An inclusive community play space rooted in connection, social emotional wellness, and social justice learning for children and their grown-ups.
Redefining Healthcare is a community effort, and we are honored to help cultivate a healthier community by sharing helpful, relatable information and resources from our members and the local health and wellness community at large to encourage healing and personal wellbeing.
Recently, Table Health caught up with co-founders, Gretchen Evenhouse, LLMSW, and Christine Straley of Wild & Wonder in Traverse City.
Read on to learn more about their new inclusive community play space.
Q. What is your full name, title, and area of expertise?
A. My name is Gretchen Evenhouse, LLMSW. I’m the co-founder of Wild & Wonder and also a school Social Worker. Throughout my career, I have always worked with children and families. My work started in Head Start and Educare programming in Denver where I gained knowledge in early literacy, dialogic reading, and empowering parents to participate in their child’s development. I eventually shifted to the public schools in Denver as a School Social Worker. While there I became experienced in Social Emotional Learning curriculums, Behavior Intervention/ Supports, and Restorative Justice practices. I holds training in the Brazelton Touchpoints Approach and Developmental Model, the Social Justice Leaders Collaborative, QPR Suicide Prevention, as well as Personal Safety/ Consent for children.
My name is Christine Straley. I’m the Co-Founder of Wild + Wonder and lead Operations. I have a very eclectic working background! I have been a massage therapist, nutritionist, medical assistant, operations manager, and even a farm hand. With my combined work history, I have over 20 years of experience in the healthcare field as a practitioner, in administration, and in start-up. In all my work experiences, I have always had an eye for detail, found myself expertly organized, and have had the ability to see the steps needed to get from A to Z. I have also been lucky enough to have held many positions in both leadership and management. Utilizing these skills to bring to life such an important experience and community to Traverse City is a privilege.
Q. In regard to your area of expertise, what does a typical session look like? What can attendees expect?
A. The experience of our attendees varies based on the programming they attend- whether it be a wander in the woods, a community event, a story time & play session, or a specific workshop. Each of our offerings hope to consistently provide a welcoming, inclusive, and brave space for children and families to come as they are and engage in learning and time with other folks in the community. The belief that as humans, we are doing the best we can with the resources we have access to is foundational to the work of Wild + Wonder. The values of a community program such as this are rooted in finding people’s strengths, desire for social emotional wellness for young people, as well as social justice.
- Wanders with Wild + Wonder consist of a child friendly hike with a pause for a book read aloud- truly a low stakes way to get your child outside and moving in the beauty of nature. We spend time noticing and exploring the nature around us- collecting rocks, sticks, leaves, and bugs. All amazing treasures to the Wildings who attend.
- Pop up Social Emotional Learning Story Time + Play sessions are exactly as they sound. We spend time lifting up books that focus on Social Emotional Learning skills- emotions/feelings, coping strategies, sense of self, and friendships. After a book read aloud, our time shifts into open play and exploration for the Wildings. This gives opportunity for kiddos to engage in various gross, fine, and sensory motor opportunities and also allows the grown ups in attendance time to chat and spend time with parents in similar seasons of parenting.
- Community Events have included our Rainbow Story Time with Up North Pride, as well as our Community Rising event at Farm Club. Our Community Events are typically free and inclusive to all families and include a book read aloud with an engaging activity. At these events, we have been lucky enough to have many community partners that are enthusiastic about this work. Partnerships we have built include Dharamsala Yoga, Mindful & Musical with Mirian Pico, Brilliant Books, as well as Just Bee Yoga.
- Body Safety + Consent Workshops are the first step in empowering your child and yourself in the areas of body safety, gaining knowledge (understanding safe and unsafe touch), getting comfortable with the language (body terms, private parts, etc.), and normalizing frequent conversations and building trust with your child. Within our workshop, you and your child will gain knowledge and be empowered to:
- Identify body safety rules for home, school, and time spent in the community.
