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Special needs and typical students come together for class outdoors at 'forest school'

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Posted at 1:30 PM, Nov 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-18 09:20:53-05

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Students with special needs are often isolated and separated from typical students in school, but there’s a growing movement to educate students of all abilities together. The AdventurMe Forest School is integrating students with special needs into their class with typical students, and they’re doing it all while educating students outdoors.

“Forest school is just the idea that you can take anything that you do indoors, outdoors. And it's really just about having the time for unstructured play for kids,” said Tamara Wineland, the founder of AdventurMe Forest School.

At this forest school in Colorado Springs, class is done outside whenever possible.

“They're really getting that socio-emotional development with each other, and they're learning about the world around them and about their bodies and space,” said Wineland.

The students wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Most students actually don't like to be inside all day, so to be able to learn while playing, that is very important, especially you while you're still in your kid years,” said 12-year-old student Tyler Wineland.

The best part about what the students learn at AdventurMe is something you won’t find in any textbook.

AdventurMe Forest School integrates therapy for students with special needs into the curriculum for typical students. It stops special needs students from being isolated in schools, and it helps physical and mental development.

“Having uneven surfaces, different textures, all of that is just natural, healthy exposure that really helps with their regulation,” said speech pathologist Lara Dykhuis.

Outdoors, speech therapy is more effective because non-verbal students are much more likely to try to communicate.

“I love it. I love seeing them smile and just have a great time,” said Tyler Wineland.

He said he’s learned so much from students years younger than him.

“You know, you finally realize, like, how people are different and how to use that different for the greater good to help people,” said Tyler.

His mom, Tamara Wineland, runs AdventurMe Forest School. It’s one of many forest schools across the country, but it is the first forest school in the United States to incorporate special needs therapies into the curriculum. Wineland hopes it’s the first of many.

“I tell people we're not just building a school. We really want to make this a community. We have a waiting list of 90 kids that we're unable to serve right now,” said Wineland.

She knows the more kids that learn like this, the better. She’s seen the impact in her own family.

“I've thought about this since my son was born,” said Wineland. “He was born with a congenital heart defect, and I just knew the outdoors was going to be the thing that held it together. And, you know, he climbed a 14er with me in July. It's such a gift for them,” said Wineland of learning outside.

The first step to more families having that same success, Wineland said, is just knowing this kind of school exists.

If you’d like to learn more about the AdventurMe Forest School, click HERE.