When we take good care of all of life, life takes care of us. This fundamental law governs life on this planet, and is at the core of the philosophy of Running River.

The “Law of Reciprocal Maintenance” states that every living thing is either giving or receiving, eating or being eaten. In this balance life is maintained and sustained. We can see how this works clearly in the plant world. Plants receive sunshine, nutrients and carbon dioxide. They give oxygen, food, medicine and shelter. This cyclic dynamic is true for each form of life, and it is the center piece of Running River’s philosophy.

Running River School’s curriculum connects children with the natural world. We weave environmental/earth education into all curricula, returning over and over to our interdependence with the natural world. We hike once a week (the K-1 class hikes twice), visiting Boulder County Open Spaces and Mountain Parks as well as the high mountains. We always begin with EXPERIENCE. The children explore, ask questions, make observations, and play. We also play nature games that awaken the senses and enhance observations of the environment, from the visible phenomena to invisible qualities (such as the strength of trees or the calm of a pond). In the classroom, we discuss our observations, using them as guideposts that deepen our understanding and connection to nature. We are then able to move between nature – with all its diversity, complexity, mystery and wonder – and the classroom.

Some kinds of learning can only take place being in wild places. We observe the centering and calming quality that comes from being in nature, a vital ingredient for the healthy development of the whole child. We spend contemplative time in nature doing silent walks, art, journaling, quiet-time and what we call impressions work. This is the work of learning to receive the qualities housed in different forms, or impressions, of nature.

The Village Phenomenon

Hiking takes place one to two times a week. On each hike, we find time for open play. This is where we discover the village phenomenon. The younger children often play/act hunting, gathering, building, cooking, nesting and protecting. For hours, children play with no input from the adults. Little shelters with cooking areas, utensils, food, bedrooms, clothing, animals, babies, and hunting weapons magically appear. Older children tend to explore, find challenges, create more complex games, or just hang out talking. On some hikes we find all the children immersed in the village play. It is through play – exploring and manipulating the environment – that children merge with nature, coming back to what has been appropriately named “having a sense of place.” In their words: “This is the earth, my home; I am part of it, it is part of me.” This deep and personal connection forges an indivisible feeling of responsibility for nature’s safety and health.