SPOTLIGHT: Forest School in The SW Suburbs

Written by Jenna Smith

“. . .fill the earth and subdue it.
Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky
and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” ~Genesis 1:28

Rachel Mikottis is a homeschooled wonder of a woman who believes that nature is the best classroom in the world. In this week’s episode of Illinois Family Spotlight, Rachel joins Dave Smith and Jenna Smith (of the Self-Evident Podcast) for a conversation about an amazing, out-of-the-box idea of a forest school, specifically the one she founded called Free Haven.

Rachel, in her words, was a free range homeschool student. Her parents allowed her the liberty to revel in nature, which developed her curiosity and intelligence far better than any four-walled classroom could. How and why did she decide to open Free Haven Forest School? Listen to the podcast to learn the inspiring story and the plans she has for its future:

Rachel dove into community college at the age of 16 with the intent of going into children’s education and later took on the mantle of preschool teacher.

“It was a baptism by fire.” Rachel recalls of her time in the public education system. Thirty minutes of recess squeezed between hours of sitting still and forcing young children to do worksheets was not the way to hone and encourage curiosity. The disguised blessing of 2020 came in a virtual course to become a Forest School teacher.

Forest School is a European concept, which, in the words of the Free Haven website,

“places great importance on the learning environment, which is why we believe the best classroom is outdoors. Our outdoor education process is holistic and learner-led. It allows children to develop themselves through healthy engagement with risk, problem-solving and self-discovery, all within a natural environment in a hands-on and thoughtful manner.”

The focus of Free Haven is to instill into their students the gravitas and joy of being good stewards of the world God gave us. “I tell people it’s impossible to learn outside and not talk about God because we are in His creation; we’re in the greatest classroom on earth, the place that He made for us to explore and discover. . .” Rachel remarked in the podcast.

Rachel began Free Haven as a sort of homeschool co-op, meeting together in local forest preserves. Since 2020, they have grown into a 2 acre property that serves over 150 kids, but the demand of other families wishing to enroll is high. They are currently under contract to purchase a vast swath of land surrounding their property in Mokena to expand and meet this demand. But in order to pay for it, they need to raise $300,000 by January.

That is why IFI is proud to help promote this Christ-centered alternative to government school. It is yet another great education option for parents. In order to help Rachel meet her goal for Free Haven, and enable her to minister to Illinois’ youth and rescue them from our government system, you can make a tax-deductible donation online by designating “Free Haven Forest School.”


You can also send a check to IFI and designate “Free Haven” in the memo line. To make a credit card donation over the phone, call the IFI office at (708) 781-9328. By check, designate “Free Haven” in the memo line, then send your gift to:

Illinois Family Institute
P.O. Box 876
Tinley Park, IL  60477

Thank you!