Inviting young people to take a leadership role in directing their education while cultivating a deeper relationship with the more than human world.

White Ash Learning Cooperative aims to offer young people the opportunity to derive their education from self-chosen activities and experiences.

In everyday language people tend to equate education with schooling, which leads one to think of education as something that is done to students by teachers. Teachers educate and students become educated. Teachers give an education and students receive this gift.

Self-Directed Education is a whole-life, freedom-based process.

Successful facilitation requires a deep appreciation for informal, spontaneous, emergent learning processes that are as natural as learning to walk and talk.

An abundance of resources are available to deepen understanding of this educational approach:

“The true character of society is revealed in how it treats its children.”

– Nelson Mandela

Mentors support and supervise self directed learning while offering project based activities.

Literacy, math, science, Spanish, creative play, art and crafting are components of each day in the Semester Program. Participants are encouraged to identify their unique learning interests by following their curiosity and develop learning strategies that meet their needs while setting educational goals for themselves.

‘Children’s learning is an underground river, you can’t see it, can’t even feel it at times. Then suddenly they soar. You can’t control it; you can’t take credit for it. It’s theirs. You have to be there, providing warmth and stability, providing tools and resources, answering questions, telling stories, having meaningful adult conversations and doing meaningful adult work in their presence. But when they soar, it’s on their own wings’. (Black, 2016)



Spanish Immersion







Creative Play



What the research says:

Children . . . want and need to take risks. They do this “naturally” in the sense that, left to their own devices, they seek out and create encounters that carry degrees of risk or uncertainty. This process of risk-taking necessarily entails exploration, discovery, and learning—about oneself, one’s capabilities, and the wider world. To take a risk is to assert one’s autonomy and power of agency. It is to learn by doing that actions have consequences. It is an aspect of moral education. Play and risk-taking are creative acts. Bernard Spiegal (2017).

The everyday lives of most infants, toddlers, and older preschoolers are made up of hundreds of everyday experiences, events, and activities that are sources of naturally occurring and informal, unstructured learning opportunities (e.g., Crinall & Somerville, 2019; Laird, McFarland-Piazza, & Allen, 2014; Wilson, 2018). Informal learning is embedded in meaningful and functional activities, is guided by a child’s interests and preferences, involvesguided participation by a parent, caregiver, or sibling, has no predetermined goals or expectations for the learner, and does not involve direct teaching or instruction (Callanan, Cervantes, & Loomis, 2011; Rogoff, Callanan, Guitierrez, & Erikson, 2016). In contrast, formal learning is didactic and involves teaching or instruction to promote a learner’s acquisition of predetermined knowledge or skills. Findings from research syntheses of both nature and non-nature related activities show that young children benefit from informal, everyday learning opportunities (Dunst, Hamby, Wilkie, & Dunst, 2017; Sawitri, 2017).

Findings from both quantitative and qualitative studies of young children’s participation in everyday activity settings illustrate how the social and nonsocial characteristics of these different activities, experiences, and events are rich sources of informal, unstructured child learning opportunities (Crinall & Somerville, 2019; Ernst, 2018; Geerdts, Van de Walle, & LoBue, 2015; McClain & Vandermaas-Peeler, 2016; Schauble, Beane, Coates, Martin, & Sterling, 2013). Informal child learning in the context of everyday activities is defined as those settings where child interactions with people, objects, materials, organisms, and other entities (e.g., animals) provide opportunities to use or acquire behavior or skills to have environmental consequences where those consequences provide opportunities to learn about one’s abilities and the response patterns of the social and nonsocial environment.

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Place Based Learning is interwoven with the history, people, and cultures of this land.

For many thousands of years prior to colonial settlers arriving in this region, members of the Penobscot nation and other nations maintained relationship with the land where we now teach and live. Wabanaki people reside throughout what is currently known as mid coast Maine. This land is their land, still. Acknowledging historical traumas that contributed to the establishment of the United States, reducing the ongoing harms of colonization and human supremacy, and striving towards reparation are all components of our work.

Sharing the skills we have learned is a responsibility we take seriously. Many of these skills come from ancient wisdom and native technologies that have been preserved in the face of centuries of oppression and genocide. We are committed to deepening our relationship with the teachings we share, the lineages they come from, and the mentors who practice them.

The wilder Others never signed any treaties. Bison and redwood never said yes to eradication. The rivers never said yes to dams, nor did the salmon leaping to return home. The forest-topped mountain never agreed to be split open and hauled away. Grassland did not freely offer itself to Monsanto’s alfalfa, corn or soy. It’s all unceded land. All uncede-able.

— Thus spoke the Muse, or the wild Earth, or whomever breathed those words as if longing for acknowledgement. Recorded by Geneen Marie Haugen.

Animas Valley Institute: Soulcentric Development

The model of human development introduced in Nature and the Human Soul: Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World (New World Library, 2008) invites thinking in new ways about stages of life. The Eco-Soulcentric Developmental Wheel is a model of what the stages of human life can look like if we mature in resonance with both nature (“eco”) and soul — when we are in a continuous process of maturation throughout the lifespan. The timing of the transitions between eco-soulcentric stages is independent of chronological age and social role and, for the most part, independent of biological and cognitive development. An individual doesn’t pass from one stage to the next just because they reach a certain age, obtain a specific social status, or experience hormonal changes.

In an eco-soulcentric community, it’s not considered better—either for the individual or society—for a person to be in a later stage than an earlier stage. Every stage provides fulfillment for the individual and an invaluable gift to the community when a person is in a healthy version of that stage. The only way to cooperate with the process of maturation is to embrace fully the stage one is in (and its tasks). Loving the stage you’re in, is necessary to eventually leave it.

The structure and components of our programming are informed by this theory of human development, and aim to offer participants a variety of opportunities to engage with tasks of developmental stages.

8 Shields Mentoring: Rebuilding Nature-Connected Communities

Over the past 30 years, 8 Shields has developed training pathways that support mentors and leaders to change individual lives, and entire communities, in becoming more connected. This model incorporates traditional mentoring and deep nature connection practices, fully supported through our neurological, emotional, and physical connection to the natural world. 8 Shields offers many online learning programs.

The intention is to re-awaken these attributes in people, and in turn, help heal the widespread disconnection with nature and loss of connective cultures worldwide.

Art of Mentoring: Vermont Wilderness School

The Vermont Art of Mentoring is a five-day experiential training with concurrent programs for all ages in nature connection, intergenerational mentoring, and creating a living culture of awareness. Deep in all of our roots, there are stories of ancestors living in healthy, regenerative communities—villages where people of all ages were in ongoing relationship with the land, each other, and themselves. Art of Mentoring is designed to help us remember these old ways of awareness and mentoring and learn to apply them to our modern communities. We highly recommend attending this program with your family!

Joana Macy’s Work that Reconnects addresses issues of the nuclear age, the cultivation of ecological awareness, and the fruitful resonance between Buddhist thought and postmodern science. In the face of overwhelming social and ecological crises, this work helps people transform despair and apathy into constructive, collaborative action. It brings a new way of seeing the world as our larger living body. Learn more about the Work that Reconnects Network.

White Ash Learning mentors have training and experience with the Work that Reconnects and incorporate this body of work into the mentoring culture of all programming.

“The Work that Reconnects helps people discover and experience their innate connections with each other and the self-healing powers of the web of life, transforming despair and overwhelm into inspired, collaborative action.”