Coddiwompling isn’t a word you might hear too often, but at TOPOnexus in Harbor Springs, it’s a way of life and learning. Unofficially, coddiwompling is the act of traveling with purpose but with no clear destination. It’s about exploring and being curious, and TOPOnexus believes it’s the most powerful way to learn.
The educational nonprofit organization founded by Molly Ames Baker develops education tools, makes them accessible to the community, and uses those tools to deliver dynamic, place-based and educational experiences.
“We’ve only had a space in Harbor Springs for about a year and a half now,” said Baker. “We started as a traditional LLC, and quickly realized the nonprofit model worked better for us.”
Baker, who has a background in adventure learning and experiential education, said TOPOnexus has been a long-term project.
“TOPOnexus as a concept has been evolving for almost 30 years,” said Baker. “The idea definitely involved my time as an experiential and adventure educator and I began to realize how it could fit in the traditional classroom and through life.”
TOPOnexus currently operates out of Harbor Springs, but they offer opportunities and educational experiences on a national scale for anyone who’s interested in connecting with their communities.
“Our name is our mission,” said TOPOnexus project manager Kate Cohen. “TOPO means place and nexus means connection, and we’re all about connecting people to place.”
To do that, TOPOnexus offers several education tools and workshops backed by a team of experienced educators for any age. The Learn Local Academy at TOPOnexus offers a variety of workshops that all focus on honing individual talents and most importantly learning from the environment around you.
According to the organization’s website, interested parties can take on three different workshop options. The Story Adventures option involves outdoor mini-adventures in downtown Petoskey for 3-5 year olds. The TOPO Explorers options for 3-5 year olds takes place in the parks of Harbor Springs where kids are able to choose from a variety of different outdoor adventures and projects. The TOPO Adventures program is for all ages and emphasizes on-foot and self paced discovery of Little Traverse Bay.
With COVID-19 restrictions being lifted in Michigan, Cohen said she believes TOPOnexus and in-place learning is exactly what many children need.
“I think place-based education is more important now than ever, especially since we’ve had to spend so much more time in our respective communities,” said Cohen. “We’ve really had to re-imagine our connection to our communities to use them as laboratories for education and learning.”
While the organization offers plenty of its own workshops, it wants to see their philosophy stretch to standardized education.
“We want to make experiential and place-based learning not just a siloed experience where it just happens once a year, we want to try and help teachers integrate that framework in their whole school year,” said Cohen.
Anyone interested in learning more about TOPOnexus, its workshops, or its philosophy can find out more on the organization’s website.