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Re-wilding and Re-generative Learning - What’s with this “re” stuff anyway?

Updated: May 2

Rewilding and Regenerative Learning in terms of education are concepts that imply there was once a “wild” or a “generative” to get back to or to re-invigorate into our schools. With most existing education paradigms, this is true on an international level. There IS a wild and generative foundation that many schools like ours are building into their learning culture.

At the center of both of these concepts is to cultivate a “playful practice of learning” at all stages of human development which is especially important in early childhood. We referenced in our previous blog about reflecting and responding that sometimes this pedagogy of play can seem radical, new or extreme when really it’s ancient and wise. It has been a powerful method of learning ever since humans began teaching new generations.

We first learned this from Lora Smothers, founder of Joy Village School, who articulates in a 2014 TEDx Talk titled “Going Natural In Education” in context of a related “un-schooling” topic:

“You could call it radical, new and extreme or you could just say this is how kids learn, this is how they’ve always learned, you could call it ancient, you could call it natural”

Lora Smothers

The Joy Village School in Athens Georgia, a K-8 school centering the Joy and Thriving of Black Youth, while not focused on re-wilding or regenerative learning, they are leaders in education that we take advice from especially about “Learning Naturally”. Dr. Bettina Love is featured on their website with a quote about reimagining schools:

“We must struggle together not only to reimagine schools but to build new schools that we are taught to believe are impossible: schools based on intersectional justice, antiracism, love, healing, and joy.” Dr. Bettina Love

Ms. Smothers is referenced in a book “The Essential Guide to Forest School and Nature Pedagogy” from the United Kingdom written by two European Authors Jon Cree and Marina Robb. The reference is in the section about Nature Pedagogy Models and the authors acknowledge that “Although not nature-based, this TEDx talk recognizes the importance of the indigenous local way of education - ‘unschooling’.”

Rewilding and Regenerative Learning do require some un-schooling and un-learning. Most human societies have become more disconnected from nature since the 1950s and thus rewilding and regenerative learning seek to reunite humans to the non-human world and life systems that support us. Once reunited or re-wilded, Regenerative Learning Ecologies and the communities engaged in this type of culture, ultimately give back more than we take.

One way to see overlap in the unschooling from TEDx talk in 2014, and the Re-Wilding and Regenerative Learning that Nature School Cooperative is rooted in, is through the lens of Play Based Pedagogy.

In a 2023 publication from the Harvard School of Education 6 authors compiled and analyzed data from 4 different countries with over 8 years of research, which may be the “most comprehensive book available to guide educators (teachers and school leadership) on how to use a pedagogy of play in varying contexts.”

“Play is at the heart of childhood. Through play, children learn how to collaborate, how to negotiate rules and relationships, and how to imagine and create. They learn to find and solve problems, think flexibly and critically, and communicate effectively.” Project Zero and Pedagogy of Play at the Harvard School Of Education: Ben Mardell, Jen Ryan, Mara Krechevsky, Megina Baker, Savhannah Schulz, Yvonne Liu Constant

Children around the world from Athens Georgia in the United States, to Columbia, Denmark and South Africa are leading their own learning, exploring the unknown and finding joy in schools that are centered around playful learning. Here are some diagrams of the indicators of playful learning from each region they studied.


At Nature School Cooperative we are aligned with this international learning community centering play based learning. What we add to that community is an indicator of playful learning centered on Re-wilding and Regenerative Learning as well as small ratios of guide to student typically 1:6 or less. While both are academically dense we adhere to the concept that play is the method and learning is the outcome.

Following the play based practices from 4 different countries listed in the appendix of the Pedagogy of Play book we uncover the topics with:

Curiosity, Ownership, Enjoyment

(South Africa)

Wonder, Choice, Delight


Meaningful, Empowering, Joyful

(United States)

Curious, Autonomous and Exciting


We view Rewilding Education similar to wild hacking Peregrine Falcons. Through our outdoor nature based preschool aka ”Forest Preschool”, we are supporting families in raising young humans in deep and constant connection to non-human species and life systems that support us. When biologists first started trying to re-establish Peregrine Falcon populations, they found they could not take captive bred falcons and simply release them into the wild. They had been imprinted and domesticated and therefore did not know how to interact in the wild. Falconers and wildlife biologists collaborated and they found success in raising the falcons on cliff ledges where they would imprint on star cycles, weather patterns and horizons while learning the basics of how to survive as a baby falcon. At Nature School Cooperative we view Forest Schools and Outdoor Nature-Based Preschools in a similar manner. Where an unbalanced and unhealthy human population can rewild and regenerate itself, and its surroundings, by spending more time imprinting on these non-human lifesystems that support us.

As we read the literature on Regenerative Learning Ecologies we find most people are applying the principles of giving back more than we take in higher education. The written concepts are applied to a variety of disciplines and human cultural systems ranging from education, learning, regenerative design, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, design, sustainability and sociology.

However, when combined with a Play Based Pedagogy the concepts and foundation are accessible to young students and families who are not in a higher education setting.

Bas van den Berg who began to answer "What are Regenerative Learning Ecologies?" in one of his blog posts for his PhD research describes four components of transformative and regenerative learning:

  • Learning-to-care about the self, each other, the planet, life, and future life.

  • Learning-to-know facts, figures and cognition.

  • Learning-to-be someone living in a regenerative way.

  • Learning-to-anticipate towards and from desirable futures.

Those 4 bullet points and the diagram from his Regenerative Learning Blog overlap well with many of the observations made by Dr. Jessica Reyka when she came to visit and observe our Forest Preschool in May of 2023. You can read more about those observations and our consistent and dynamic process of reflecting and responding within our Emergent Seasonal Curriculum in the previous blog post "Reflecting and Responding is Part of a Pedagogy og Play".

When play is the method and learning is the outcome, Re-wilding Education and Regenerative Learning Ecologies can be the subjects that we play with.

How would you define your Pedagogy of Play?

Does it support "Learning Naturally" in the way Ms. Smothers describes it?

Does it have intersections with Re-Wilding and Regenerative Learning Ecology?

Our blog posts are written for a diverse audience of families, guardians, parents, practitioners, graduate students and other adults with topics covering a “Tangled Bank” (one of Darwin’s most enduring metaphors) of interests, initiatives, and networks. Through Outdoor Nature Based Preschools (ONB Preschools), Forest School for older grades K-8 and Emergent Strategy Bushcraft Workshops for Adults, we explore the perception, observation, interpretation and reciprocity of senses from human and non humans’ perspective. Central to the topics for all age groups is the concept that Early Childhood is “Not just cute, but powerful and incredibly important”.

Find out more about our Outdoor Preschool here.

Stay tuned to our blog posts for adult learning workshops both online and in person in 2024.

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