Nature Blog

Stories from programs and outdoor ramblings
Our first blog post coming soon!

Spring Session, Week 1

 

TUESDAY, APRIL 6th

MATT, CORA, ZACH & ADDISONS GROUP:

Our day began at the nature museum which included a lot of interesting mammal skulls.   Then we shifted into a big group game of Fire in the Forest before gathering up for morning circle where everyone had a chance to introduce themselves and speak to their hopes or intentions for our spring session.  

From there, we hiked on out towards the wetland intent on finding a turtle.  We stopped for a while on our way to watch a porcupine we spotted high up in a sugar maple.  We hiked briskly to the spring where we settled in for a bit.  There was some frolicking, some spring engineering, a garter snake was found which we attempted to feed.  There was some tree climbing and a very exciting lumber jack log jumping game!  We played a name game and then had lunch.

After lunch we continued our wetland exploration which had a short interlude to use the rope swing over the creek, and we found a couple more garter snakes one of which was huge.  We eventually wound our way down kids creek where we stumbled upon a massive black willow tree which had to be climbed.  Nearby we found some raccoon tracks.  Near the great tree we played a few sneaking games including ‘fire keeper’ which we thought might help us sneak up on a turtle.

We wound up at the boardwalk which we followed back to our main base where to our surprise, we found a ‘cough pellet’ right under the tree where we had done our morning circle.  This is regurgitated food scraps from a raptor or corvid, we thought it could have been from the red tailed hawk we had seen earlier.

We took the opportunity to dissect the pellet and discovered a bunch of tiny bones and some orange teeth indicating a mouse had been eaten by whatever bird this came from.  During this time some kids were checking out the nearby pond and playing some running games.  

We concluded our day by playing ‘head honcho’ which is an awareness game that helps us practice peripheral vision.

 

AUTUMN, RILEY & GABBY’S GROUP

Spring Session got off to a good start with the sound of birds chirping, sunny skies, and warm weather. We began our day trekking through a muddy, marshy area ensuring the students that it’s okay to get dirty at outdoor school! Riley led us to higher ground where we sat amongst cattail stalks and played a memory name game. Then, we hiked to Otter Slide Hill for quality free play. The students socialized, role played, ran, snacked, and climbed the steep hill. We munched on some lunch while watching a hawk swoop over our heads and land on a nearby tree. Then, we headed towards our first challenge – to build a raft out of materials found in the woods that would hold a small fire while floating down the creek. While there we found a large Green Frog! The students explored and continued to build rafts. Gabby then led us to play our final game and a classic favorite, Eagle’s Eye. We extinguished the last of our energy before returning to base. 

CARRIE, ASHLEY & BLAKE’S GROUP:

We had a great first day. Through games, hikes and adventuring our group was forming friendships and bonds right away. We started the morning by playing games and taking a look at the nature museum as everyone was arriving. Our littles were eager to get on with the hike for the day so we headed out after a quick snack and a review of rules that are held at Nature School and a look at a few of the emerging buds that we had around our gathering place. We went out into the woods taking a look at more of the plants that were emerging from their winter sleep. We had a great find when we were able to taste newly emerging Leeks off trail on our hike. As we moved on we made an uphill excursion to stop at the top of the Orchard Rock Hill. This was a great location for a water break and some fun running up and down the steep rock hill and finding some beautiful rocks. Some friends gathered treasure, others began to play games with the new nature they had found. In anticipation of rain we meandered into a nearby valley that was great for our tree climbers, bird watchers, and a perfect lunch spot. We continued playing with our new friends, climbing up and down a fallen tree, finding new swords, collecting bark off of the huge tree and relaxing in the tall grasses watching the birds fly around us. Ever so lucky for such a beautiful day we ended the day by walking down to a wet marshy area to see what type of animals might be resting down there. We found one large cattail that had fun silkworms hiding inside, and some wonderful dark blak muck. This was a great place to explore and take a break for water and a snack. We took an opportunity to dry our muddy feet by playing a game of Eagle Eye, which is sure to be requested in the future. After our short walk back to the gathering place we wrapped up our day with a game of search and find, each friend was challenged to find the plant/object that Carrie found in the area. Everyone did a great job searching and helping their friends so everyone was successful! 

