Learning in Nature with Dawn Robinette
July 6, 2021
Learning in Nature with Dawn Robinette

What happens when we inspire youth? When giving them the tools, experiences, and room to show us how deeply capable and creative they are? And when we take project-based, experiential learning far outside the classroom and into nature?

By allowing students to explore the outdoors as the classroom, instead of offering the traditional lockstep recipe for “success,” we create critical thinkers, lifelong learners, and whole people excited to create positive change.

Today’s guest, Dawn Robinette, is bringing the classroom to nature in her micro-school. Dawn  is the founder and director of Camino De Santiago Nature School. Her school weaves core academics in with the study of nature-based subject matter and creates deep connections between students, parents, and Mother Nature.


About Dawn Robinette:

Dawn Robinette is the founder and director of Camino De Santiago Nature School, founded in January 2013. It serves as an alternative and unique educational resource for children 5 to 12 years old that provides them with academic experiences while immersed in nature. She graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1993, where the school’s philosophy of Learning By Doing resonated with her. At the University of Washington, Dawn’s master’s thesis was based on design-build. She spent nine months as a teacher’s assistant, working on a design-build project in which her class built a multigenerational home for the indigenous community of Yakima, WA. Dawn also taught young adults at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Art Institute of Orange County.

For more information, please visit her website or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


Jump Through the Conversation:

  • [2:06] The beginnings of learning in nature
  • [7:17] Making learning relevant through design-build projects
  • [11:53] Summative assessment versus formative assessments
  • [18:26] Roadblocks and obstacles for alternative education
  • [37:33] Dawn’s Magic Wand: develop more programs to offer outdoor learning to students—even those in traditional educational environments 
  • [41:19] Maureen’s Take-Aways


Links and Resources:


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Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:03  

Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at education evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present-day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host, founder of education, evolution, and the micro-school coalition. We are fiercely committed to changing the narrative to reimagining the education landscape and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:50  

If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe to our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around awhile, have you left a review?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:07  

Hi, Dawn, it is so good to have you on education evolution. Hi, and thank you for inviting me. And I’m delighted to be here. Dawn and I share the last name, Robinette. That’s her last name and my husband’s last name. So we had a little fun comparing hillbilly roots. So that was just kind of an aside. And listeners today I am chatting with dawn Robinette, and she’s gone from architect and interior designer to founder of a nature school in 2013. And I’m so excited to hear about your journey, Don. Thank you. So, Dawn, I’m really on this rampage that our schools have to evolve institutions, in general, have to evolve. But our schools have to evolve to serve all learners. And obviously, you are too so I’m really curious, where did this story of school transformation begin for you? 


Dawn Robinette  2:05  

Well, it began with my daughter when she was well, first of all, as you mentioned, my background is in architecture. But I also taught interior design to college students. So I have more teaching experience with older children or young adults, I should say. And then my daughter came around, I’m an older mother, I didn’t have my daughter until I was 41. So my daughter came around, and I had the opportunity to look at life once again from her eyes. And we enrolled in a forced kindergarten when she was three years old. And immediately I was just kind of hooked. And we started doing that. And as she started to get towards kindergarten age. So even at three, I expanded what we had started with the other forced kindergarten program into our own forced kindergarten. But then as we started to look at enrolling in a formal school, in kindergarten, my daughter said that she wanted me to teach her that I was going to be a teacher and she was not going to go to school. She was going to be homeschooled. And I was you know, I was like, I don’t think so. She was absolutely right. And so as she got to that formal kindergarten age, as opposed to the three to six-year-old age, but as she hit that six-year old that formal age, would most people start kindergarten, we ramped up the nature of the school and the starting doing more than just exploring nature, but also incorporating some academics into it. So that’s how we started it. It’s just grown with her every year.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  3:48  

Wow, that is so amazing. I really believe that I encourage families that come and visit our school and have kids come and spend a day because our kids are so intuitive and truly out of the mouths of babes. So they know what works for them if we can make sure we really listen because of how they communicate. It may not be crystal clear. But we have kids that come to our micro-school that are like oh my gosh, I feel welcome. I’m home and others have like a hack. No, this is way too small. So that you could listen to your daughter and that you could respond and that you created this whole school to support her learning in a way that felt authentic for her. I’m really impressed. You are one dedicated Mama. Well, she has definitely inspired me so nicely. So I was reading about your master’s project and it sounded like ideal learning it was the real world of service hands-on. Would you please tell the listeners about this experience done and how it influenced you going on and creating the school?


