Biographies

Current Taproot Teachers (click the name to go directly to that teacher's bio)

Zac Wedemeyer

Michele Thompson

Laura Max

Merit Bickner


Zac Wedemeyer

I have always been a student and admirer of nature. I definitely love awe-inspiring wilderness, and I've been lucky enough to spend time in amazing, far-flung wild places.

But I also love and appreciate the smaller, less obvious natural places that are often just around the corner--city parks and local nature preserves, sometimes even vacant lots or other idle ground--these are the places where most of us discover and develop our love of nature.

My family moved frequently during my childhood, and I got very good at quickly finding the wild areas within a walk or bike ride of my home. Happily, my parents were largely trusting of me and of the world, and I had lots of freedom to explore my neighborhood on my own. My love of nature grew stronger as I grew older, evolving from child's play to include fishing, hunting, foraging, gardening, and habitat restoration. 

During several years as an elementary school teacher, I realized that an indoor career was not going to work for me. I also realized that, although I loved working with children, a conventional classroom was not a teaching environment that would best utilize my strengths. I left the classroom in 2007, and my wife Elesa and I started Taproot. Guiding children in nature has been my full-time occupation since then.

We have three children: 14 year-old Iris, 13 year-old Ani, and 9 year-old Gavin. When I'm not at Taproot, I'm probably cheering them at cross country, gymnastics, or baseball. I also still enjoy fishing, hunting, gardening, hiking with our three Great Pyrenees dogs, and spending time in nature by myself. I work hard to make time for those pursuits.


Michele Thompson

Humans have an innate connection with nature. Each time we ignite that relationship, we thrive. I am exceedingly grateful to be a part of Taproot, where I am immersed in nature daily, alongside a loving community!

Day to day and season to season, the Taproot kids, teachers, and I watch the subtle rhythms of the earth as they transform. In spring, we relish in the taste of fresh maple sap, morel mushrooms, and the early wild edibles. We hear the first calls of the red-winged blackbird, the chorus of the spring peeper frogs, and witness the arrival of a shimmering flock of pelicans overhead. In the summer, we hold prairie skinks, catch frogs, swim, and eat the bounty from the farms and gardens. As it shifts to fall, we discover the rubs and scrapes of the bucks, we enjoy the raw power of the wind, and watch the diversely colored leaves spiral to the ground. We listen to the geese honking in the rich sunsets and watch as the bald eagles congregate along the river, welcoming winter. We play in the snow and marvel at the beautiful ice and when it melts, we again greet the blackbird. We find familiarity and newness in each of the patterns and are invigorated by the forces of nature, big and small.

I am so pleased to have been working with Taproot since the spring of 2009. I went on a brief hiatus, living in Austin for nearly two years and teaching at Green Sprout Preschool. I returned to Taproot in the summer of 2012 and have been loving it full-time ever since.

During the school year, I teach the Sprouts in the morning and I teach with the After-School-Program in the afternoon. In the summer, I lead our Cambium Camp. 

I was born and raised in Williamsburg, Iowa and I feel deeply connected to my Iowan home. I feel lucky that I have had the opportunity to develop a strong sense of place and with each of my days at Taproot, I feel more and more connected to our home, nature, and myself.         

Outside of Taproot, I love trail-running, cooking, and gardening. I strongly believe that the path to a happy and healthy life includes time in nature, exercise, eating real food, developing a sense of purpose, mindfulness, and connection with your community. I am lucky enough to have a job, home, family, and friends that help me to attain these goals.

Taproot provides an outlet for kids to be their authentic selves, connect with one another, and play in the richest of settings, the outdoors. As teachers, we find countless teachable moments among our fun, relaxing, and minimally structured days. Through play, storytelling, and observing nature together, we impart lessons about kindness, mindfulness, and the interconnectedness of nature. Nature is the best teacher! I am so pleased to learn, teach, and grow with Taproot.

 


Laura Max

 

What brought you to working with children?  During summer breaks, I worked at a couple of summer camps--Camp Courageous and the MacBride Wildlife Camps. I always enjoyed being around kids. I love the way every child has their own unique personality that makes them special.

When did you begin teaching with Taproot? Fall of 2010

Where are you from?
Hickory, North Carolina

Tell about your family: Husband Todd, sons Quenton and Parker, dog Echo

What other cool things do you have going on in your life?
My dog, Echo, is a therapy dog. I enjoy taking her on visits and just watching her make people smile. I also spend a lot of time with my kids. And I love to go mountain biking, cross country skiing, and trail running every chance I can.

Why is Taproot important in our community? Children today, especially those who live in cities, don't get enough unstructured time outside. Taproot gives kids the opportunity to play in nature and develop their own connection and appreciation for the natural world.

What formative nature experiences did you have as a child? I grew up with a creek and woods in my backyard that was my favorite place to play. I never realized how lucky I was to have these Taproot-like experiences so readily available. My dad was a nature-lover too and took us hiking, rock hunting, sledding, and blackberry picking among other activities.

What is a favorite thing about Taproot?
I love the way every day and every experience in nature is different. You never know what you are going to find when you are outside exploring.

What is a favorite Taproot moment or memory? We just happened to be at Scattergood Farm when a cow was giving birth to a calf. That was a very memorable moment!

What is a favorite thing you've learned at Taproot? I have learned how to ice fish, tag monarch butterflies, and tap maple trees--all of which I did for the first time during Taproot.


Merit Bickner

What brought you to working with children? Growing up as a very different learner, I could always tell the difference between teachers who were just doing their job and empassioned, curious educators who managed to create a learning environment where children were allowed to pursue their innate interests. I started working with children in hopes of being able to foster a sense of autonomy and responsibility through aspects of child-lead education.

Where are you from? I was born and live on the North Side of Iowa City; I was lucky enough to go to Willowind and then Shimek as a young child, and graduated from City High in 2006.

Tell about your family: When I was young, my mother was traveling to do field work for her PhD; the artifacts and stories she brought home encouraged a natural curiosity in me that left me wanting to explore and adventure, just like my mom. My parents' views on child-direction were very affected by growing up in small rural towns, and they let me explore natural areas around my house without interruption.

What other cool things do you have going on in your life? In 2014, I co-founded and directed Girls Rock! Iowa City, a non-profit call that seeks to empower girls 8-16 through music education and performance. The community's response has been amazing, and we're excited to grow our programming in 2015!

Why is Taproot important in our community? As we move forward technologically in the 21st century, kids are increasingly bombarded with screens and advertising that seek to shape the way they think and feel-- necessitating outdoor experiences where kids can pursue their interests and ambitions in an unaffected environment. Outdoor play fosters imagination and independence in a way that can't be replicated by technology.

What other experiences do you have in working with children? I've done just about everything! I worked at Lemme for 6 years, and in the preschool at Horace Mann for two years. I spent two awesome years at The Kirkwood School for Kids (Tim's House) and am now enjoying being a nanny-- I can let my toddler direct her day and experiences around town, and it is so awesome to watch someone grow up!

What is a favorite local natural spot? The ravines by Shimek School hold a very special place in my heart; I owe most the scrapes, scars, and bumps I've acquired in my life to many wonderful days spent down there as a kid. Palisades-Kepler State Park is a near second.

What is a favorite thing you've learned from time in nature, particularly with children? As adults, we explain a lot of things to ourselves based on assumptions without bothering to question-- really, why is the sky blue? How does a bird make an egg? Often, it takes a child's question to realize you need to look at something in a new way to figure out what it's really all about.