Feather and Frond Forest School is dedicated to offering educational nature immersion experiences that cultivate deep connections to nature, community and self.
We offer year-round entirely outdoor wilderness programs for children in the greater Bellingham, WA area.
We envision a world where:
• Humans coexist harmoniously with nature and with each other.
• There is a profound respect for, appreciation of, and connection to the natural world.
• Each individual fully embodies the unique gifts and talents that they bring to the world.
"The Book of Nature has no beginning and no end” -Jim Corbett
At Feather and Frond Forest School, nature is our curriculum! As the above quote by the great naturalist Jim Corbett illustrates, the study of nature is infinite. To quantify and categorize all of nature’s beautiful intricacies would be an impossible task. Each and every interaction that we have with the natural world has the potential to bring to light new discoveries, new relationships, new mysteries and new connections. The complex and beautifully woven tapestry that is the natural world has an incredible capacity to fascinate, perplex, and intrigue the human species. An individual could dedicate their entire lives to the study of just one singular thread of this tapestry, and seemingly never run out of new learnings. And for this, we feel incredibly grateful and humble!
The "Book of Nature" with which we most resonate, and that provides the foundation and framework of our teachings at Feather and Frond Forest School is drawn from the work of Jon Young, co-founder of Wilderness Awareness School. In his book Coyote’s Guide to Connecting With Nature, which he co-wrote with Ellen Haas and Evan McGown, the "Book of Nature" is placed into 8 Chapters or “Shields” and placed in their natural orientation around a medicine wheel. Our instructors have been trained in this approach and have witnessed incredible transformations in our own nature connection and that of our students when using this model as a guide. For much more detailed information on this approach, please check out Coyote’s Guide and/or 8shields.com
The 8 Shields:
Birds: The Messengers of the Wilderness [NE]
Hazards: A Call to be Alert and Use Common Sense [E]
Motivating Species: Things to Catch, Eat, Climb and Tend [SE]
Mammals: And Other Hard to See, Yet Totally Track-able Critters [S]
Plants: Nature’s Grocery Store and Medicine Cabinet [SW]
Ecological Indicators: How it All Works Together [W]
Heritage Species: Wisdom of the Ancestors [NW]
Trees: Tools of Human Survival [N]
Melissa Esposito Fallon has been mentoring children in nature since 2004. After spending a couple of years teaching environmental education on the east coast, she craved a deeper, more intuitive understanding and connection to the natural world.
Her path led her to the Wilderness Awareness School, where she enrolled in the Anake Outdoor School, a nine-month immersion in the realms of nature, community and self. This proved to be an incredibly life-changing and transformative experience. Melissa continued her studies at the Wilderness Awareness School as a student of the Anake Leadership Program, where she was trained to mentor students ages 4-9 in nature connection.
Afterwards, she spent several years as a contract program instructor for WAS, teaching for their monthly programs, after school programs, and summer camps. She also spent two years as a lead teacher for the Vashon Wilderness Program's Wind Gatherers Nature Preschool. Melissa is a graduate of the LifeWays Early Childhood Certificate Program which is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf philosophy.
Most recently, she was able to immerse herself in the Enki educational philosophy as a teaching assistant at Applesong in Lyons, CO. Melissa believes that holding space for connection to nature, community, and self is the most important thing we can do right now to cultivate the health and well-being of our planet and present and future generations.
When she is not hiding in the bushes and making faerie houses with children, you can find her dancing to live music, getting crafty, foraging, learning to play fiddle and mandolin, and bird-watching with her beloved husband Patrick.
Patrick Fallon grew up in Southern NJ on the rural/suburban border with ample woods to run and play, catch toads and climb trees -- this set the foundation for a lifelong love of the outdoors!
Pat is a lover of the natural world and is always ready to share this passion with others. (He is that weirdo that points out hawks to strangers whether they care or not) Some years and another lifetime ago this passion led him to leave his computer job, move to Cascadia and dedicate his life to connecting people with nature along with his partner (and wife), Melissa.