 

FOREST KINDERGARTEN WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7th 

AUTUMN, ZACH, RILEY & KAIA’S GROUP

The day began looking at bird remnants from the Nature Museum, and playing a variety of running games while students trickled in. Riley told us a riveting story about a mini Sasquatch that roams the area and possesses all of our favorite treats. His one request is that you be kind to nature and all of its inhabitants. We then hiked our way to the old apple orchard overlooking much of the property. The students were champs and none complained about the long walk. We circled up for a silly name game and ate a snack. On our hike back down into the woods Owen spotted an area of Spring Beauties; an early Spring wildflower! We all ran over, looked at, and talked about them for a while. Then, Zach led us up another hill where we explored, and Rhine found an earthworm! Finally, we found a semi-shady spot to sit down for lunch and rest our feet. After that, Autumn challenged the students to go on a scavenger hunt. We found dog tracks, cool rocks, and even a Tree Frog! As we hiked back towards base we played one final game of Otter Steals Fish. We hydrated and ended the day under a pine tree while drawing pictures and discussing what we saw in nature throughout the day. 

CARRIE, CORA, GABBY & WILDER’S GROUP

Forest Kindergarten is an exciting day at Human Nature School, and was full of happy smiles and new day nervousness. We started our morning by looking at the many turtle shells and skulls using them for inspiration in our drawings this morning at the nature museum. After a snack and drink of water we started out for our hike of the day. We tried a tough route through the swampy area by the gardens in hopes of finding some water to explore and a nice tree for some shade to help on this anticipated hot day. We had some tough walking through the cattail but all made it to the large box elder tree. This area gave us an opportunity to explore around the cold small creek, you could see all the rocks on the bottom, jump from bank to bank and put your hand in to feel the cold water speed by.  We all had a great time climbing up on the limbs of this large tree and it turns out we are all natural climbers and explorers.  After some climbing we gathered young branches and attempted to make crowns for everyone. At lunch time, we enjoyed getting to know each other more and listened to the story The Gigantic Turnip. After our short walk back to the gathering place we wrapped up our day with a game of search and find, each friend was challenged to find the plant/object that Carrie found in the area. Everyone did a great job searching and helping their friends so everyone was successful! 

 

THURSDAY APRIL 8th

AUTUMN & RILEY’S GROUP

We started our day getting our blood pumping with running games as students rolled in. Once everyone arrived we circled up to share gratitude and discuss guidelines. Everyone was very attentive and listened well as others shared. Then we made our way into the woods and found shelter under a Hemlock as the rain drizzled down. Riley led an imaginative game of Trickster Transformer while we waited for the rain to pass. Next, we hiked our way to a field for free play and socializing. The kids enjoyed climbing on a large fallen tree before sitting down for lunch. During lunch Rowan got out her North American Birds pamphlet and excitedly asked the group which ones they’ve seen in their lifetime. Turns out they have seen them all! We then challenged the kids to a team-building activity called Plant Concentration and one called Dragon Marshmallow. After that we headed to the Hemlock forest to “Meet A Tree”. As we walked back toward base the kids discussed their favorite part of the day and one way they can have a positive impact on nature. 

MATT & GABBY’S GROUP

Our class began with checking out the morning’s nature museum which featured bird feathers and animal tracks.  We also played some games including ‘everybody’s it’ and ‘otter steals fish’.  Once everyone had arrived we circled up and everyone had a chance to introduce themselves and offer an interesting fact about themselves, most of us offered which type of animal we would be if we could be any animal in the world.

