Curriculum & Teaching Strategy

This is how we have categorized the subject content of our nature studies curriculum using the Six Shields Model. Six of these were associated with indigenous names in our early years, with two directions added later.

EAST The Skills of the Naturalist: Knowing your place.  This aspect of study empowers students get to know the flora, fauna and ecology of our bio-region, and develop a rich understanding of plants, trees, mammals and birds, as well as the identification, taxonomy and natural history of North American species, coming away with the background necessary to succeed as a well-rounded naturalist.

SOUTHEAST —Intelligent Homesteading Skills:  In this aspect students learn about modern aspects of living sustainably; off-the-grid living, natural building, responsible water use, humane use of domestic animals, fermentation and preservation, mushroom cultivation, perennial gardening and food forestry.

SOUTH The Science of Tracking: Unraveling the mysteries of tracks and sign left behind by wildlife. This part of the curriculum is designed to give students a holistic grounding in the art and science of animal tracking. Emphasis is placed on the development of accurate track and sign identification and interpretation skills, as well as applications of tracking in biological research.

SOUTHWEST Working with Native Plants:  Gathering and preparing wild plants to use for food, medicine and tools. This aspect of the curriculum is a hands-on study of the diverse uses of native plants and trees. Students learn field identification, edible/medicinal preparations and plant technologies. The course also covers basic principles of forest stewardship and habitat restoration.

WEST Natural Mentoring: Unique educational model and mentoring techniques. This part of the curriculum teaches students the principles of our nature-based approach to education and community development. Students come away with the knowledge and experience necessary for being an effective instructor, leader and mentor for youth and adults.

NORTHWEST — Living with the Earth:  In this aspect students will learn the arts and crafts associated with living primitively or “close to the earth” as a lifestyle choice.  In this regard students learn the about the complex crafts and technologies which go beyond simply providing for basic human needs and provide for a greatly diversified and comfortable lifeway.  This includes primitive gardening and horticulture, long term shelter and village construction, tending the wild and caretaking the edges, sustainable living patterns and advanced primitive skills and technologies.

NORTH Wilderness Survival: Technologies of the primitive survivalist. This component of the curriculum engages students in the practice of indigenous wilderness living skills, focused on the key elements needed to survive in the outdoors unaided by modern tools. Students learn to build shelters from natural materials, locate and purify water, create fire from friction, and master the wilderness crafts needed for basic survival.

NORTHEAST  — Nature Observation: Bird Language and Awareness. This aspect of the curriculume focuses on nature awareness skills. Students practice activities that build greater sensory acuity, train the body to move gracefully and silently in the forest, and cultivate the ability to interpret predator disturbance patterns displayed in bird behaviors and vocalizations.


Indicators of Awareness – How do we know when/if a student is learning?

What are we really teaching?  The school’s dedication to fostering appreciation, not only of nature but also of self and community, has given rise to a bold statement of what we are really teaching. We are teaching nature connection; we are encouraging the blossoming of each student’s soul; and we are guiding students toward service, leadership, and stewardship. The following are qualities or character traits that, when they arise, indicate we are succeeding in our efforts. These are based on our understanding of the information Gilbert Walking Bull gave us about the Lakota people’s “7 Sacred Attributes.”

EAST Common Sense. Good judgment, based in experience, to responding appropriately to situations

SOUTHEAST Aliveness and Agility. Putting one’s whole self into something, awakened bodies channeled into meaningful connections (i.e. animal forms), quick reflexes, deep health of the body

SOUTH Inquisitive Focus. Brightened curiosity, gathering facts, using reason and intuition to make theories and test them; discerning patterns; inspired ability to pursue learning and to listen

SOUTHWEST Caring and Tending. Consciousness of physical, emotional and community well-being; offering help as need is observed or anticipated; care for the natural world

WEST Service to Community.  Desire to play a meaningful role in service to community; discerning personal gifts and how to offer them; seeking out what one can do to be truly helpful in a given situation

NORTHWEST Connection to ancestry. Developing a recognition of how your place is shaped by its history, and how you are shaped by your place and your ancestry;  an expanding grasp on the vastness of this perspective often generates “a sense of the sacred” and “reverence for life” and an ethic to leave it better than you found it

NORTH Self-Sufficiency. Creatively and adaptively responding with the resources available, not complaining or wishing things were different; cultivating a store of relevant technical knowledge; internal strength and resilience turned toward protection of whole community; capacity to endure the hard times

NORTHEAST Quiet Mind. Able to be calm and still; naturally choosing to take Sit Spot time; being comfortable with stillness and silence.

*If you have more questions, or seek to further your understanding of our mentoring model, please send and email to and consider taking our intro to Art of Mentoring this fall, the full Art of Mentoring training in the fall of 2017, and/or the 2017/2018 Apprenticeship.