Amber Brown and Madeleine Braden co-founded Barefoot University in Dallas in 2019 to give home-school families a sense of community and their kids a chance to learn outdoors with peers for one day a week as they keep with their home-school curriculum the other days. Enrollment hit 1,564 families in 2022 — a nearly 200% increase from 2021 and over 2,000% from the end of its first year.
Barefoot University is truly one of the most exciting organizations you’ll hear about this year. It is a rapidly expanding network of outdoor education programs that brings families together for weekly nature meetups and theme-based learning activities. Barefoot University was founded in 2019 by our guests today, Madeleine Braden and Amber Brown, who were looking for more ways to connect their kids with nature and bring other like-minded families along. It started with just a handful of families in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas, and has now grown to serve more than 3,000 students nationwide.
Barefoot University follows forest school principles for child-led outdoor exploration, risk play, and nature based skills.
About 25 children ages 5 and up were in the woods at Sugar Hollow Park, learning how to build a shelter.
This year, they have been learning survival skills, like fire making, navigating with a compass, and how to filter water.
Barefoot University encourages kids to figure things out with hands-on activities.
It’s cloudy and blustery, there’s no sunshine at Lake Crook on this early Monday afternoon, but as cars and SUVs begin arriving with parents and kids there’s no disappointment that the lesson for today won’t be learning to read sundials and tell time with hands. Without any problem the entire project is switched to a cloudy day learning experience, surveying with string and sticks.
“I was sick of my children getting in trouble just for being kids,” says Amber Brown, co‐founder of Barefoot University. “In 2019, I reached out to a Facebook group for moms and asked if anyone wanted to start a forest school. Madeleine Braden, a fellow mom who is also a gardener, said she did. The rest is history.”
And what a history it is! From two moms meeting at a park with their kids and wondering if anyone would show up, Barefoot University now has 16 chapters spread across three states.
When a roly poly crawled up her daughter’s arm and the 10-year-old didn’t flinch, Robin Bird knew she had made the right decision a year ago.
Bird’s daughter was never an “outdoor” child. Splashing in mud, swinging on a rope, or encountering bugs were never on her radar.
Back in 2018, a mom named Amber Brown posted an innocent question on Facebook: “Does anyone want to start a forest school?” A fellow mom named Madeleine Braden replied, and said she did. She didn’t know Brown personally, only that Brown had liked some of the gardening tips she’d posted on the platform. But that was enough. The two Dallas-area parents met up and made a commitment to launch Barefoot University as a nature-based homeschool co-op.
Amber and Madeleine were two homeschool moms who were looking for community to walk alongside of them n their kids’ zeal for nature while homeschooling, parenting, and life.
On March 26, 2020—two weeks after schools around the country were shuttered and suddenly almost everyone was receiving education at home—Cato convened an expert panel to give advice and answer questions about homeschooling. It is unlikely anyone who participated in that discussion expected we would still be dealing with school closures two years later.
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