Before hitting the trail, we went over the rules of HNS

  1. Respect for self
  2. Respect for each other
  3. Respect for nature
  4. Ask:  before climbing a tree, going in the creek, stepping away from the group, jumping in the mud, etc.
  5. Stay where we can see or hear you

After a brief restroom break, we headed west through the apple orchard and into the woods.  The kids were very chatty and excited but soon tired as we climbed the wooded hills.  We took a few breaks but eventually made it all the way up “fire hill” to our old camp spot.

There, it began to rain so the kids were inspired to make shelters!  About half the group was hard at work building and the other half was doing some tree climbing.  At camp, we gathered some basswood material we found to make bow drills later.  We had a few discussions during lunch, many people are excited about building bows and arrows and we discussed the ‘top 10 hazards of the park’.  These were the ideas the kids came up with…

  1. fast moving mountain bikes
  2. insect stings
  3. garbage/broken glass
  4. ticks
  5. uneven terrain and holes
  6. loose dogs
  7. black widows and brown recluse spiders
  8. massassagua rattler snake
  9. black bears
  10. thorny plants and stinging nettles
  11. poisonous plants and poison ivy

We went to check out an overlook before running down the switchback paths that lead down to “otter slide hill” where we played 3 rounds of eagles eye.  While there, we also took the opportunity to enjoy the jungle gym-like fort and horizontal ironwood trees.

The day had turned hot so we decided to stop by the nearby creek to cool off.  There we found a hazardous plant, wild parsnip which we all learned about how it causes itchy rashes.  We also saw some brook trout and most of us took the opportunity to dip our heads in the creek to cool down and some even went all the way in

We made our way back to base camp to do knife carving training and certification.  This went very well and we were able to get a good sense of where everyone is at with carving skills.  We will be able to get everyone’s certification level nailed down next week.  With the last bit of time and energy we had, the kids were insistent on playing capture the flag which turned out to be a blast.  To wrap up our day, we circled up and each person had a chance to share their highlights of the day with the group.

CARRIE & ZACH’S GROUP

We had a nice slow start to the morning by looking at the wonderful skulls and furs at nature museum with Zach, trying to guess the animal of each object. We took time to have a snack and hear the story of the Lupine Lady and how she had a goal in life to make the world a more beautiful place. After the story we made our way over the labyrinth to start our hike.  Everyone had fun navigating the twisting and turning path. Continuing through the swampy area we made it to the hiking trail that led us down into the cedars, this was a good place to be as we anticipated rain and it would make good cover. Luckily it only sprinkled, but while we were there we had fun making a damn in the small creek. This took a lot of team work as the logs we found could be very heavy. Everyone had fun building and then exploring both sides of the creek, now accessible by the newly constructed damn. We moved a little for lunch so everyone could have a good sitting log to sit on while they ate, as the ground was still wet from the rain that we received overnight. After lunch we took a long hike back to the gathering place to refill waters and use the porta potties. We ended the day by heading out to the garden plot that HNS is going to be using this session. As it was freshly tilled we had an opportunity to dig around in the soil to hunt for earthworms and see how big of holes we could dig. While we were out there we took some time to also enjoy the cool breeze and listen to our last story of the day, The Gigantic Turnip, a story about how all the animals were needed to help harvest the last turnip of the season. We look forward to when we can head back out to the garden and plan in that rich soil again. 

Winter Session, Week 7

Story of the day from Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

With the beautiful weather, we decided to have a long morning up in the field playing games and enjoying the snow-free land. There was free play, tree climbing, and rock mining happening alongside the big group games we played which were ‘everybody’s it’, ‘owls and crows’, ‘bear, salmon, mosquito’, and a long round of the ecology game called ‘do deer’. Eventually, we decided to head on down to the valley.

The younger group went back down to the creek trail to walk along the section we missed last week. It was wonderful to see the water flowing so fast and smell the big sections of mud. We wound our way around the swampy area and ended at the remains of our snow shelter, now just a pile of snow. While we enjoyed lunch we took some time to climb the big white pine.

