HUDDLESTON — Seven children run down to what is called “Critter Creek” one Wednesday morning in a forest in the middle of Huddleston. It is here the children scatter. They bounce from the creek into the sandbox and then onto the canoe, which is hung about a foot off the ground between two trees.
Catherine Eubank, director and founder of ONE Forest School at Smith Mountain Lake, said the children climb in and practice balance so they can be prepared when they are actually in a canoe on the water.
The ONE Forest School at Smith Mountain Lake is a nature-based outdoor education camp for children of all ages and abilities. It is a learner-centered holistic approach to education.
ONE is an acronym for “Organic Nature Experience.”
Eubank opened ONE Forest School about one month ago and has seven students registered between the ages of 2 and 11. It runs from May until the end of August and costs $175 per week or $150 per week if a child registers for three or more weeks.
“I made it work. I wanted to find something that I liked, I love playing with kids, love it,” she said. “I mean how much fun is this to play all day? In the creek, in the mud pit and the canoe and the sand. We’re bringing kids back to nature.”
She said she created the school so children could explore the natural world and play, investigate and observe what nature has to offer.
Eubank, who was formerly in the restaurant business and then worked 10 years for Smith Mountain Lake State Park, was ready to move on to her next venture after her eight children had grown and decided she wanted to open a forest school. This fall the school will become accredited through the International Forest Schools program.
“A forest school is a whole way of teaching kids. It’s not just putting them in the forest. It’s child-lead and you’re just providing them with an opportunity so you can step forward and teach them something,” she said. “We’re giving them the chance to tell us what they want to learn and then we take it from there.”
The children who have been coming for the past month stay throughout the day and are picked up around 5 p.m., Eubank said, but there is also an option available for children who want a shortened day.
The school is located on eight acres on a nature preserve at Eubank’s home down the road from Huddleston Elementary School.
Eubank’s 11-month-old bloodhound, Daisy, comes along to help with the children each day. Her purpose is two-fold.
Daisy helps to make sure the children are safe and keeps away snakes and critters as she trains to become a therapy dog.
Daisy is taking classes to become a fully qualified SEAL dog, meaning she will aid in the social and emotional aspects of learning.
Eubank said having a therapy dog in a forest school helps children learn empathy, develop social skills and recognize the needs and moods of others.
Eubank and her husband, Danny, have created the entire forest school themselves over the past two years and have cut down shrubbery, trees and vines to create trails throughout the woods and built bridges across the creek.