Learning by Nature

by Mar 7, 2024Education, North Brunswick

With Indigo Forest Academy for preschoolers and the forthcoming Wild Forest Academy for K through 12th grades, founder Miranda Manning takes the classroom outdoors.

Step outside and into the unique classroom of Indigo Forest Academy, where there are no walls or doors — just an open window to the natural world that surrounds these young minds.

The brainchild of founder Miranda Manning, Indigo Forest Academy in Leland was born in 2022 as a nature-based preschool.

“Our school model is vastly different from other preschools in that our classrooms are exclusively outside and allow nature to be a teaching tool in our everyday educational experience,” Manning says. “Children learn and grow in nature. The benefit of this type of education is well documented and immediately obvious in student development.”

Available for children ages 2 to 6, the academy offers a four-hour morning preschool and afternoon drop-in program for ages 3 and older. The classes are centered on learning through play and exploration in nature to develop confidence, communication skills, social skills and so much more. They also host homeschool community classes and events.

Leland NC Indigo Forest Play Outside

Manning is happy to report that Indigo Forest is flourishing with a current enrollment of 35 preschool students and growing. It is a feel-good comeback story for Manning and a group of parents from the now-defunct Puddle Jumpers Preschool.

In late July 2022, Puddle Jumpers Preschool suddenly closed, leaving many parents without a preschool with the nature concept they loved. Manning, who had been offered the job as Puddle Jumpers director about five days before the closure, helped the parents formulate a plan.

“We worked tirelessly around the clock to talk to parents from three different counties to salvage what was left of the community,” says Manning, whose background is a fusion of education and science.

As a former wilderness survival guide for Outward Bound, a STEM educator and director of student life at Florida State University-Florida A&M University College of Engineering, her combination of skills was just right for forming a new nature-based preschool.

Enter Indigo Forest Academy.

Indigo Forest Academy Staff

Indigo Forest wholeheartedly embraces the foundation of family and the support system surrounding each student. Family involvement is encouraged through the school’s garden, chicken coop and other ongoing special events, like family lunches. Parents also can share their expertise by offering classes on couponing, meal prepping and more.

The preschool’s curriculum is structured on a three-pillared foundation of “Head, Heart, and Gut.”

“The Head represents critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills and logical steps,” Manning explains. “The Heart is about understanding the purpose of emotions so students can navigate them in healthy ways. The Gut is about connecting students to instinct, intuition and their own internal navigation system. Head, Heart, and Gut is our framework. North Carolina state standards are our building blocks. We believe it is this approach to education that will best prepare students for the rapidly changing world they will be going into as young adults.”

Indigo Forest Academy Nature

In 2024 Manning is turning her attention to building the foundation of Wild Forest Academy (WFA). Wild Forest will be the kindergarten through 12th-grade sister school to Indigo Forest Academy.

“This school will be wildly different from other schools in that it will offer all the whole-child benefits that come with nature-based play and learning, but it will also include cutting-edge technology education,” Manning says. “It is our goal to make sure that students will get an education that prepares them to thrive in any potential environment, whether it is the board room or the backcountry.”

Wild Forest Academy will create and implement an adaptive/agile curriculum that has a foundation in student-led, nature-based learning and play, community resource leveraging and an advanced technology curriculum with a “tech as a tool” perspective.

“Our students will be perfecting their primitive fire-starting skills, deep diving into art/literary/social studies
projects of their choosing, tending to the farm and fine-tuning the latest tech tool/artificial intelligence applications in the same week,” Manning says.

Indigo Forest Academy Garden

WFA will also work to re-orient the role of schools in society.

“We will aim to turn our school into a community resource center for families and learners from all walks of life,” Manning says.

Think Outside
For more information or to schedule a tour of Indigo Forest Academy or Wild Forest Academy:

Photography by Jim Robertson