The olders group went to main camp and got to the work of building a setup for boiling our maple sap (staff gathered the sap before kids arrived). Our setup included setting large rounds of wood on the fireside benches, we harvested a long straight cedar pole that stretched from one to the other, we hatcheted the ends of the cedar pole flat, we used hand drills to bore through the cedar and into the rounds, we carved some branches to serve as nails and dowel jointed the pole to the rounds, we then had a solid beam to hang our sap pan from. Other tools we used were c clamps, wooden mallet, and hand saws.

We worked together to gather kindling and then cut small pieces of firewood for a hot fire, soon the sap was boiling. As the sap boiled, we played some spider ball and then went on an off-trail exploration down the creek from camp. Our wander was much like an obstacle course, balancing on beams across the water, climbing over and under, following deer trails through the muck, lots of fun. We eventually found our way back to camp and everyone had a chance to try the boiled sap, it had been reduced by about 50% at that point, had a nice amber color, and by all accounts was delicious. We plan to continue boiling next week to finished maple candy.

story of the day from Thursday, March 11th, 2021

We kicked off our windy morning running, swirling, chasing, and playing much like the wind!  And after a few good attempts, got a kite up in the air, waaaaaay up in the air!  And watched it dodging and dancing way up there in those mighty winds.   After plenty of games and run around and chit-chat time, we circled up for snack and story.  Kriya shared the first half of the camping adventure full of cautionary and comedic mishaps and problem-solving… weaving in special attention to the trees and which trees are hazardous to dwell beneath on windy days, such as today:)  Soon it was time to head down to camp.  Once there, we got a nice fire going and continued boiling maple sap!  While the sap was cooking, some kids practiced cutting wood and tending fire and another practiced carving and others played “hog-nerd” aka “spider ball”.   After a nice lunch, a few kids continued tending fire and practicing skills but the main event was a child-led pop-up game of “cops and robbers”.    The running and sneaking and hiding and chasing stretched throughout the cedars bendy branches without venturing into where the birches, dead ash, and poplars stood, with branches that could break on windy days.   Soon it was time to gather in to sample some delicious sap.  Kaia led a practice round of a new game she made up for next week in celebration of Saint Patrick’s day and the kids all joined in to practice the brand new game.   And before we knew it, it was time to go.

 

Winter Session, Week 6

Story of the day from Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Morning games included kicking the ball and then zombies in the mall, tsunami in the sea, and dodgeball in the parking lot, which is now dirt, woo hoo!

Youngers attempted to slide down the large driveway of ice like penguins, it was not nearly as easy as we hoped. Once we made it down to main camp we enjoyed snack and lunch time taking turns on the slack line, playing in and on the ice shelter we made last week and exploring the crew edge.

Olders went scouting for shed deer antlers, we found 1 antler on a south facing slope and talked about how that all works.  We found lots of neat buck sign, scrapes, rubs, and antler marks in the snow around a muzzle hole in the ground.  Other tracks we found include crow, fox, and lots of deer.

We hiked back to camp via the railroad tracks and had lunch at our secondary camp.  Then on to main camp where the kids had a riot playing spider ball, meanwhile the instructors geared up for tapping sugar maple trees using the taps we made last week from staghorn sumac.

Youngers took the creek trail today while traveling over the border walks we found some feathers in the middle of the trail, we imagine this was the remains of a predators meal. We made it up to the top of the hill to the parking lot where we sampled the sap from the small maple. Many have decided at that moment they were no longer children but baby sapsucker birds. 

We then headed on up to the parking lot area where there are a handful of great big old sugar maples.  The kids took turns working with the hand drill to bore holes and then got the spiles and buckets all setup for 2 trees.  Next week we will have enough sap to do a little boil, our goal is to make maple candy on the last day of class!

