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By Sarah Beauchemin
Students at The O’Farrell Charter School are in for a special treat this fall – they will be among the first group of children to visit the magical new Children’s Nature Retreat in Alpine, which is slated to open to the public in November.
The ranch-style retreat, whose mission is to create a place where happiness is found and a love of nature is born, is a safe haven to over 80 domesticated livestock from around the world. Visitors can observe animals like zebras, goats, camels, and horses, and interact with one another in a rare tranquil, education-focused setting.
Developing a Sense of Wonder
While everyone is welcome at the retreat, it is specifically designed to help children develop a sense of wonder for nature’s many inhabitants through unstructured exploration and learning. One of the founding principles of the Retreat is that time spent in nature and with animals offers a lasting, profound impact on a child. And fostering an appreciation for these things at a young age is a critical part of shaping a positive outcome throughout a child’s life.
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The O’Farrell Charter School, a California high-achieving charter school, offers its students unique opportunities for lifelong success. For more information, visit ofarrellschool.org.
The retreat works directly with local schools and organizations within the San Diego community that serve underprivileged children in order to offer them free admission to the retreat via field trips. These opportunities are made possible through the generous donations made through Hands United for Children, a 501(c)3 nonprofit affiliated with The Children’s Nature Retreat.
Field trips to the retreat are open to students from grades K-12, and are available Monday through Friday. On the day of a field trip, the retreat is closed to the public so that students receive full attention and unfettered access to the grounds. O’Farrell’s students from TK to grade 5 will spend their day at the Retreat carefully observing and interacting with the many domesticated livestock there – 15 species and 34 different breeds from around the world.
The children can enjoy up-close contact with the animals – both inside and out of enclosures – guided by experienced animal keepers on over 20 acres of beautiful, serene land. Fun and educational interactive presentations will take place throughout the day that focus on animals, nature, and sustainable farming in both local and global contexts.
“The idea behind the retreat is to bring the children to the animals, so they can actually meet and understand each other,” said Agnes Barrelet, an O’Farrell School board member and founder of the Children’s Nature Retreat and Hands United for Children. “Most of the kids at O’Farrell don’t have the ability to go into nature, go on vacation, or to go camping. By bringing them to the retreat, we’re able to teach them about many important aspects of nature, such as sustainable farming and caring for our land.”
Social Change Begins Early
But the mission of the Children’s Nature Retreat extends beyond simply introducing children to animals – it also emphasizes the importance of social change and showing children how they play a critical role in it. This aligns well with O’Farrell’s own mission to ensure its students are empowered to become critical learners and thinkers, and responsible, contributing citizens.
For example, some of the animals at the retreat have been rescued from extremely harsh living conditions. In their interactive presentations to children, the retreat focuses on these problematic issues and asks the children for their thoughts on how these problems can be alleviated. Doing so pushes kids to view life on a grander scale – one that transcends their own local environments. And when kids are pressed to think in a global context, they’re called on to examine the ways in which they personally can help impact the world for good.
This is more important than ever in our increasingly digital dependent and urbanized world, where children are slowly losing touch with nature. “I really want the kids to understand that they don’t just exist in their own urban environment,” Ms. Barrelet said. “The whole world also belongs to them. By visiting the retreat, I want them to possibly find a related vocation – maybe working on a farm or becoming a veterinarian. We want to give them every ability to think and see outside the box, outside their urban environment. To become a sustainable force in the world.”
Bearing this in mind, the Children’s Nature Retreat aims to ensure that the experience they offer to O’Farrell students will have a profound impact on them by reducing their stress levels and forging a sense of connection to the earth itself – factors that will undoubtedly position them to become strong future leaders.