Community Spotlight

Provider Spotlight: Exploring nature with Always Learning and Growing

Sawyer partners with hundreds of educators who are stars in their communities. From inspiring class content to engaging teaching style, these educators are known for their enriching activities that inspire both children and parents alike.

We got the opportunity to chat with Always Learning and Growing, an outdoor nature school that helps children build connection to the natural world.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! I’d love to hear a bit more about you and why you started your business?

Hi, My name is Carlene Murray, I’m a mom of 3 amazing children and an early childhood educator. I opened Always Learning and Growing in 2010 in order to create a positive learning environment where I could use my teaching skills while providing an income for our family and being with my own children. In 2018 our program transitioned into an all outdoor nature school and now has two SF bay area locations. 

Can you describe an inspiring moment you’ve had as an educator? 

I’ve had so many inspiring moments! That’s one of my favorite parts of teaching children outdoors; I feel that being surrounded by nature really inspires us all. This past summer we had such a great group of kids and one day I mentioned we could make stick puppets. These kids made their own puppets, then wrote a mini play, gave everyone a part, then set up a stage, then rehearsed, then put on a play for the teachers. It unfolded so organically and cooperatively, myself and the other teacher were just watching in amazement! 

What’s the most rewarding thing about teaching children? 

I love being able to encourage children to think on their own and to allow them to come up with their own solutions. It really is a beautiful experience to observe a child having that moment of connection and allowing them the space for their ideas to unfold freely. It truly brings me joy when kids are allowed to be kids and their ideas can blossom. 

What’s one time a child surprised you and made your day? 

I’ve been told by a child that Always Learning and Growing’s summer camp was their favorite camp because “it has the whole outdoors”. I had never thought about it that way before, and it’s so true. I’m very glad that I am able to offer an experience to children where we can roam through beautiful large parks together and explore the outdoors. 

Your classes revolve around nature. Why is it important for children to get outside?

Being outside provides so many opportunities physically and mentally for children and adults too. While children are outside, they find their own physical challenges and build muscle strength- from logs becoming balance beams, to climbing steep hills and navigating across streams, rocks and puddles. The outdoors also gives children a much bigger view and they naturally get practice focusing their eyes on more distant objects and developing the ability to track moving objects such as birds and squirrels. 

"Being outside provides so many opportunities physically and mentally for children." -Carlene, Always Learning and Growing

What is your favorite class to teach and why? 

I’d have to say that I love our forest school classes because we get to see the childrens’ progress through so many stages of development. We’ve had kids stay with our forest school program for 2 or 3 years and they become natural leaders as they grow older. 

What's one trick you learned from another educator that you still practice?

I learned the value of deep breathing from another educator who was very involved in yoga. She taught our class how to use “flower breaths”, which combines opening and closing your hands like flower blossoms while breathing deeply. It’s been very effective when a child or the whole group needs a minute to calm down and refocus their energy. 

Do you have a favorite book, game, app, or other education resource? And why?

I like to use the iNaturalist app or Seek app, which helps to identify different species of plants, birds, and mushrooms with just a photo. Learning the names of native plants and wildlife is fun for kids and helps connect them to their home ecosystem. There are also printed local nature guides you can bring along on outings for when you spot an interesting creature or plant. 

How can families teach their children about sustainable practices? 

While children are young, it is the perfect time to teach them about sustainable practices. Having your family take a minimalist approach in your consumption of resources is a way to incorporate this on a daily basis. Before buying a new item, think about ways to repair or repurpose something you might already have or maybe you can borrow it from a friend. Let kids help in this thinking process, and remember there is no “away”. When you are done with an item and throw it away, it is still going to be here on our earth for hundreds of years. Taking responsibility for caring for our earth is important. Consider alternatives to plastic, especially disposable plastic. You can take the pledge to no longer use plastic bags, straws, cups, forks, spoons. You can learn more at sites like this.

How do you think children should gain an appreciation for nature when they’re not in school or your program? 

Search for local events through your parks department to get involved in your community and encourage children to interact with their environment. I also like the national wildlife federation site, families can find lots of ideas there. 

Adding a birdfeeder to your yard or growing a small garden are also both wonderful hands-on ways for kids to learn more about nature. 

Do you celebrate any holidays at your business? Which ones and how? Maybe it’s Halloween, Pride Month, or something else? 

Yes, we celebrate the changing of the seasons, Earth Day on April 22nd and World Oceans Day on June 8th. Although there aren’t as many obvious changes in the bay area seasons as compared with other areas of the country, we mark the passage of the year with the Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer Equinoxes. We learn little poems and have a winter solstice evening hike which is fun and the kids bring their flashlights and have warm apple cider. I love Earth Day, it’s my favorite holiday and we do lots of books and activities leading up to that day. We usually do a community trash pick up event and an earth friendly family challenge. 

How has Sawyer helped your business? 

I really like how Sawyer has made registrations from my website an easy process for families and me! I also appreciate the new customers from the Sawyer marketplace as well.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us! 

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