Taproot was founded in 2007 by Zac and Elesa Wedemeyer. The program serves several hundred families each year in the Iowa City area through diverse programming for children ages 3-18.
Taproot’s mission is to foster a generation of people who know, love, enjoy, and actively care for our earth and all of its citizens. After over 15 years and countless experiences, we have learned to trust the power of Nature.
The Benefits of Connection with Nature
Kids thrive when they get to spend time outside; after all, it’s our natural home! These days, though, kids have a more difficult time getting to the great outdoors. Our lifestyles are busy, and during the downtime, computers, video games, and television have a powerful attraction. We must make a conscious choice to make space for our children to explore and play in direct and friendly contact with the earth.
As global climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction threaten our planet’s future, our children are the best hope we have. Taproot programs place great emphasis on teaching our kids to be responsible world citizens by developing “systems thinking,” or seeing that everything in the world functions as a part of an expansive system of connections. We seek to provide experiences and discussions that teach children how they fit into those systems, and how their actions can have wide-ranging effects.
The quality time that Taproot kids spend in nature also benefits their attention, learning, and behavior, and it gives them the opportunity to strengthen their innate bonds with each other and our earthly home. We hope to help the children sink a deep and strong “taproot” into the soil of our planet, a root which will support and nourish them throughout their lives. In turn, we believe these children will grow into adults who love and respect their fellow human beings, and who will actively care for the Earth that sustains us.
Interpersonal Learning and Independence
During our forays into nature with the Taproot kids, we lead activities that emphasize guided exploration, unstructured play, and quiet observation and reflection. We go outside in all but the harshest weather, as an important goal of the program is to teach kids to feel comfortable and safe outdoors. We aim to build confidence and self-sufficiency in age-appropriate but impactful ways.
Time in nature, outside of the routine environments of the home and classroom, can be an exceptional opportunity to reinforce and grow values of respect, kindness, and cooperation. Taproot emphasizes civil and kind interaction, effective communication, peaceful problem-solving, and personal responsibility. We expect children in Taproot programs to be polite and considerate of others at all times, to learn and use each others’ names, and to choose their words carefully when communicating. The small size of Taproot groups allows our teachers to provide immediate and gentle guidance in these matters when conflicts arise.
Our curriculum is not rigid. We adapt the day’s activities to the unique needs and interests of each group of kids as they explore and play in a self-led way. Nature sends us a constant stream of lessons, and we let those lessons guide us.
We see amazing interactions between kids in the Taproot program. Their excitement and curiosity are contagious. Their learning is authentic. Their experiences are memorable.
Brenna Eldeen, mother of Everly, Anden, and Hutch
“I have had all three of my children in taproot at various points in their lives. They have all loved literally every minute that they have spent with Michele, Zac, and the rest of the amazing group leaders. They come home just how you want your kids to be after exploring outside—filthy, exhausted and happy as can be! I feel that Taproot teaches our kids lessons and a love for our earth that they will carry their entire lives. Worth every single penny.”
Rya Dunnington, mother of Aubryn and McCall
“We have been fortunate in our 13-year stint as parents to find amazing teachers for our children; people who are able to offer our children skills, awareness, and understanding about the world and themselves that not only harmonizes with our personal viewpoints but goes way beyond what my partner and I are able to accomplish on our own. Zac, Elesa, and the entire Taproot staff are such teachers, and, as a family, we are in their debt. They have given our children much, much more than the monetary value of the tuition we pay.
“There are so many times when I stop and think, ‘Thank you Taproot!’ When I’m at work on an achingly gorgeous day; when my daughter unflinchingly picks up a snake, spider or fish; when my son presents a carefully selected bouquet, stone, or other jewel from nature; when a walk around the block takes 40 minutes; when my children ask perceptive and thoughtful questions about life choices and the relationships between us and nature.
“So thank you Taproot—thank you for being a crucial part of the village that is raising our children.”
Barb Canin, mother of Amiela, Ayla, and Misha
“In addition to all his considerable talents as a role model and educator, Zac’s love for and knowledge of the natural world make Taproot a delightful way for kids to spend their afternoons—exploring, playing, learning, and coming to more deeply appreciate the beautiful planet we live on.”
Claudia Corwin, mother of Max, Ava, and Ben
“Zac’s approach to outdoor education is holistic. He manages to teach important basic life lessons and skills, while at the same time helping the kids experience the very basic pleasures of being outside … Respect is a constant underlying thread, for both nature and people … Taproot is pure nourishment, an incredible way for the kids to unwind after the rigors and expectations of the school day. It is their time to soak it all in, all the while laughing and running. Rain, shine, snow, or sleet, nothing really stops them! Zac also does a great job bringing the outdoors to families. The Taproot plans for family education are especially exciting.”
Jennifer New, mother of Bella and Tobey
“One day I was walking in town with my then-six-year old son and out of the blue he pointed to a tree and said, ‘That’s a hickory.’ I looked it up and down and decided he was probably right. ‘How did you know that?’ I asked, ever amazed by what he’s managed to figure out thus far in life. ‘Zac Wedemeyer,’ he said. And that was all. Because those two words pretty much mean the gospel when it comes to nature and adventure for my kids. They’ve been Taproot Kids for two years, and I am so thankful and relieved. As someone who was able to ramble for hours in the woods behind her house when I was their age, I’ve worried about their lack of time in nature—so Taproot is a wonderful antidote!”
Dawn Anderson, mother of Kelby and Erin
“Our son, Kelby, did Taproot ASP from kindergarten through sixth grade; and our daughter, Erin, has done Taproot ASP from kindergarten until now (fourth grade). Both kids have done summer camp nearly every summer. We have felt so fortunate that Taproot has been such a big part of our children’s lives. It has been one of the major defining influences on their young lives – what they know about nature, how they appreciate and respect nature, how they can play and explore nature without structure, and how they interact with others. I love it that the kids can’t wait to show us the places they have explored with Taproot, and that they describe every place they go with Taproot as their favorite. They rarely come home from Taproot without a special treasure (shells, special rocks, bones, homemade dolls). I love it that kids can climb trees, get wet, get muddy, swim, canoe, fish, and catch creatures without someone telling them “no” constantly. I love it that they go outside when it is raining, when it is cold, and when it is perfect weather. And I love it that the Taproot leaders love and embrace nature and kids; that combination is irreplaceable. For them, it’s about taking advantage of every second the day has offered and sharing it as a gift with kids. Taproot is the gold standard against which every other summer and after school program is measured in our house. Thank you, Taproot.”