By Yvette Tan
Photos from Weekend Wild Child 

There is a growing concern about kids—and even their parents—being disconnected from nature. This can rage from being scared of getting themselves dirty to outright not knowing that the food they eat comes from plants and animals in the farm.

Weekend Wild Child (WWC) is a ‘wild school,’ a weekend-long camping trips aimed to immerse the family in nature in an interesting and friendly way. The program was started by farmer couple Laila Pornel and her husband Gio Espital. “Weekend Wild Child started out as a family affair. We wanted to teach Nayon what is true, beautiful, and good in the world,” Pornel says. “We asked ourselves, what do we want Nayon to see when he grows up? When he was a baby, we brought him to rivers and waterfalls, so all his sensory activities were rooted in nature.”

Nurture in nature

At that time, the couple were based in Bangkong Kahoy Valley Nature Retreat and Field Study Center in Dolores, Quezon where they were engaged in community organization (both Laila and Gio were community organizers for livelihood and governance). Friends noticed the excursions through stories or social media and asked if their kids could tag along. “Suddenly, more and more families were joining us. I couldn’t manage a whole bunch of kids–preparing the food, preparing the activities, and looking after their safety– so I asked the parents to join us, see how it works, then apply it to their family. They said okay, we’ll try it,” Pornel says. 

Weekend Wild Child encourages both the parents and their children to experience the great outdoors.

WWC opened to the public in 2017, with 10 families comprising the first batch. The ‘curriculum’ was–and still is–unstructured, “because more than teaching children, we are teaching the parents how to co-parent with nature.”

It’s not so much teaching as in ‘this is a leaf, this is a flower,’ but more about letting kids experience nature on their own terms in a large but secure area. “We let the kids roam and feel nature, assessing the risks and challenges on their own,” Pornel says.

The very act of letting kids explore on their own (even if they’re within eyesight) can be anxiety-inducing for a lot of parents, much to their surprise. “We tell parents that this will teach them to be calm in these situations because the kids might have mud on them,” Pornel says. “Overprotective parents will panic in these situations, but they can try to be cam, and to share their calmness to their child so that the child can decide what they can or can’t do, even if they’re still in their early years.”

Helping kids discover themselves

The program has expanded to include art activities and woodland crafts. “Everything that we create is from whatever we see outdoors,” Pornel says. “We teach songs, movements, and we follow rhythm, breathing in and breathing out, activities that will make parents exert energy out of their kids and also teach kids how to replenish their energy.”

She expounds, “Usually, in the city, we just let the kids go to the mall or play games on the phone or gadgets. They can’t explore or exert energy. Here, we teach parents how to guide their kids in exploring their capabilities… We help parents to sync with their kids.”

Numerous studies have shown the positive link between nature and human emotion. The Japanese recommended shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, to ease one’s body, mind, and soul. Though no studies have been conducted yet (though there are plans), it seems that going on WWC camps have had a profound effect in the participants. 

“I think there’s been a big difference in terms of emotional management of the kids,” Pornel says. “We had kid who hit other kids, so her mom was afraid to bring her. I said let’s try it out, because we’re non-judgemental and parents understand what other parents are going through. When the child got to the camp, she didn’t hit at all. We wanted to find out why. It turns out that the child needed bigger space. She said that she lives in a condo, so space is limited, and the child always pushed people to give her space. When she got to the camp, there was so much space she never thought of hitting or pushing other people.” 

The activities involve hands-on experiences that allows children and parents to bond.

She has a lot of stories about the calming effect of nature on children: kids who yell a lot in city don’t raise their voices while at camp, a hyperactive child who teachers had a hard time controlling didn’t show signs of hyperactivity at WWC. “There’s a neurological effect on kids and adults because you follow a certain rhythm when you’re in nature,” Pornel says. “We want formally study this since there isn’t any research on it in the Philippines yet.”

But that won’t be for a while yet, since for now, WWC isn’t measuring for effectiveness, but focusing on experience.

The family that camps together stays together

Weekend Wild Child hopes to accomplish three things: First, that the family connect with each other. “Connecting with nature helps the harmony in the family,” Pornel says. “When we’re camping, we’re out with nature, we don’t use gadgets–you can’t even bring books or toys.You have to focus and be present with what’s going on inside the camp or with nature… The family can now see eye to eye without distraction, so connecting with nature and connecting with each other helps the relationship of the family.”

Two, is to instill a love for nature within the child. “You cannot love what you don’t know,” Pornel says. “So if you want the future to care for our world, we have to let them love nature so in turn, they can protect it. If nature gives you happy childhood experiences, you will help protect it. That’s our long-term goal.”

And third, the creation of a non-judgmental community for families and kids who may be going through behavioral challenges, or who may be tired from or unable to keep up with whatever unreasonable standards society has set. “We opened the community to let them be in that space,” Pornel says.

Weekend Wild Child holds big camps once a month with pocket activities in between. To learn about their summer activities, contact them at https://www.facebook.com/weekendwildchild/