The Calyx Community Arts School on Whidbey promotes the concept that children learn better when they are in nature

by Carolyn Tamler 26th November 2018


By Carolyn Tamler


There is growing evidence that spending time in nature supports brain development, as well as supporting physical and mental health. This has been documented in Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods,” and other sources.


The Calyx Community Arts School uses the 347-acre South Whidbey State Park as its campus where the students play and learn.


The school was founded in 2011 by Lisa Kois and Marta Mullholland who recognized the need for a different kind of education, rooted in and connected to the earth and community.



Lisa had been a human rights lawyer in Sri Lanka and had been away from the United States for 13 years when she returned to her family on Whidbey Island. Her grandfather, Cecil Monson, was part of the “Save the Trees” coalition that played a significant role in preserving the old growth forest that is now part of South Whidbey State Park.


She arrived back on the island in 2009 with her then 2-1/2 year old daughter, Aaliyah. Lisa says, “As my daughter got closer to school age, I became increasingly concerned about the priorities in traditional school settings.”


The idea for the Calyx School was collaborative. Many different people came together and talked about the needs of children, communities and the earth. The definition of calyx is a great metaphor for the intention of those who saw the need: “the sepals of a flower, typically forming a whorl that encloses the petals and forms a protective layer around a flower in bud.”


Lisa also notes: “We are working with the children to create a kind, gentle and just community that is connected to the earth and the communities in which we live.”


The Calyx School describes itself as a one-room school house, largely without walls. Students currently are ages 5 to 11, and the school hopes to become a learning source for children beyond 11 in the years ahead.  In the typical six-hour day, 80% of classroom time is spent outdoors. Traditional academic subjects are integrated into each school day. The children also serve as stewards of the park, and help with maintenance at the park by walking the trails, watching for any problems and reporting any concerns to a ranger.


In Washington State compulsory education starts at age eight. Since Calyx is not part of the traditional school system, many parents choose to do home schooling in addition to Calyx. Still others have enrolled their children in the Orcas Island School District’s “Alternative Learning Program.”



In addition to the school year program, Calyx also runs four weeks of summer camp at the Park, which attracts families from all over the world, this year including children from Seattle, Mississippi, China, Burma, and Australia.


Lisa says the parents of the children at Calyx believe they are raising their children to be environmentally aware, socially conscious and appreciative of humanity.


For more information about the Calyx School and its programs, visit the website at: or on Facebook at: You may also contact Maisie Greer at CALYX or call her at 360-331-4811.

Posted by WhidbeyLocal
Monday, 26th November 2018, 01:32pm.
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