An Education, Wild and Free
The Walden Project is a full-time, year-long educational experience for high school and gap year students based on ideas and experiences in Henry David Thoreau's Walden. The Walden Project provides an interdisciplinary education in an outdoor setting with an emphasis on academic independence and freedom. At Walden, our goal is to help students discover their own unique path by pursuing essential questions of personal identity, relationship to society, and connection to nature.
If you are looking for a different type of education that is self-directed, personal, and focused on life's big questions, then Walden is for you!
"I don't learn in a normal way and was being smothered in the regular system...Walden allowed me the space to figure out how to learn in a way that worked for me."
On July 4th, 1845, Thoreau moved into a tiny cabin in the woods next to Walden Pond to begin a two-year experiment in self-discovery in which he hoped to explore the elements of a meaningful and fulfilling life. The Walden Project invites students to embark on their own purposeful journey of self-discovery in a supportive environment that emphasizes freedom, personal experience, and connection (and yes, we also have a tiny cabin!).
The Walden Project takes place at Cumming Nature Center in Naples, NY, where students have access to a 900+ acre outdoor classroom. During the year, a small cohort of students explore the three fundamental questions that guided Thoreau during his sojourn to Walden Pond: What is my relationship to myself? What is my relationship to my culture? What is my relationship to the world? They discuss philosophy around a campfire, engage with local ecology and history, grow their own food in the garden, pursue self-directed research projects, serve in the community, and delve more deeply into who they are as learners and people.
The Walden educational program is built around three areas: Freedom, Experience, and Connection:
"I learned how to learn in Walden."
The Walden Project takes an integrated approach to learning in which one topic is approached from a variety of perspectives, resulting in a deeper understanding that develops at the intersections of these viewpoints. The year is divided into six themed units on Thoreauvian topics such as self-reliance, environmentalism, and economics. Alongside discussion and readings, Walden students explore their own areas of inquiry through independent research projects and service learning placements. This approach to academics develops a culture of self-directed learners, where each student’s work is strengthened by the rest of the cohort as they encounter a wide range of views and perspectives.
Our curriculum is built on three interlocking areas of reflection, experience, and communication. Instructors evaluate student growth through narrative feedback on portfolio-based assessments rather than a traditional grading system based on standardized exams. This format encourages students to approach their academics from the perspective of deepening their curiosity and knowledge rather than simply mastering the subject. See a more detailed description of our curriculum here: Walden Curriculum
This integrated has proven results that prepare students for college and beyond. Walden Project alumni have gone on to college, returned to the public school system to finish high school, or completed a year of service after the program. Many local schools accept Walden as the equivalent of a year of high school, and Walden is in the process of becoming regionally accredited.
To Live Deliberately
"There is no other land; there is no other life but this."
- Henry David Thoreau
As a social reformer, naturalist, and philosopher, Thoreau was committed to living an intentional, ethical life. The Walden Project provides students with a unique opportunity to think alongside Thoreau about what it means to live deliberately and to "suck all the marrow out of life." Walden's small-group, outdoor setting provides a safe environment that fosters deep engagement, close relationships, and interdisciplinary insights. This transformative year offers students the freedom to ask complex questions and pursue complex answers - a purposeful and liberating educational experience that helps prepare students for college and beyond!