I can still remember the day that I stumbled upon a book called “Kids in the Wild”. There on the cover were two parents leading their children across the Rocky Mountains on the backs of llamas. That book sparked something in us. It gave us the confidence we needed to ventures outside and to make the world our classroom. By reading Cindy’s books and later by becoming her friend, I have discovered that the best way to connect with your family is to venture into the wonders of nature, and that the best way to connect to nature is with your family by your side.”

-Kenny Ballentine, Award-Winning Filmmaker, Homeschooling Father of Four

“Education can and should be a lifelong accumulation of experiences – most beyond the realm of the classroom. Having met Cindy some thirty years ago while I was portraying a charcoal-covered, tobacco-chewing worker at a 1840s iron furnace site, we instantly became professionally connected in our mutual enthusiasm for creating memorable and pragmatic learning opportunities.  My focus on student-centered experiential teaching took me down the path of presenting personas from our country’s past in the form of the first-person interpretation of a number of mostly working-class heroes – many of which Sierra and Bryce met over the years as Cindy and Todd visited events where I was performing. Then, during her senior year, Sierra was introduced to my unique classroom style in a Cultural Geography class at Penn State which included “visits” by my 19th century baseball player and coal miner character – among others.

I applaud the insightful natural and historical/cultural travel adventures that Cindy and Todd designed for their children and have now detailed for all 21st century parents in this new book. Cindy attacks life with unending energy and a passion for sharing that she expresses superbly with the written word.  She loves learning and, being family-oriented, hopes that this work will instill a new desire in her readers to pursue experiences for their families that go far beyond what future generations will find in the classroom and on their electronic devices.

Rich Pawling, interpretive/educational specialist for Rich Pawling’s History Alive! and retired college instructor.


“As a filmmaker/photographer, I have spent his entire career outdoors shooting in the most wild places on the planet. As a result, I have a grand world view and appreciate the cultures and places I have visited.  Along the way, I’ve been inspired by many folks who have realized the value of getting kids outside early in life. Amongst these folks is Cindy Ross. Cindy raised her family with a real consciousness of the value of being in nature and adventure. Cindy and her husband, Todd, have shown that getting kids outside early makes them better people in the long run and it makes us better parents. The World is Our Classroom is not about completely flipping your life upside down but making the time to take you and your children outdoors. It’s a lot easier to hand your child an IPad instead of going on a hike but it is ultimately much more fulfilling.”

-Corey Rich, film director and adventure photographer… My Favorite Places- Great Athletes in the Great Outdoors, where Cindy and her family were featured.


“I have known Cindy Ross for nearly four decades since our lives overlapped when we both hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in the late 70s. As a hiker, an author an artist and a mom, she is a very special and unique person. The World is Our Classroom is a wonderful addition to her impressive list of hiking and family books that started with her epic “A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail.”

-Ron Tipton

President / CEO, Appalachian Trail Conservancy


“This is a joyfully-written account of raising a family immersed in the outdoors, at home and abroad. A gifted storyteller, Ross reveals insights from over twenty-five years spent encouraging and enabling her children to be passionate learners and active participants in life, centered on outdoor adventure and building relationships with nature, people and self. The inclusion of her children’s writing and artwork provide delightful evidence of their achievement. Parents, teachers and nature enthusiasts will find inspiration in these pages.”

–Tom Banks, educator, national forest and park ranger for 35 years


“Cindy Ross is an exceptional human being and I have been inspired by the way she has lived her life for these past 35 years. As a family friend, I have enjoyed watching her and Todd raise their children, Sierra and Bryce. Each one of them found a way to live a very creative life and to tap into their individual set of talents and skills. Together, they have discovered an alternative to the typical American lifestyle. They live their lives in harmony with the natural world and immersed in its wondrous beauty.

From the beginning, Cindy and Todd knew what they wanted out of life and together they pursued their dream with courage and energy. They successfully integrated their many varied interests and the result of their twenty-five years of parenting is Cindy’s new book, The World is Our Classroom. It is a fascinating discourse on creativity and learning. This book will help parents find ways to nurture creativity in their children- particularly by taking them into stimulating nature and giving them the freedom to explore and wonder. Cindy shows us with her anecdotal stories, how the challenges that come with backcountry explorations build and strengthen character in children. In these pages, parents will come to understand how necessary it is to spend lots of quality time with their children. Building a strong and effective, hands on, relationship between parents and their children is the best way to minimize negative effects from challenges such as drug use.

It’s not easy going your own way and dealing with constant uncertainty. This is what is meant by ” the courage to create.” As an artist myself with forty-five years of experience, I can vouch for that!  Cindy Ross has triumphed in forging her own path and it is a formidable one indeed.”

-Michael Kessler- world-acclaimed contemporary artist who is known for nature-based abstract paintings.


“Schooling, too often, is a world where teachers and schools are encouraged with “drill and kill” methods. This development of a new culture of schooling in America seems to mean that “successful” students must learn to operate their digital apparatuses and attach themselves to their computer screens- or else risk failure. The on-line computer based testing begs the question about which priorities are most important; test taking on a computer screen or true learning from experienced and adventure as advocated for by Cindy Ross’s book, “The World is Our Classroom?” This cultural phenomenon did not exist when Cindy and Todd raised their children and needs careful consideration.

Cindy’s belief in experiential (constructivist) education for her children, her belief in teaching children to have sense of place, belief in “The Nature Principle” and having great adventures is well worth contemplating. Cindy’s and Todd’s feelings and intuition about what was best for their children, coupled with their love, demonstrates the power of experiential education and more so, the power and importance of parental involvement.

I have often found it enlightening and of great interest that “non- (professional) educators” like Cindy Ross inform our world of education professionals. Her family adventure story has chastened me when thinking about my son, my granddaughter, my step-children and foster children and all the children I’ve known and taught over nearly half a century”

-Monty Thornburg, PhD, Educator and President of the John Muir Geotourism Center