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Kick Off Your Shoes: Lake Yahou Park Chosen as Forest School for New Barefoot University Chapter

Lake Yahou Park has been tapped as the designated "Forest School" for the upcoming academic year of the Anniston, Alabama chapter of Barefoot University (BU), a country-wide outdoor education initiative designed to connect homeschool students to nature and each other.

Katlyen Helton and Laura Chenoweth (pictured together left), local moms who chose the homeschool path for their children, are leading this new chapter of the hands-on program, hoping to bring the benefits of outdoor student-led learning to other homeschooling families in the area.

"As parents, we feel like children are being hindered by too much access to technology at too young of an age and many are not able to experience and appreciate nature in a way that’s developmentally appropriate," said Helton. "We hope that by providing this new group to others, we are helping foster a sense of wonderment, independence, and appreciation we see in our own children when we get them outside in nature."

Barefoot University was initially started in 2019 by Amber Brown and Madeleine Braden, who sought an outdoor alternative to their children's learning. The program has since expanded to over 20 states. This Anniston initiative joins other Alabama Barefoot University chapters in Gadsden, Jasper, Tuscaloosa, and Springville.

When scouting locations for their BU Forest School, Helton and Chenoweth prioritized finding a site deeply immersed in nature while remaining accessible to as many families in the area as possible. Tucked away in the woods with convenient highway access, McClellan's Lake Yahou Park emerged as the perfect setting for their curriculum.

Helton explained that by choosing Lake Yahou Park, she and Chenoweth "hope to provide a top-notch nature experience for Barefoot University students," citing the lake's natural beauty and access to the McClellan trail system as additional factors in their decision.

*Photos from the Barefoot University interest meeting on May 15, 2024

Although the final curriculum is not yet set for this Anniston chapter, Barefoot University is structured into different yearly "rhythms" with activities corresponding to each theme.

Rhythm Earth focuses on geology, botany, zoology, foraging, earth sciences, minerals, fossils, and soil studies; Rhythm Fire explores survival skills, first aid, orienteering, outdoor safety, self-reliance, and physical skills; Rhythm Water covers physics, marine life, reptiles & amphibians, water habitats, rain, erosion, and movement; and Rhythm Sky delves into astronomy, meteorology, environmental and space sciences, winged life, and flight.

The program also aims to develop children in four key areas: cognitive, emotional, physical, and social.

Although students are not separated by age, each age group's learning insights generally build upon the foundation of the previous. Ages 5-8 focus on exploration and observation; ages 9-13 on analysis and navigation; and ages 18+ on application and independence.

Julie Moss, Executive Director of the McClellan Development Authority, said, "Barefoot University is a very unique program for our area, and we’re thrilled the chapter leaders chose Lake Yahou Park for their Forest School this fall. We hope our beautiful lake and park will foster a love of nature and sense of adventure in Barefoot University students."

The Lake Yahou Park Forest School plans to meet every Wednesday at 9 a.m. beginning in September. The deadline for families to enroll in Barefoot University is June 30, 2024. If interested, contact Katlyen Helton at

To learn more about Barefoot University, you can visit their Facebook page or website.


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