About Little River Outdoor School
Little River Outdoor School is a licensed outdoor elementary school and preschool (also known as a forest school) based in Floyd County, Virginia. We were founded in 2020 by Amanda Lawson, who has over a decade of experience working with young children and developing early childhood education programs. Our school is part of the worldwide forest school movement that has been growing in popularity for decades thanks to the many benefits of this type of education for early childhood development.
We are located on over 100 acres of beautiful land about ten miles north of the town of Floyd. Our property includes quiet forests, hills, streams, and even a fishing pond, giving our students access to everything they need to experience all that nature has to teach them.
Our curriculum is hands-on and nature-based. We spend our days doing math lessons in the forest, studying creatures at the pond and journaling at the creek. Lessons are tied directly to what students are experiencing in the real world-- we may do math by multiplying how many acorns we can find, or science by studying the salamanders we see. We firmly believe “If it hasn't been in the hand and the heart, it can’t be in the brain” (Bev Bos). Click here to learn more about our curriculum.
Like most forest schools, we spend 100% of our days outdoors and fully immersed in nature, regardless of weather. While this might sound strange at first to people who aren’t familiar with the concept, this model of early childhood education has actually been used for decades and is even a standard part of the curriculum in many countries around the world.
The benefits of forest schools have been well-document by research, but we don’t need an academic research paper to know that our method works. We can see it working every day as our students, who might ordinarily be overlooked or left behind in a traditional classroom, develop the necessary skills, confidence, and enthusiasm for learning that will serve them throughout their education.
Amanda Lawson, Founder of Little River Outdoor School
Amanda Lawson, the founder of Little River Outdoor School, has decades of experience working with children and developing early childhood education programs. She opened her first licensed childcare center in Oregon in 2001, which was filled to capacity the day it opened.
Years later, after moving to Vashon, Washington, she opened the only licensed childcare center in the area. As the director of that center, she created an Early Childhood Development Center with a focus on connecting the program to the outdoors.
In 2019, Amanda and her husband decided that the high cost of living in Vashon wasn’t for them, and decided to embark on a search for a new home. After months of traveling including stops in Missouri, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina, they ended up selecting Floyd County, Virginia thanks to the perfect combination of beautiful scenery, friendly people, and affordable cost of living. Shortly after settling in, Amanda decided to open the outdoor school in order to give both her own children and children in the area access to the method of education she had seen work so well in the northwest, where forest schools are more common.
Amanda has a long history of becoming involved in the communities where she lives and working to improve them. Aside from the two childcare facilities she as founded, she also spent time volunteering for the local Women’s Shelter near where she lived in Oregon. She secured enough food to feed all of the women and children at the shelter and convinced the local hardware store to donate a new washer and dryer so the women could safely do laundry without the dangers of venturing out to a laundry mat. She also found a Honda dealership that was willing to donate a brand new minivan to transport woman and children at the shelter.
Amanda is originally from Texas, but her adventurous spirit led her to drive to Oregon in her mid-twenties. She ended up staying for 15 years after meeting her husband. That same adventurous spirit has now led both of them to Floyd, and the founding of Little River Outdoor School.
About Isabelle Porter, Lead Teacher at the Little River Outdoor School
Isabelle Porter, the lead teacher at the Little River Outdoor School, has over ten years of experience as a teacher. After completing her college degree in early childhood education with an emphasis on instructing special needs children, she served as the program supervisor at an early learning center before founding an outdoor nonprofit preschool in Washington state.
She also has experience working in the public school setting in a kindergarten classroom. In fact, it was her time working in a kindergarten classroom in public school that made her realize that she didn’t want to pursue a career path in public education. She saw that the traditional education system just didn’t allow for students to express their individuality, and that the emphasis was more on following school rules that were designed to make things easier for adults but weren’t meeting the needs of the children.
It was this belief that there had to be a better way that led her to open her first forest school in Washington and then to accept Amanda’s invitation to relocate to Floyd in order to help her open the Little River Outdoor School. She believes forest schools give children the opportunity to be themselves, go at their own pace, and learn about what they are interested in.
She very much enjoys the one-on-one connection she is able to establish with her students thanks to the small class sizes. Isabelle is ideally suited for teaching at an outdoor school, having been raised on a sailboat as a child. Her mom founded and ran a nonprofit in Mexico that delivered school supplies and taught classes in water-access only communities.
Isabelle also lived in Peru for a time and volunteered in an outdoor school for children dealing with poverty. Working with children and being outdoors has always been a part of her life, and she looks forward to contributing to the success of the Little River Outdoor School.