Manzanita School, situated on 21-acres in beautiful Topanga Canyon, is a unique environment for learning and growth. The strong pedagogical movement, “place-based education,” has illuminated the importance of connecting our schooling to the local environment. We know that content abstracted into textbooks has very little reach into the hearts of young people. Students find relevance when the surrounding ‘place’ is explored, studied, and known. For those who feel imbedded in the local, connecting to ‘place’ becomes a lifelong passion. Manzanita School sits at the foot of wild chaparral, a doorway into nature’s most complex science lab. The campus is also a rich historical landscape, an artist’s studio, a naturalist’s field guide, and a geologist’s dream. The huge rock faces overlooking our school elicit a sense of wonder at the magnificent possibilities of life and learning. At Manzanita, students experience a deep connection to nature and place, supported by a uniquely rugged and breathtaking local terrain.



Adolescence is a complex developmental period. Youth crave momentous events, and in the absence of engaging mentors, they will often create such events through risk behavior. Youth, poised at the threshold of adult life, are filled with deep questions about inherent purpose, direction, interpersonal effectiveness, and the meaning of life. That questioning and wonder can be nurtured by adults who model connection, purpose, and sense of personal efficacy. It is no accident that wild nature, in its grandeur and mystery, will evoke and nourish that questioning, giving it room to move outward into healthy discourse and engagement. The mythologist Joseph Campbell once wrote, “Awe is what moves us forward.” In the hands of capable mentor-teachers, youth will negotiate the deeper questions, and navigate their lives towards an awakening of their gifts and purpose. 



At Manzanita School, the work of building a strong connection to nature in students is done very intentionally and strategically. Deep Nature Connection is not achieved merely by spending instructional time out-of-doors, in nature. Rather, we utilize a set of ‘core routines,’ developed by long-time naturalist Jon Young and his team of wilderness awareness professionals. Among the ‘core routines’ are: sit spots in nature, expanded sensory awareness, intuitive wandering, tracking, primitive skills, giving thanks, bird language, animal mimicry, and mental mapping, among others. When carried out consistently, these practices engender a range of personal attributes that are consistent with our goals of giving youth the skills and capacities to live full and meaningful lives. Nature connection fosters the qualities of empathy, reverence, commitment to service, vitality, earth stewardship, joyfulness, and quiet awareness. 

Downloadable Resource Library

The library provides downloadable content to support and expand on the information contained on this page