Dawn Robinette  4:55  

Well, it started actually with my undergrad and going to Cal Poly and The motto of learning by doing and that just always resonated with me. So when I decided to pursue my Masters, it was with the intent of doing design-build. And that goes to architecture. Architecture is a wonderful program. And architects are wonderful as well. But we design things that are meant to be built in the real world. And there’s not enough of that incorporated into the architecture curriculum. And it’s just, you know, it’s a matter of time, just with all of our education, right, we have to pick and choose. So it was something near and dear to my heart as I pursued my master’s that I wanted to incorporate and focus on design-build. And so I chose u dub, University of Washington, Seattle, where Steve buddings, I believe, is still an instructor there, and took some of his design-build courses, as well as Dana Walker’s design-build course. And Dana Walker’s design-build course was much longer and encompass the entire year. So we started with design. And then over the summer, we did a building project. And we were fortunate enough to partner with the Yakima tribe. And by doing that they have some of their own set of regulations. And so rather than having to spend a long time permitting, we were able to expedite that in order. And so you can start design in September and build and start building in June because we were working with the Yakama Nation. And they had contractors there to support the things because we worked Thursday through Sunday. So they had contractors there to support us that Monday through Thursday. And then so we were able to do a lot over the weekend. It was wonderful. You know, we would go out there we drive from Seattle, we would camp out in a school over the weekend, and just work from sunup to sunset, and it was warm, but it was wonderful. And yeah, I learned so much.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  7:05  

Wow, Central Washington is where I’m from. So I can totally picture what you’re doing. And that whole concept that you’re designing and building things that are meant to be used. In the real world, it sounds like you were just wired to want learning to be relevant and to have a context. And my guess is that plays forward into what you’re doing in your nature school.


Dawn Robinette  7:33  

Definitely, I would try to do as many projects as we possibly can, that are hands-on. Sometimes with the nature of a class. And with younger students, it takes them much longer to do projects, and you have to work at their pace, or you have to do things in advance to prepare the project so that they see the successful outcome. But yes, we do as much hands-on experiential learning as possible.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  8:02  

I love that and that piece to that it doesn’t mean it’s like, Okay, let’s go build this. There is I think the more we empower our students to own their learning, the more frontloading the more prepping the more it’s not an easier kind of teaching. In fact, I applaud my teachers, we’re in a small school with a small student-teacher ratio. So it looks like it should be easy. But they’re not using textbooks. They’re creating, designing, adapting. So kudos to you for front-loading and setting it up so that the kids can really have success at their level. And we can scaffold their abilities.


Dawn Robinette  8:38  

Yes, yes. I mean, for instance, we made a birdhouse a Kestrel nesting box recently. And, you know, I pre-cut all the lumber for them. And I brought it out there in my backpack, and I put it in front of them. I said, Okay, figure out how this goes together. It’s supposed to be a nest box. And so they had no directions. They assembled it and I was just like, yes, no, are we you know, maybe not. Let’s try this, you know, that sort of guidance for them. And then we put the pieces together. I did bring nails, but we did not bring a hammer. Instead, we used rocks to pound the nails in. And we often use rocks to sand things as well. It’s great. You don’t need sandpaper. And then after they had built it, we stuck backward. And we drew what we built. And we measured it. So it’s kind of like I had the pieces pre-done. And then we built it and then they drew it. So it’s kind of it was an interesting way of learning for them. But I think it was much better than say, let’s draw a birdhouse, and then let’s build it. It would kind of Yeah, it was a ruse reverse. But it was very interesting. And I think it’s very gratifying for them.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  9:45  

Yes. And how healthy for the brain to not have that lockstep. Here’s your picture. Here are your directions build, but hey, how could we and get the kids into that design thinking mode, and we know what design thinking. That’s nice Things don’t work this whole year has been designed thinking with the pandemic. And it’s like, oh my gosh, we’ve had hybrid models where we can be outdoors in the parking lot that didn’t work. So to let kids have that natural experience, you try things. And it’s okay, you learn. And then you iterate again. And then Wow, draw what you created. Instead of you have to have a drawing before you can create. You’re teaching their brains to be nimble in that there’s not this lockstep recipe which you and I both know, there is no lock step recipe for most of what we do in life. Correct. Yeah. Love it. Your daughter. How old is she now? She’s 12. And she’s been in an outdoor school since she was three. Yes. Okay. What if we asked her? Hey, what’s your school? Like? What’s an outdoor school? Like? How would she describe her learning experience to you?


