THE WALDEN EXPERIENCE
In today’s educational climate, which emphasizes the importance of standardization, conformity, and technology to increase the mechanization of the schooling process, the voice of Thoreau’s Walden has never been more important. Many students are craving an education that affords them the freedom to explore what really interests them, the freedom to explore aspects of modern culture that are unfair or hypocritical, and the freedom to explore their own personal strength, resourcefulness, and identity.
At the Walden Project, the lines between life, learning, and work are seamless. We believe that learning is a very personal experience and we encourage students to find connections between their life experiences and the effects that they have on their understanding of the world. Students work together to feed themselves from our gardens, keep the fire going to warm themselves, and support each other through the inevitable challenges. All of these experiences help us shape our identities and encourage us to grow into people who are more closely aligned with who we want to be. We aim to help students thrive as they delve into the learning that matters most to them.
At the Walden Project, students develop a strong connection to nature by living with its rhythms and changes. Students will be outside everyday, working on projects in the rain, tracking animals in the snow, and (most importantly) challenging their own resourcefulness to thrive even when nature makes it difficult.
"An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day." (HDT)
A Day in the Life of a Walden Student
It snowed last night -- the first real snow of the year! There had been a few light dustings, but this is different. It feels like this is the true beginning of winter. You arrive a little early this morning and the woods feel especially quiet as you stand alone at the edge of the trail. The cabin isn't visible from the road, but you can hear the sound of an ax splitting firewood in the distance. One set of footprints leads toward the cabin, while another set leads toward the garden shed where one of your classmates is probably fetching some dried peppermint for a morning pot of tea. This feels normal to you -- even when it is quiet, it seems something is always happening at Walden. Students, staff, volunteers -- everyone is eager to make contributions to the community.
By ten o'clock, everyone has arrived and is gathered outside the cabin. Someone brought a warm loaf of sourdough bread and people are tearing off chunks as it is passed around the circle. Today begins, as always, with a passage read aloud from Thoreau's Walden. It is followed by a thoughtful discussion of its significance in our modern world. Before coming to The Walden Project, you often felt hesitant to take part in philosophical discussions like this because you felt like you didn't know enough about an issue to be able to have an opinion, but things have changed. This feels like a safe and supportive environment -- a place where it's okay to ask questions, to try on different perspectives, and "talk through" complex issues. Over the past few months you feel as though you are finding your own voice, and that your classmates are learning from you as much as you are learning from them.
When the discussion naturally starts to wind down, the group disperses. Some students are knitting by the fire, some are off completing journal assignments, some are working on individual projects, like your friend scraping a deer hide as part of her research on human evolution, and others are busy cataloging this morning's animal tracks in the Walden natural history almanac. You and a few others are rolling out dough and cutting up vegetables to make a lunch snack: pizza cooked in the cob oven!
Before you came to Walden, you wouldn't have recognized all of this as "school." Even now, some of your friends who are not in the program don't really understand. They ask, "How do you know what you are supposed to learn if there aren't any tests? What do you even do all day?" They imagine a bunch of teenagers lying around eating junk food and playing video games all day. As you look around at your classmates, your whole community humming with purpose and buzzing with excitement, it seems ridiculous to think of anyone feeling bored or lazy here -- there's just way too much amazing stuff happening all around you to ever feel bored! You've learned to love the freedom here -- you are encouraged to be curious and pursue the things that interest you, and even though it is a lot of work researching, reflecting, and documenting all of your experiences for your portfolio, you enjoy it because you are learning about things that are meaningful to you.
Someone rings the big iron bell signaling that lunch is ready and students emerge from wherever they were working and gather by the fire again. Lunch is full of laughter and storytelling, and it feels great to eat something warm on a cold day. After lunch, you grab your journal and hike with the rest of the group a couple miles out to the beaver pond. This will be part of a larger project to learn about the history of this place: Cumming Nature Center. Earlier this fall, you were part of an archaeological dig at the Frost Town pioneer settlement on the other side of the park. Today, you are learning about ecological succession and beavers' important role in transforming landscapes.
Some days are different. Some days you spend the afternoon working on a creative writing assignment with guidance from a published author. Some days, you work on your apprenticeship, studying with professional woodworkers, potters, blacksmiths, and other artists. Some days, you go on field trips to learn about other cultures or listen to guest speakers. Other days, you spend half the day working in the garden, growing beans, as Thoreau did. And other days, you spend time in the library working on your portfolio with guidance from your teachers. You know that, even though a lot of work has to go into your portfolio, your teachers are there to support you through the process so that you are creating something of high quality of which you can feel proud.
As the school day winds down, you walk back down the path to the road to the spot where your day began. The ground is still covered in snow, but most of the ice has melted from the tree branches. You know that the winter is just beginning and that it will get colder in the months to come, but you are eager to face these challenges. Like Thoreau, you have come to this school in the woods to have a different sort of education -- one that is not always easy, but certainly rewarding! Deep inside, you feel ready for all of the adventures still to come because, even though your future is full of mystery and surprises, you trust in your own resilience and resourcefulness. That is truly what The Walden Project is all about -- learning about you!
"I just want to take a minute to say how thankful my family and I are for this program. I know our child is one who is saying she doesn't ever want the day to end, and is jumping out of bed to go to school every morning. This is a kid who had an anxiety-ridden school life; we went to hell & beyond with regular school… She has finally found her place, and is the happiest I've ever seen her. We can't begin to tell you how thrilled & grateful we are."
"He said it was the first time to come home from school and not be depressed!"
“This is the greatest school!! I cannot express into words how much Walden has done for my son this year!! He has really started to find himself, is excited about learning for the first time and has a new appreciation for what it means to give back. Andy and Janean are beautiful people, with wonderful energy, and have created a space that is safe, supportive and ideal for students to reach their full potential.”
"The Walden Project is good for students to learn what they want to learn but not try to force them into that mold that traditional schools usually do."
"I learn better when I get to touch with my hands and use all my senses in my thinking process."
"I don't learn in a normal way and was being smothered by the regular system . . . Walden allowed me the space to figure out how to learn in a way that worked for me."
"I learned how to learn in Walden."
"The Walden Project was by far the most supportive, most loving, and extremely educational [communities] in all aspects of life."