“Technology has stolen a lot of connectivity with nature from our children in the last 20 years,” said Chloe Casselberry, “The impact of that is it really hinders imagination.”
Chloe and her husband Todd are on a mission to help youngsters who don’t live amongst the wildlife, regain their connection with it.
“I grew up on a farm in Kansas, but I’ve met so many kids who are terrified of a baby chick,” explained Chloe. “So I asked myself ‘How can I help kids become more confident with nature?’”
“We want to build that connection with the living world – to help youngsters learn new skills which excite and inspire, provide an educational experience which teaches young people about their local ecology, and all in an outdoor experience, with fun and games,” added Todd.
To achieve their goal, Chloe and Todd moved to Northwest Florida in 2019.
“We sold our business in Hawaii making Lemonade, Raw Smoothies, and Açai Bowls,” Todd said. “We had grown it from a stand at a local farmers’ market to food trucks, stores, and then franchising.”
The couple moved to Austin, Texas, where they encountered Earth Native, a Wilderness School.
“We were home-schooling our kids and Gracie, our eldest, attended Earth Native once a week,” recalled Todd. “It was the highlight of her school week, so when we thought about relocating to 30A, we looked for something similar here.”
Without any success, Chloe began wondering: ‘What if we built it ourselves?’
“When I explained to people what we were considering they would say ‘Oh, I love that idea!’ and their kids especially would be: “I want to go there, I want to do that’”.
That was all the motivation the couple needed and this Spring they welcomed guests to their first WildLife30A Nature Adventure Day along Florida’s Emerald Coast.
“The inaugural one was called “Mapping – A Dune Lake Exploration” Chloe recounted. “We have an agreement with Grayton Beach State Park and TopSail Hill Preserve to explore their forests and dune lakes. Our days are about 6-hours, and we have a unique approach to teaching kids through fun and games.
“Before books and writing, storytelling, play, and games were how humans learned for millennia. It is an ideal way to connect and build a lifelong engagement with nature. This primary way humans learn through hands-on activities develops sensory skills, empathy, compassion, 3-D visualization, and perception, and fuels imagination and creativity,” explained Todd.
Todd and Chloe also recognize what an awesome resource they have in the local state parks and forests.
“The State Parks are fantastic. We work closely with the Park Services” said Todd. “They host our adventures, we liaise with the Rangers, have a base there, and are in constant contact with them for safety protocols.”
“We give parents our phone numbers, and the Rangers know exactly where we are at any given time,” added Chloe.
The couple also offers a Home School Enrichment Program, similar to what their daughter experienced in Austin.
This provides a more in-depth exploration of a series of different subjects and topics but with the same ethos of learning through hands-on fun and experiences. It also involves bringing in experts like park rangers and local historians and conservation groups.
The couple also offer insights into a range of wilderness skills and bush-crafting which bring kids closer to nature.
“We show how, with just a little imagination, there are endless ways you can create with what nature gives you,” said Todd.
With only a handful of sticks, kids can create water filtration systems, basic shelters, fires, or a backpack frame.”
“We explore camouflage and how animals and wildlife use it to protect themselves in nature,” said Chloe. “Through games, we learn to be stealthy and move silently and undetected through the forest. The kids quickly understand if they are acting wild and crazy, then the animals won’t be there for them. By blending in with nature, becoming deeply aware, observing creatures close enough to become awestruck, we can get more out of our experience – that’s a really valuable lesson.”
The couple is now offering a range of one-day nature adventures focused on tracking, mapping, edible plants and potions, water purification, camouflage, building shelters, bugs, and treasure hunts.
These adventures will appeal to local parents looking for fun ways to keep their kids amused during the long school holidays, as much as to visitors looking for something different to do beyond the beach during their vacation.
Details can be found on the website. Groups are limited to about a dozen, ages between 6 and 12.
“We want to ensure quality and create the magic,” said Chloe. “Our goal is to see kids with a sparkle in their eye, aware of their surroundings.”
And what is it about the local 30A wildlife that inspires Chloe?
“I really love the diversity of birds here,” she mused. “The sanderling is probably my favorite. The ground-nesting shorebirds: sandpipers, plover, and tern, all raise their offspring in these sand dunes. I’m inspired by their courage. They share this habit with us and I’m thankful the dunes are being preserved for their future; they really make Florida’s coast special.
“But then there are the plentiful Woodpeckers, Cardinals, and Robins in the woods and forests – they sing to you every day – how can you not love them too?” she signed off.