Dawn Robinette  10:53  

She loves it. We have. We are a four-day school. So we make Monday through Thursday. That way, my staff can prepare for the next week, as well as re-evaluate. So we have a three-day weekend. Well, it’s kind of a half-day Friday. But my daughter is asking for school. On Friday. She’s like, when do we go back? She loves it. And, you know, we have another student, his mom told me just last week that he loves school so much that should he not be maybe toeing the line at home. The mom says, if you don’t do this, you’re not going to school on Monday. And then he’s like, Okay, I’m doing it.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  11:36  

As a dangling school as a reward. How many parents can say they do that? Right? Yes. And I want to come back and just hit on what you talked about. With Fridays being reevaluating. There is so much of the traditional school model based on summative assessment at the end of the unit, you have a test you summarize, and the test is actually after it’s done. And it’s not going to impact the learning because it’s, it’s like a final exam. And then you move on to the next semester’s classes. So it summarizes and it just evaluates what a student knows. But what you’re doing every Friday is formative assessment, you’re looking at what happened for the week and letting it form? What Oh, my gosh, I got this, we can move on or Whoa, who knew this was going to be a learning gap? How can we scaffold? Or how can we unpack that next week so you’re using consciously using the time to be in that formative assessment mode, which actually informs teachers? If a summative assessment is students? What do you know, prove it to us? And formative is what am I learning as a teacher? What do I need to do differently for all my kids who fail this test or did not get this assignment or this project? Right? What does it tell me about my teaching? And how do I rethink and I think sometimes in bigger systems, it’s so easy for the kid to be the consumer. And my daughter called it academic bulimia when she was 15. She’s like, I just opened my head, they dump it in, I spit it out. But there’s no room for the teacher after they dump it in to say, how’s it going? Does this work? Where your connections? What can we do differently? It’s such a lockstep process, but just want to compliment you on reflection for your teachers, that you’re creating time for them to reflect. And to prepare, and also to have a little bit of a breather so that they come energized and ready to bring their A-game the following Monday that that model seems really life-giving and effective. Is that what you found?


Dawn Robinette  13:35  

Yes, definitely. And also for the parents and the students, because then that Friday, gives the parents some time to focus on particular things that we don’t offer, maybe in the school. So if there’s a child that my daughter loves horses, and we don’t have horses at my school, so then that Friday is dedicated to her taking some course lessons and things like that, or if their child needs more help in math or reading, then they can kind of like take an extra tutor lesson on that Friday. So it gives them a lot of flexibility and how their child is educated as well.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  14:11  

And again, it gets to be formative, what does my kid need to be a whole human and enrichment with horseback riding a little extra math support? It lets parents have a strong part of the process. And they’re the experts on their kids. So for them to say, Wow, my kid really needs to get some of this or to counterbalance here. We just want to be able to take hikes as a family on Fridays. you’re inviting parents into the conversation and I was just talking to a mom today that says where her son is the parents are pretty much locked out of the conversation. We expect our students to be able to manage this on their own parents’ step back. And I don’t think it has to be that black and white. And it sounds like you don’t think that at all either.


Dawn Robinette  14:53  

No, definitely. In fact, we really work hard to connect with our parents, you know, tasked us with a huge responsibility. of educating and caring for the children six hours a day. And we take that very seriously. But we also know that their parents and their families are even more important than we are, right. So each day, at the end of the day, we send home connection questions to and we now text them before we read wrote them, but now we, we actually send them as a text that way we make sure the parents get them. And they’re just five simple questions that the parent can ask the child about what they did during that day. And then it also helps the child to review it. So that is our form of homework. And the form of homework is to connect with your parents. And that is most important to us.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  15:39  

I love that idea. And a way to extend the learning. And we all learn best one way when we teach something, we really have to know it. And I love that about multi-age that our older students can be helping our younger students and we use our school Facebook page is kind of a scrapbook of what’s going on that day because our middle school and high school kids get home and parents Oh, what do you do today? I don’t know, how was school pine, you know, they’re not like, Oh, Mom, guess what I did today. So we want the parents to be able to go, Hey, I thought that you guys created you had conductive playdough. And we’re doing circuitry, tell me more. But I like that your approach is even more focused. And that’s the homework to extend the learning to teach somebody else to have that conversation. And you’re also welcoming the family and so that they can add their wealth to the conversation.