He received extensive training in nature awareness and mentoring at the Wilderness Awareness School's Anake Outdoor School program. The two year immersion helped him gain a deeper awareness and connection to nature, community, and self, and during the second year at the Anake Leadership Program, Pat was immersed in the skills of nature mentoring, working as an apprentice for two separate weekly homeschool nature programs for children: Roots and Wings (4-6yrs) and Foxes (7-9yrs).
Since then he has instructed in numerous programs with WAS, taught at a farm preschool and was a lead mentor at the Fire Tenders program at Vashon Wilderness Program and at Feet on the Earth (Boulder, CO) before running programs with Melissa as Feather & Frond.
Patrick’s playful and exuberant personality and love of the little things translate perfectly to working with children. Wherever Pat goes, he always has an eye out for the birds and an ear listening for music in the trees.
What Makes Feather & Frond Forest School Unique?
We are so grateful that there are so many fantastic programs that connect children with nature in our area! We wish for as many people as possible to connect with the natural world and we encourage you to check out all of your options and see what works best for you and your family!
Now, with so many great choices for your family, why should you choose Feather and Frond Forest School?
- Year-Round Programs: Our Forest Kindergarten and Homeschool Enrichment Programs run weekly for the entire school year, not just seasonally. We believe that there is much value in interacting with the same natural area over the course of many months and witnessing it shift throughout the seasons. This allows for a true nurturing of the relationships between each student and that particular landscape. Similarly, we feel as though the deep bonds that form amongst students that share in the learning and growing experience throughout an entire school-year are truly wonderful and very beneficial to their social and emotional growth and inter-personal skills.
- Deep Nature Connection: We offer deep nature immersion. Beyond simply learning about the environment from a book, we encourage our students to experience the world around them with all of their senses. We get dirty, hide beneath ferns, smell Douglas Fir resin, taste wild berries and listen to the language of the birds. These deeply embodied sensory connections with nature are incredibly beneficial to health and well-being of all humans, regardless of age.
- Earth Skills: We mentor children in real earth-based skills. Based on age and interest, our students engage in earth-based skills ranging from wild edible and medicinal plant ID to safe carving with knives, primitive fire-making, cordage-making, basketry and more!
- Mixed Gender: Although we may occasionally have opportunities where we divide into smaller gender-specific groups, we feel that there is much value in all gender identities learning with and from each other in a community setting.
- Coyote Mentoring / 8 Shields Model: We use both “Coyote Mentoring” and “The Eight Shields Model” in our programs. Learn more about our Philosophy & Learning Culture and our Curriculum.
- Long-term Mentoring: The magic of Coyote Mentoring unfolds beautifully and most effectively with long-term mentoring of students. Children who are involved in this type of immersive learning over the course of several months and/or years experience tremendous individual growth and deeper connections with their mentors and the learning community.
“Education isn’t the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”
The above words, written by the late poet William Butler Yeats, suggests a philosophy of education with which our instructors deeply resonate.
At Feather and Frond Forest School, our instructors help fuel the “fire" that burns amongst each student through a creative mentoring approach known as “Coyote Mentoring”. This teaching method was developed by Jon Young and Wilderness Awareness School.
Using Coyote Mentoring, we meet students where they are at. We observe each child’s awareness and skills, their passions, their gifts, and their edges. We hold space for our students to learn, grow, and stretch into their edges by asking them questions that prompt deeper observation, awaken a sense of wonder, and draw out their innate wisdom. We aim to inspire a slowing down and a deeper listening to the wisdom and the magic that nature has to offer us. We model the use of our senses to deepen our interactions with the natural world, and we encourage our students to do so as well.
We aim to empower our students on their learning journey by sharing with them the tools to observe and examine nature more deeply so that they can come to their own conclusions about the natural world. We encourage our students to look to field guides to deepen their understanding of nature and share their reflections with their community as a means of integrating the learning experience.