- Distinguish between safe and unsafe touching.
- Explain that everyone has the right to tell others not to touch his or her body (consent)
- Brainstorm and establish a ‘Safety Network’ of trusted adults at home and outside of the home to gain support if a safety concern arises.
Q. Is there an introductory exercise or reflection you can walk us through to tap into the possibilities of healing through your service and area of expertise?
A. Each of our events start with our Wild + Wonder mantra. It is a call and response for children and caregivers to sing as a way to ground ourselves in the learning of our time together-
“I have a kind heart. My body is safe. My brain is growing. This is a brave space.”
What does this mantra mean to us? Everything! We are affirming one another and our children, as well as the mindset we are entering into for our time together. For our small group workshops and story times, we greet children into the space and support them in doing a “Feelings Check In” that aligns with the Zones of Regulation. This is a social emotional learning program that honors ALL feelings in us and reiterates to children that the big emotions we have as humans are not bad, but just are what they are and they will come and with coping tools and support, they will pass. I support the “Feelings Check In” by providing a visual board that allows children to point to the “4 Zones/ States of Feelings” they may find themselves in using visual picture cues. My role in the check in is to prompt with “How are you feeling today?”, support them in navigating the Zones of Regulation Board, and validate whatever is shared by the child. Our sessions also include reviewing a fun child friendly coping strategy tied to mindful breathing- Rainbow Breaths, Volcano Breaths, Breathing like a Lion, Bear Breaths, etc. as a way for caregivers to learn playful ways to encourage their child to use calming strategies at home.
Q. How can individuals apply your practice during times of uncertainty
A. As a caregiver raising my own children, I find the most helpful thought in times of uncertainty and overwhelm to be “this is temporary”- The feelings, the experience, the behavior, the tantrum- all of it is temporary. With this, we also need to give ourselves an immense amount of grace in our parenting journeys. A dysregulated grown up cannot regulate a big feeling child in times of stress. It’s crucial that we allow ourselves time and space to calm, regulate, and take care of ourselves before we can calm and regulate our kiddos. By doing this, we are modeling amazing strategies and tools for children.
Wild + Wonder came from the belief that raising little humans should not happen in isolation- especially after the last 2+ years we’ve lived through. Parenting is built on trial and error and it goes a heck of a lot smoother when we know how to support our child’s social emotional wellness and development, navigate the challenges, and know we are not alone in our experiences. Honoring the wild and leaning into the wonder of our children alongside a solid community of support is so important to children and adults alike.
Q. What kind of feedback do you regularly hear from clients?
A. The aspect of the work Wild + Wonder has done so far lies in the community support and enthusiasm. It is such an exciting experience to have a caregiver or community member express their gratitude for the concept that we are and hope to be for the Traverse City community as it relates to social emotional wellness and social justice learning. We’ve had successful attendance to our events and a growing number of followers and engagement on social media platforms.
The overwhelming support and feedback we receive consistently is “this is so needed” or “I want this for my children and family”. Several of the events we have offered bring in families who have had babies within the two years of the pandemic. Our Story Times provide a safe, intimate, and comfortable environment for them to ease their child into social time and play with others. This feedback has been validating in continuing to plan programming for Wild + Wonder with the hope to eventually open a brick mortar space that provides a play environment for littles and their grown-ups, but also be open for scheduled story times and social emotional learning lessons that families can sign up for with their child. Consultation on specific support needs, access to a small market of retail items, children’s books (focused in social justice & social emotional learning), sensory tools, art prints, etc., as well as community resource lists and mental health community referral options will be available.
Q. How can our readers connect with you? Learn from you?
A. Sign up for our Newsletter on our website at WildandWonderTC.com and follow up us on Instagram at @wildandwondertc
Whether you share an event, this newsletter, or our Instagram or Facebook pages…every new follower is a life we can touch, support, and connect with. Always feel free to reach out to us for guidance, support or to tell us what you hope to see from us.