Dawn Robinette  16:32  

Yes, and we do some photos home each day as well. And they’re just, you know, sometimes it’s five photos, but it’s always child-specific of that child. And you know, recently I asked a parent if their child had done such and such last year. And she looked at me because she wasn’t with us last year. And she said, You know, I don’t know. She said, I honestly don’t really know what happened. She’s like, I know what happens exactly at your school. And I never did with my in the previous school. So it was really telling, as a homeschooling parent, I have always known what my daughter has done every single day. So to hear that perspective, other perspectives, from the majority of our parents, it was like, wow, this is really important that we tell the parents what we are doing every day.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  17:22  

Absolutely. And I’m working a lot right now on polarity thinking, I’m looking at the continuity of education as a whole and the innovation and seeing the upsides of both. It’s not about demonizing one model and glorifying another there, there are advantages to both. And I think there are a lot of features that our public school model in our larger schools can provide. And I think when we innovate, we can add that personal touch, and that that could really be a benefit to all of our schools, to for parents to be involved for teachers to really know the kids, and you’re creating those connections and really inviting the parents into the conversation. And, boy, that’d be great to have more of everywhere. Definitely. So being an ED activist, going kind of against the grain, and creating something that you think will be a better fit or that your daughter demands you create, what have been some of the biggest roadblocks and obstacles. 


Dawn Robinette  18:28  

Hmm, we are so different, and so new, that there’s not a lot of statistics on our students’ success, there’s not a lot of reputation to go by. So, you know, asking parents to take a big leap of faith is a challenge that is difficult. So that’s probably my biggest obstacle. And you know, then that we’re a very small school. So we don’t have a lot of financial supports. I tried to keep our tuition as low as possible to make it, you know, affordable to as many students as possible. You know, I’d say that keeping my tuition low, and also having parents be wanting to take a leap of faith and try alternative ways of educating their children.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  19:19  

Absolutely. I’ve been pondering that now that I’ve had over a year of interviewing wonderful people like you that are innovating. It’s like, why isn’t this catching on like wildfire? I mean, we had our graduation recently. And I had parents crying like my kid would not, not just the school transformed my kid, but this school kept my kid alive. My kid might not be alive right now otherwise, and it was like, Oh my gosh, so many parents are angsting over the mental health crisis that a lot of our adolescents are dealing with, why aren’t they flocking to something like this? And we have a sliding scale for tuition. So it’s not that and so I’ve been asking people and I asked them about Molina Palmer, who’s brilliant on neuroscience, and what’s going on. And she said that status quo bias keeps us, you know, alive. And we’re used to just continue with what we know, that’s what’s safe and the herding instinct, when we’re part of the herd, we’re safe. And when we branch off, you know, the whatever it is, will the beast could get us or so that there’s so much going on subconsciously, that I think that’s a common problem that families really, I don’t know. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  20:28  

And yet we know Montessori has amazing results. And there’s actually a wall street journal article on the monitor, I’m sorry, mafia, that there are huge CEOs and Julia Child and founders of big businesses, including Amazon, that were Montessori raised, and so they had a voice and choice and drove their learning. So we actually do have success stories, we need to help families see that there are a lot of models out there that have given students a more personalized experience. And I just interviewed two of my alarm, and they’re in their second, they’re just finishing their second year of college, and hands-on without tons of textbooks and papers, did not slow them down and help them know who they were and have confidence. They didn’t need four years of high school practice and writing out long papers and reading lots, they needed to engage in passions, know their strengths know their challenges. So I think you’re right, the obstacle is how can we help people see, it doesn’t have to look like the way it looked when we were in school, for it to be a safe and possibly amazing option for their kids. So you’re not alone in that?