We share stories that teach lessons, offer wisdom, and inspire curiosity. Most of all, we have lots and lots of fun with our students! We facilitate nature awareness games and activities that not only tap into children’s passions, but also provide opportunity for them to actively engage in their environment and sharpen their skills in the process.
The Learning Culture
We strive to create a nature-based learning culture where our mentors engage in projects using materials that have been mindfully harvested from the land. Combining our visionary skills with our own two hands to create arts and crafts, tools, structures, fire, clothing, food and medicine, etc. from nature is a means of engaging in primitive technologies similar to those that our ancestors used for thousands of years. This earth-centered learning environment offers a stark contrast to modern society’s technologically-immersed culture.
Creating nature-inspired projects from beginning to completion by our mentors is such a powerful demonstration of the human capacity for creativity and willful expression, which plays an important role in early learning and beyond. When children witness adults interacting with nature in these ways, they become curious and engaged. Seeds of inspiration are planted. Our mentors then help nurture these seeds by directly and intentionally facilitating earth-based projects for students to complete themselves. These projects may vary based on interest, skill level, local ecology and seasonality.
We believe that this nature-based cultural mentoring approach leads to deep embodied learning and the formation of lifelong connections amongst the entire community of mentors, students, and the natural world.
If you have questions about any of our policies and procedures, please ask!
Cancellation & Refund Policy
Registration fees are non-refundable.
For long-term programs such as Fox Walkers Forest Kindergarten or Fire Keepers Homeschool Enrichment Program:
● If you decide to take your child out of the program for whatever reason, a 30-day written notice is required. You’re responsible to pay tuition for those 30 days whether or not your child continues to come to class during that time.
● Once a payment plan is agreed upon, it is challenging to make adjustments or accept late payments. We have a seven day grace period, including the due date. After this grace period, there is a $25 charge for late tuition payments.
● Should your payment extend 20 days past due, Feather and Frond reserves the right to ask that your child not attend any classes until payment is made.
● Payment must be made, or a plan to pay must be worked out, within 30 days of payment due date or Feather and Frond reserves the right to “de-enroll” your child from the program.
For short-term programs such as Summer Camp:
If you need to cancel once registered in a program:
- Cancellations made 30 days or more prior to the program start date will receive a full refund
- Cancellations made between 29 days and 8 days prior to the program start date, will be refunded at 50% of the program fee
- Cancellations less than a 8 days prior to the program start date will not be refunded.
*** The reason for these policies is to keep Feather and Frond Forest School fiscally sound. There is much prep work (including time, resources, and staffing) that goes into running a program and it is generally based on an accurate count of registered participants. If you cancel, especially in the week before a program, we have no way to recover the costs of those losses.
We understand unforeseen circumstances may cause people to change their plans at the last minute. If this situation has arisen, please get in touch with us ASAP to discuss any available options. Sometimes there is a waitlist for a program, and someone can pay to fill your slot. Other times you may be able to find a person willing to attend in your place!
Weather Cancellation Policy
We typically follow Bellingham Public School’s lead with regard to weather-related cancelations. If public school is canceled, our program day will most likely be canceled as well. If schools are delayed, we are likely to delay as well and we may even cancel. If there is a need to cancel a program day when public schools have not closed (due to extreme weather, etc.), each family will be called by 8:00 a.m. While we intend to be out in most weather conditions, we certainly don’t want to put your safety at risk when roads are bad.
In the case of a canceled day/s, we will try our best to reschedule at least ONE make-up day.
Low-enrollment Cancellation Policy
If a program is cancelled due to low enrollment, we assume full responsibility and your tuition will be fully refundable or transferable to a future program. This is the only instance where your deposit would also be fully refunded.
We are an entirely outdoor school and we operate in all weather conditions. Being in the Pacific NW, we can plan on getting wet at some point. Even on a clear and sunny day, the ground is often saturated with moisture during the majority of the year. It is imperative that your child is dressed for comfort in wet conditions, as we spend much of our time making direct physical contact with nature and the elements. You can expect your child to be sitting directly on the earth, splashing in puddles, hiding in bushes and playing with mud.
