Taproot Nature Experience Deepens Children’s Connection to the Natural World

Children in the Taproot Nature Experience discover shells on a beach in the Iowa City area. Photo: Courtesy Taproot Nature Experience

Taproot Nature Experience was founded on the simple idea that kids need to have time outdoors.

Launched in September 2007 by Zac Wedemeyer and his wife, Elesa, this Iowa City-based company has several different programs that connect children with nature: an after-school program; a summer camp; and Sprouts, a program for pre-school-aged children.

Wedemeyer says that kids used to be allowed to go outside more, but now parents are afraid to let their children out of the house alone. As a former elementary-school teacher, he saw firsthand how little time kids spend in nature and how much time they spend watching television and playing video games.

Outdoor Benefits

When he realized he loved to teach but didn’t love being inside, Wedemeyer quit his teaching job. He believes being in nature is essential for many different reasons: “It’s good for people’s emotions,” he explains. “We are part of nature as biological, living things. It’s programmed into our beings to be a part of nature.”

Being outside in nature is an important part of a child's learning. Photo: Courtesy Taproot Nature Experience

There are bodily benefits to reap as well, he says. “When we’re not connected to nature, there are emotional and physical difficulties that come up. People are just healthier when they are a part of nature.”

But what are the benefits for children? According to Wedemeyer, spending time outdoors at an early age molds children into adults who care about the world around them. “[Being outdoors as children] will make it automatic that, when they’re older, they’ll think about the earth and the consequences of their decisions to the earth,” he explains.

He also believes that these children will grow up to become more peaceful people when they’re adults. As a result, Wedemeyer says, the earth will be better off: Peaceful people are less likely to get into conflicts.

In the last three years, Taproot Nature Experience has grown considerably. Originally, it was just an after school program with six kids a day and Wedemeyer as the only teacher. Now there are 12-15 kids a day, two teachers, five part-time employees, and more programs.

Taproot also has its own 80-acre farm located 30 miles west of Iowa City. The ten-year goal is to have a farm that can supply 40 families a year with food. Two years in, Wedemeyer says they are still on track to complete the goal.

Asked what prompted this venture, Wedemeyer explains that his immense love of nature started when he was a kid himself. “I moved around a lot,” he says. “I lived in 12 houses in four states before I was 10. I would always look for natural spaces to go in these new places.”

Events for the Entire Family

Although Taproot Nature Experience is primarily focused on opportunities for children to get outdoors, the Wedemeyers also offer events designed exclusively for adults as well as events for families.

The group offers a variety of adult workshops throughout the year. Topics have included Bread and Bagel Making and Baking; Canning and Preserving; Compost Bin Making and Composting; and several more. Alternative Heating and Cooling.

Upcoming family adventures include a free New Year’s Eve Party and Potluck, followed by a sleepover for children ($60/child).

Exploring the Community

Outdoor experiences are essential for children to learn about the natural world. Photo: Courtesy Taproot Nature Experience

Drive around the Iowa City area on any given day, and the Taproot van is likely to cross your field of vision.

Children who participate in the Taproot Nature Experience have the opportunity to explore not only popular recreation areas like Hickory Hill Park and the Woodpecker Nature Trail, they also are introduced to other, less-commonly visited wonders.

The list of places participating children visit is impressive, including: Scattergood Friends School and Farm, Harvest Farm and Preserve, the University of Iowa Greenhouse Facility, Hawkins Road Savanna, and Turkey Creek Preserve, among many others.

The children also visit local farmers, Wilson’s Apple Orchard, Sand Road Orchard, and Waterworks Park.

Find Out More

For more information, or to register for an upcoming event, email info@TaprootNatureExperience.org or call 319.325.0695.

Or visit their website at TaprootNatureExperience.org.

Brigette Fanning

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)