Dawn Robinette  21:37  

Yeah, definitely. When I was a child, there was no other option. There were the one or two Catholic schools, you know, and then there was a public school. And that was it, you know, maybe three hours away, there was a private school somewhere, but it was the public school was it. And now there are so many more options out there, which is wonderful.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  21:57  

It is and I want to be about helping schools and programs start until every one of our learners has the right fit. And that big traditional public or private high school is the right fit for some kids. And they are doing great in that. So that’s one option, I just want us to keep creating options until everybody has the learning that that works for them. So what you’re doing is amazing. And I wish many more of your schools to be built. Which leads me to my next question, what’s the head for you and your school?


Dawn Robinette  22:33  

Can I circle back to one thing you just happen to Yeah, is that I am obviously, obviously a product of public school. I went to state schools, the Cal Poly University of Washington, which were big schools and big lecture halls, mind you, design programs are much smaller, but I still had big lecture halls and, and I loved all my school experience. So I totally agree that there are you know, that works for many, it just doesn’t work for all. And when I began teaching interior design, it was at a private university. And our classes were really small. My first class was 14 students. But then I had some classes with just six. And we met four hours a day. And I was kind of confused, because I was like, What do I do with six students for four hours coming from this huge background? Yeah. And I really grew to love it. So that also has informed me what I do. And then so your question was, what to What was it again? 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  23:36  

Or what’s next for you and your mission?


Dawn Robinette  23:39  

Growth, you know, we recently bought 30 acres in Northern California.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  23:45  



Dawn Robinette  23:47  

So right now we need on public lands in Orange County. And so we plan to expand on the property that we own in Northern California. So we will have two schools, one in northern Cal and one in Southern Cal. beyond that. I would like to write a curriculum for others to do the same thing and their neighborhoods in their parks. I’ve used so many different models and looked at different curriculums, and I just pulled from here and there and I do what works best for us and my own experience. And so I want to be able to offer that to others as well.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  24:23  

I love that and that you want to be a resource for others to create more outdoor options and more personalized options and 30 acres. Oh my gosh, that just sounds magical. Yeah. Any, any ideas what you want to be doing with that land?


Dawn Robinette  24:42  

Well, because we’ve been on public lands now and they’re lightly traveled public lands. So some of the things that we set up so if they want to make a debris hat or TP or something like that, or fairy houses, they stay pretty intact, but they’re also still as a You know, the understanding that it’s not fully ours and that somebody might come through and not maybe intentionally or you know, it might be destroyed when they return. So I think having our own property makes Bigger, Longer-term projects possible. So there goes that architecture design-build. So perhaps we will build, you know, some buildings there, or we’ll build some shelters there that will stay there forever. And I love that and expanding trails. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  25:34  

I love that, that that circles right back around your design, build, and building things that are meant to be used in the real world? Mm-hmm. Yes, yes. Done. I like to have a turbo time section in my interviews, just because I think sometimes people think, Oh, well, that person is an architect. And that person has taught at the college level, of course, and I just think it helps people see, oh, this is a real human and Oh, okay. This could be me. So it’s really fun to get to know the personal Dawn and not just the creator of the school. So I have some questions just so we can get to know you. Okay, sounds great. So what’s the last book you read?


Dawn Robinette  26:18  

I’ve read with my daughter Leo, the sea dog, which was about Magellan. And, but I’d say, one that I’ve read for myself is breeding sweet grass by Robin wall Kemmerer. It is a fantastic book. She has some Native American ancestry in her. And she is also I believe, a botanist. And so she just has this way of reweaving anecdotal stories within science. And it is a gorgeous book.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  26:51  

Oh, this is all going in the show notes. So this is stuff that others will be able to refer to. So that’s great. Who are two inspirational folks, or characters that you would love to meet?


Dawn Robinette  27:04  

Tom Brown Jr. wrote tracker and many other sorts of survival and ancestral skills books. He is a tad controversial. Some people say that what he tells us not fully true. But either way, his tales again are wonderful. And yeah, so his teachings are lovely, too. So it’d be actually lovely to meet him in person. And I believe he lives in Pennsylvania, somewhere on the east coast. And other than that, Einstein, now who doesn’t want to be Einstein, but my reason for him is that his early childhood was very different. And that I believe he didn’t speak until he was four, perhaps Marine, you know, the actual age, but it was much later than most of our children speak. And so I think as learning differences, I would love to meet him and understand them.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  28:06  

I remember reading that they considered his special needs and developmentally delayed and had all these labels for him. And oh, my gosh, who knew? Mm-hmm. Ah, what’s one TED talk that inspires you?