To ensure the safety and happiness of the entire learning community, please outfit your child according to our recommended gear list. We strongly discourage dressing your child in cotton during the wet winter months (as it does not wick away moisture - nor is it very effective as an insulating layer) and we require all children to be equipped with waterproof clothing and footwear.
If we feel as though your child is inadequately dressed for the weather conditions and does not have the appropriate clothing with them in their backpack, we reserve the right to contact the adult that is responsible for them and request that they immediately bring adequate gear. A failure to dress appropriately for the weather is not only a safety risk, but can have a negative impact on the well-being of the entire group's learning experience.
Late Pick-Up Policy
Sometimes late pick-ups are unavoidable – life happens. However, please keep in mind that late pick-ups can be stressful for children. Please contact a Mentor on their field phone if you are going to be late.
Late Pick-Up Fee: Families who establish a habitual pattern of late pick‐ups may be subject to late fees and will be notified in advance. Fee is $5.00 if you are more than 15 minutes late.
We are currently operating as an LLC with the intention of shifting into a nonprofit in the near future and we intend to create a scholarship fund at that time. We feel strongly about making this kind of program affordable to families of all income levels and we look forward to offering scholarship assistance for those who need it.
Please check back with us or sign up for our mailing list to be kept up-to-date!
Feather and Frond Forest School welcomes and accepts children of any race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or cultural background.
“A terrific outdoor program that will foster a life-long love of Nature”
My daughter loved her experience at Melissa and Patrick's after-school nature camp. The curriculum and activities were exciting, entertaining and educational while also age appropriate. Melissa and Patrick beautifully walked the line of being nurturing and friendly, but made sure that the kids stayed safe and respectful of the environment and each other -- not always an easy task in a space filled with sticks and mud puddles. Add to that the couples' tremendous knowledge of Northwest plants and critters, and you've got a terrific outdoor program that will foster a life-long love of nature.
— Lisa S., Seattle Mom to Lucinda
“I love the unique combination of high energy play with calm and patient demeanor”
I am thrilled to know that Melissa and Pat are running their own Nature school. My family has been lucky enough to have experienced their amazing talents in connecting with kids and inspiring nature curiosity for a few years now. I love the unique combination of high energy play with calm and patient demeanor that they bring to engage with the children. They are also mavens of nature with much knowledge and know-how to share. Simply love them!
— Dora D., Bellingham
"Patrick and Melissa are two of the most nurturing and competent educators I have ever observed and, by far, my son's most beloved teachers to date - a precious gift to any child in their circle of influence. They mentor and teach using a beautiful toolbox of songs, stories, and primitive skills. What an inspiring example of deep reverence and connection with nature!"
- Yasmin, Seattle parent
“Energetic, loving, and always happy to get down in the dirt”
"Melissa and Pat are energetic, loving, and always happy to get down in the dirt with their students. Even though they mentored our kids more than a year ago, our kids still talk about how much they loved working with them!"
— Nic W & Kristen T., Vashon Island
“Nurturing, patient and knowledgeable”
Melissa and Pat are nurturing, patient and knowledgeable. They guided the children but allowed them to self-explore and come to the correct conclusions on their own. They are a treasure."
— Stacey B., Seattle
“They both have a way of expressing their passion for nature and wildlife that is mesmerizing for kids”
Patrick and Melissa have consistently shown tremendous patience, enthusiasm, and love for both of my kids. They both have a way of expressing their passion for nature and wildlife that is mesmerizing for kids. After a day in the forest, my children come home able to identify plants as well as scat! They would rattle off information about animal sounds, habitats, and the environmental impact of humans. My children were encouraged to tackle obstacles, that they still talk about today with pride. They talk to the kids in a manner that is appropriate for their age and more importantly, respectful of who they are. They got my kids to be their best selves with each other by showing their own compassion and love for them. Patrick and Melissa will not only enrich your kids’ lives, but yours as well.
— Rebecca B., Seattle