Free Haven: A Forest School (Illinois Family Spotlight #333)

“. . .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. She joins IFI’s David Smith and Self Evident’s Jenna Smith for a conversation about her forest school: Free Haven.

Rachel, in her words, was a free range homeschooler. Her parents allowed her the liberty to revel in nature, which developed her curiosity and intelligence far better than any four-walled classroom could. She 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 three year olds 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 remarks to the Smiths 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 announce our partnership with Free Haven. We want to help Rachel meet her goal, and enable her to minister to Illinois’ youth and rescue them from our restricting public education system. You can aid their efforts by contributing to IFI and writing “To Free Haven Forest School” in the memo line.

Free Haven: A Forest School (Illinois Family Spotlight #333)