Dawn Robinette  28:22  

Sir Ken Robinson? Yes. One of his first talks was quite a while ago, but it was revolutionary for me. And his way of thinking about education in an alternative way, I think was also as instrumental as our first finger forced kindergarten experience. Other than that, William McDonough, who is the author of Cradle to Cradle had a TED talk quite a few years ago, as well. And his is about cradle to cradle and how we have products that should be circular as opposed to linear.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  28:58  

Interesting, I’m gonna have to watch that one. And, sir, can my guess is you’re thinking of how schools kill creativity, that talk of his Yes, yeah. What’s the biggest thing you wish folks knew about a student-driven learning student agency in their learning?


Dawn Robinette  29:18  

That’s an interesting question. Well, there are two things I want them to know. Number one is that they are far more capable than we think they are, in many cases, even the younger ones. And the second one is that they still need to be inspired. You know, there aren’t many artists that you can give a blank canvas to and just say create something that artists still get inspiration for. So as an educator, I feel like my responsibility when we do project-based learning projects, which we do a lot of is to inspire them to want to create something that they can take as their own.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  29:58  

I love that. We just had our year-end celebration and students were sharing, we had to pre-record it and do this part remote before we did our graduation, but they were sharing they really love this stainable City project because it was gamified, I think was through Minecraft or something. So maybe if we just said, hey, let’s look at the features of a sustainable community and what would go into it? And they’d be like, yeah, yeah. But when it was gamified, they’re like, Oh, my gosh, it was my favorite activity in science. So right. We all if somebody can help us get hooked, then we can get to deeper learning. And I think sometimes that Oh, blank slate go make it happen. And how many of us adults, blank slate wood guy, I’ve taken some cool craft classes where they sit out the mix media, and they have all these examples. And then I get to play but I don’t have to start from scratch. So I think sometimes we think it’s all or nothing, either it’s the textbook and everything’s driven by that. Or kids. It’s a free-for, and I don’t think it ever has to be all or nothing. Correct? Yeah, definitely. What is a pet peeve of yours?


Dawn Robinette  31:03  

My current pet peeve? I have two of them. One is towels on the bathroom floor. And wet towels.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  31:13  

Yeah, yeah.


Dawn Robinette  31:16  

And the second one is, it has to do with how easy it seems for many people to tell white lies. And it’s a very, it’s not maybe a pet peeve. It may be rooted much deeper than that. But it just and, you know, if you’re not going to show up to something, it’s okay to say no, I’m just not going to be there. You don’t need to say, I’m not quite coming because I’m sick, or I’m not coming because you know, I have a flat tire. It’s okay to just say you don’t have to spare my feelings by creating a lie because that hurts more. So that sort of white lies, I guess our pet peeve?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  32:02  

Yeah. Makes me think of Bernie brown and vulnerability and transparency. And I can remember a mentor of mine saying lies hurt us. It says my truth is not worth telling. You know. So thinking of it, how it injures the person that’s creating the white lie. That’s interesting. Now, you’re gonna have me thinking about this for the next couple of days. I love that.


Dawn Robinette  32:26  

Yeah. And I think you know, the reason it really bothers me now, I said, it’s infecting my students, I see them more capable of lying. And I don’t have a lot of it going on. But when I see it, it really hurts. And I’m kind of trying to analyze where it’s coming from. And I think it’s a societal thing.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  32:47  

I think so. And we’re all conflict-averse. If a guy doesn’t want, you know, to come up and insult somebody I know, nobody wants to bring very few people and I would want to bring on a conflict. But that doesn’t mean we have to hide our truth. Correct? Yes. Yeah. Yeah. I love that the name of your school is Camino de Santiago and I, the Spanish illusion connects with me immediately. What is one passion you bring to Camino de Santiago? Have you walked the Camino? I want to do what I’ve lived in Spain as a student and as a teacher. And maybe that’s something I’ll do like for my 60th birthday or something which is getting closer all the time? I haven’t, but my minister has and other people have. And it’s like, oh, my gosh, it just sounds amazing.


