Husband and Wife Share Joy of New Farm with Kids in Community
Photos by Jamie Alexander
John Mark and Shelly Tyler sold their house in a subdivision and purchased a piece of land in Philpot to give their growing family room to move, run, and play. The farm blessed their family in so many ways that they decided it was time to share the experiences with other children in the area, so Fiddlewood Farm and Forest School was born.
Fiddlewood Farms offers a program to youth called Farm and Forest School, where kids go outside, battle the weather at times, and learn through outdoor experiences. Shelly learned about the concepts from friends in Louisville that spoke of its widespread success.
“This farm was the biggest blessing to our family, especially during the pandemic. We’ve seen such a positive change in our children from just being outside and on the farm,” Shelly said. “I was talking to a friend in Louisville—telling her that this is what kids need—when she told me about Forrest School.”
Shelly is an Owensboro native, while John is originally from Mississippi; the two met while attending the University of Evansville. John is a chiropractor, and Shelly is a physical therapist; they opened Rehabilitation and Performance Institute in 2016, which has grown to six clinics in the tri-state area.
The Tylers have three children; their youngest is 18-months-old and was adopted from South Korea, and has some physical limitations. Shelly said that seeing her kids’ friends put down their video games and fall in love with activities on the farm played a pivotal role in their decision to share the experiences.
“Our kids’ friends started coming over and would ask, ‘where are your video games?’” she said. “When I would tell them we didn’t have any—we’re going to go outside and play—I was met with some resistance. Once we got out there, you could see the wonder and amazement in their eyes; they didn’t want to leave.”
The friends wanted to learn more and be engaged, asking her questions like, “How does this work?” Or, “can we play with your chickens?” She said they were genuinely curious about how things were working around them.
“Especially last year when kids were in front of the computer a lot—it was so therapeutic for them to be outside,” she said. “This is what kids need—kids are coming into clinics and too young to be having the issues they’re having. They need more opportunities to get outside and play and move.”
The occasional sleepover soon transformed into a camp during spring break of 2021 to an outdoor school for their daughter and a few other pre-school-aged children. Shelly uses a faith-based approach to teach young people about Jesus and the many astounding intricacies that exist in nature.
“We saw nine to 12 kids each day at camp. They played hard and learned some cool things,” she said. “The amount of growth that I saw in one week was tremendous; kids were interacting with each other and using teamwork and confidence to overcome obstacles.”
The curriculum for the different offerings stems from the Farm and Forest School framework, where student interests guide much of the learning. The Tyler’s said that Fiddlewood is slowly turning into Noah’s Ark, and they hope to create more opportunities for kids in the future.
One example of instruction includes working together to collect chicken eggs, sorting them, counting, and comparing totals to the next day. Another example of blended instruction involves caring for ducklings, weighing and measuring them, and making charts to monitor their growth.
“It’s a huge blessing for our family to be able to share these experiences with these kids; they begin to see things differently and start to open their eyes to the world around them,” Shelly said. “I never dreamed that this was an option, but as I began thinking outside the box, I became more engaged with kids having the opportunity to learn this way.”
For more information about the program, search Fiddlewood Farm and Forest School on Facebook.