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Learning Is Elementree: LadyBug Farm Mixes Learning and Nature

Twice a week, rain or shine, Shawna Fink and her students in the nature immersion program head out into the forest for a day of imagination, play and hands-on learning at LadyBug Farm in Pinebluff. The goal? For each young brain to develop an intimate and meaningful bond with nature.

A former public school teacher, Shawna started LadyBug Farm about four years ago after noticing the positive impact that outdoor learning has on brain development.

“I think that our children don’t get a lot of active free play these days and they’re often directed in what they do,” Shawna says. “The teacher in me wants to plan, but the nature teacher in me wants the kids to discover the magic on their own.”

From tending to vegetables and caring for the farm’s resident chickens and goats to participating in circle time by the fire in the forest classroom, the four hours the kids spend outside at LadyBug Farm is set to a rhythm rather than a schedule.

Many students use the nature immersion program to supplement homeschooling. Shawna does weave academic practices into each day, including reading, writing and environmental science.

Reading and writing is practiced through nature journals and specific tasks like matching letters. Science is learned through identifying plants and fungi in nature, as well as working with the farm animals.

There are about 10 kids, ages three to nine, in the nature immersion program. By evolving her instruction based on each child’s learning level, Shawna tends to each age — a skill she honed during her time in an inclusion classroom.

“You have to be able to differentiate,” Shawna says. “So even on a task like starting a fire — you have a three year old doing one task and an eight year old doing another. And another one is working on cracking sticks.”

“This was the start of blending my passion for teaching and my passion for building a homestead together,” Shawna says.

The nature immersion program is one of many aspects of LadyBug Farm. The pandemic hindered some of her plans for family and community events. LadyBug Farm is planning on offering a few summer camps. Check them out on Facebook for updates and to learn more.

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