Dawn Robinette  33:35  

Yes, that is our combination project. I help my daughter and I will be hiking that when she graduates as well as any other students that are ready to hike with us as well. We will be hopefully planning that in a few years to make sure we can make it happen when she’s ready. So your question is, what passions do I bring? And it’s just that I truly love what we do. And I truly see the potential and the effect it has on our students. I have a little girl that just started with us this year. She says, I don’t care where I go, but I’m going to school outdoors, you know, and she is such a well-rounded child that she would thrive in any situation. But she knows she’s going to be outdoors. And when I see that that just makes my passions even stronger.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  34:24  

Yes, yeah, she’s found home and you’ve created this opportunity, so she could define where she thrives. Love it. What’s your favorite thing or a fun fact about outdoor learning?


Dawn Robinette  34:39  

Hmm, that it can change. We always have a lesson plan. We always know what we’re doing. We always have a goal for the day. But you know, sometimes you see something that occurs in nature and Mother Earth has a different lesson plan for us that day, and that’s okay and that is beautiful.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  35:00  

Yay, and what a gift to give kids like, Hey, guys, Plan A doesn’t have to be you know, are you gonna have a formula, it doesn’t have to be again, that’s that iteration that openness, that flexibility, you’re helping them to be more organic and less structured in life really beats up those oak trees that can’t bend and flex. So very important. So I truly think we’re activists, transforming schools. So I am wondering how you think others can be activists on this effort to create schools that work enough different schools that every learner is thriving,


Dawn Robinette  35:39  

I would like to inspire more people to just try to think outside the box to be willing to take that leap. To know that change also takes time. It takes a lot of time to rewire our children, it takes a lot of time to rewire education models, and we have to be patient. We don’t have to stick with the status quo or the quotes norm. But we also have to know that it’s going to evolve and it’s going to change as society does as well. And we understand that our children learn in so many different ways, and they don’t fit in these cookie-cutter molds. And just keep trying, is what I would like to have more educators do more parents do? Just keep trying and look for different alternatives and keep plugging away? 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  36:33  

I agree. What is something about you that most people don’t know?


Dawn Robinette  36:41  

That I usually sit with a pillow, I carry a pillow with me almost everywhere I go if I have to sit for a long period of time, including in restaurants and in my car. And that is because when I was doing my graduate work, I fell during a construction project. And I broke my back. And so oh my gosh, so I am fused. And so I have three bird vertebrae that are locked in place. So it is most comfortable for me when I have to sit to use a pillow. So my pillow is like my security blanket.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  37:16  

Oh my god. Wow. Well, just like we want our kids to have workarounds to make learning work for them. You have a pillow that helps sitting work for you. That’s what we need. We need accommodations for all of our differences. Good for you. Yes, I wind up interviews with a magic wand moment. So, Dawn, it seems like so many people are disconnected from our planet, and we’re making decisions based more on the economy than on conservation and ecology. If you had a magic wand, what would you wish for our schools to do to create in our students a strong connection and reverence for our earth?


Dawn Robinette  37:58  

I would have them all the outdoor schools. Um, but as we talked about, that is maybe not entirely possible for every child and every community. And that there is a place for large schools and many children do thrive in big, bigger settings. But there are programs that I’m aware of that hire a nature school like mine, and the class rotates through that nature program for a week. And I believe each class so like the third graders would spend one week, every term with that nature school. And then you know, so that might be the first week in December, and then the second week in December, the fourth graders are there, and the fifth graders, etc, etc. and then come March 3 graders are there again, and then the fourth graders and the fifth graders, I think that is a lovely model. And for those larger programs, larger schools, I would love to see them adopt that as well. Now there are many schools that take their students on field trips to nature centers to public parks, you know, on hikes, that sort of thing. But this seems like a really good solution to have the children spend an entire week on nature school three times a year. That’s, I think, great.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  39:25  

I love that it here in Washington State did way back when I was in, in school. Usually, kids that fifth or sixth grade, the last year of elementary, get to go camping for a week. So they get the overnight experience. They get plant identification, they get all kinds of cool experiences as well as being away from home. And so it’s like one week out of their whole school. You know, kindergarten through 12th grade is in nature is like what you’re saying one week, three times a year on going wow talk about how the kids could read Get that green time instead of this epidemic of screen time, and be connected so that they’re like, wait, wait, I don’t want the waters polluted, I don’t want the air polluted, I don’t want us to lose our forests so that they cherish the earth, but it’s gonna take being in it and appreciating it, to protect it. So what you’re saying is so organic and ongoing and can evolve with their development and their understanding of our planet.


Dawn Robinette  40:32  

Yeah, and it seems so very doable because the school district doesn’t have to hire, you know, a full-time nature program, they outsource to an existing nature program there, you know, or that nature program that wants to evolve in that direction.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  40:47  

Yeah, you are on to something. And Dawn, I am so pleased and grateful that we got to interview you today. Thank you so much for your time.


Dawn Robinette  40:56  

Thank you for having me. And Maureen, I want to say also to you the I love the work that you’re doing with education, evolution, and your micro-school in Seattle, those are inspirational to me as well.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  41:08  

Oh, thank you.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  41:19  

I really enjoyed getting to talk to Dawn and learn about Camino de Santiago. And if you’re not familiar, I’ll put a link in the show notes. But the Camino is this sacred pilgrimage, that if you do the whole track, it begins in France and ends up in northern Spain. And it’s spiritual, and it’s powerful. And it actually oh my gosh, my Spanish is escaping me now. But it actually means Caminos walk, it’s the walk of St. James, I believe. And so it goes back into has a biblical history to it, so that they are out there walking this path and that their culminating activity will be walking the Camino. Together, I am super impressed with that one piece. I really like the focus on relevance and context, we know that when we have a reason for our learning, it’s engaging when somebody just kind of talks at us. And we’re not interesting, even as adults, it goes way over our heads, and we just kind of tune out. So to focus on design, building, and creating things that are meant to be used that have a purpose. I think that’s super important, instead of writing a paper that a teacher looks at, and then it goes away, you know, if we can, as educators, add an audience while you’re going to create a book, a Spanish book in Spanish, one, and illustrated, and it’s going to go down to the elementary school so they can practice some Spanish words. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  42:57  

I think whenever we can add having an audience, having a purpose, making it relevant. It’s going to be work that the students are more willing to engage in. And when the students can pick their audience, I love watching that I love seeing that at lead prep when the kids are working on a civics project. What are you passionate about? Here’s the cycle that you need to go through. Who do you want to benefit from this? My goodness, when kids have that level of agency, like get out of their way, add the supports they need and let them be about their passion. So many things that Dawn is doing in the Camino de Santiago are just super impressive. I also wonder what could I be doing at my microscope? How could we have connection questions going home to help parents probe and unpack the learning a little more, and have that family connection time? So Dawn was just an inspiration to me. And after we ended the interview, her daughter came in and a younger student was like in kindergarten, and I got to talk to them for a minute and like, what do you like best about the school. And they both said that they get 90 minutes of free time daily. And the younger one says, I climb trees and I play and Dawn’s daughter was sharing that they go to the creek, they go to the canyon, they play with the newts that are kind of like water lizards. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  44:32  

And Dawn and I hopped back on and we just talked about the importance of play and how much we learn when we get to play and create and explore and how this generation has become very programmed with playdates instead of going out and exploring in nature. So an hour of this exploration and self-driven play and learning every day is super powerful and I’m going to drop a couple of links in the show notes too. On the importance of play, that’s another thing that would be great for us to find ways. Parents people in the summertime, how can we create more times where our kids are out in nature playing. And there’s also the benefit of nature, we know mental health is a huge issue with our youth. And green time is so healing for all of us taking walks in nature, fresh air. So there are so many benefits to what Dawn is doing. And we can take pieces of this and weave this in, we can have a walk during our class period, we can have a nature program come in and do a week, every quarter with our students. There are so many ways we don’t have to become that nature school. But if you wanted to, yes, please, that we can all be getting more engaged in learning and more connection with our planet, in both our schools and in our free time, so please check out the Camino de Santiago, and think about how we can add more of these components to the lives of our wonderful youth. Thank you for joining the education evolution today.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  46:15  

I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I’ve spent years working with schools around the world on creating learner-centered programs. And it always struck me how much schools were able to get done with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your own school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit educationevolution.org/consult for a free 15-minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  46:52  

Education evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued, and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  47:13  

I’d be so grateful if you’d head over to your podcast app to give a great rating and review if you found this episode valuable. Don’t wait. Please do it right now before you forget. I really appreciate it.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  47:32  

Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai




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