Story of the day from Thursday, March 4th, 2021

We started the day out with lots of run-around games on the solid ground, getting warmed up and ready for the day!  After morning circle, we headed straight down to our base camp and had some free time playing spider ball, feeding birds, checking our sit spots, tending the fire and playing on the slack line.  Soon it was time for lunch around the big warm fire.  Afterward we headed out on a brand new adventure to brand new places, wandering all through the wetland, over creeks and finding really sunny south-facing slopes to rest upon.   While adventuring we tuned into our senses, practice fox walk and owl eyes and grabbed a sit spot.  Then we immersed into the new landscape free playing and fort building.   Some kids went with Matt to check on the Maple taps while others secretly snuck back to camp, suprising the other crew.  At closing circle we passed around a spile carved from the golden wood of sumac and heard everyone’s favorite part of the day and something they observed about the spile.   It was a chilly but beautiful day!

 

Winter Session, Week 4

Story of the day from Friday, Feb 19th, 2021

It was great to see the group again (although we had a handful of folks that couldn’t make it)!  The morning began with some ice/snow sculpting. The group enjoyed playing in and on the huge snow pile the snowplow left us. An amazing tunnel and little dig-out seats were made and some great sledding paths. The pile also gave way to a few rounds of tug a war. morning games were run rabbit run, playing on the snow hill.
A nice warm fire was awaiting the group down at camp, we all enjoyed a warm-up with our snack.  A couple of groups broke out to explore around the creek and all the classic camp activities began to happen.  We found that the chickadees had found the bird feeder we had put out before the snow break but no hits yet on the custom suet cakes we had hung all around in the trees (we also heard a cardinal singing).  
There was an opportunity for kids to join in a wood whittling group, projects included bow drill fire kits, art pieces, and walking sticks.  We learned techniques like billeting, flower petaling, and drilling and we also discussed wood selection quite a bit (the kids had fun climbing trees trying to find the perfect piece).  After lunch, a chant arose from the group to play capture the flag!  The kids self-organized and ran the games pretty much themselves, those that did not participate enjoyed continued carving time, fort building, ice mining, and mud pie-making.  
The olders and youngers separated at the end of the day, the youngers went up the big sledding hill for some otter sliding and the olders took an exploratory hike through the wetlands playing some hiding games along the way.  We all ended up at the snow pile again and wrapped up there.

Story of the day from Thursday, Feb 18th, 2021

We started our sunny, calm morning with some games and some classic snowbank tomfooleries such as sliding, digging, climbing around.  At morning circle, we wondered what animals and birds may have come through our camp since we were last here.   Bobcats, chickadees, deer, raccoon and sasquatch were among the many animals we pictured wandering through our camp, eating on the birdseed we left out and drinking from the spring. Once we were ready to head down to camp, the kids choose from a wandering group who’d be exploring and taking their time as well as a fire tender group that’d be heading straight down and gathering some good tinder on the way.   The fire group did a great job of tending camp while the wandering group headed up the overlook trail and rested a bit at the top, contemplating deep and silly thoughts, while watching wafts of smoke rise from the cedars surrounding camp down below.  Soon enough the sound of friends below and the thought of warm fire drew us down the snowy slope, sliding and exploring along the way.   At base, the kids took some time to mill about, visit their favorite places around camp, playing and exploring around.  Kaia told some silly and wonderous stories around the fire and Matt led a few interested kids in making a bow drill and together, they succeeded in making a coal and the whole group gathered round to see it placed in a tinder nest and blown into flame.  This marked the start of lunch and many of the kids eagerly opted to make their own little campfires again.  They are doing great and improving their skills each week.  After lunch, Kaia led a few rounds of trickster transformer.   Once that wrapped up, Kriya brought out all the suet cake ornaments we made last time.  Each kid picked one to take to their sit spot, practicing fox walk and owl eyes along the way.  Soon the camp was so quiet, the loudest sound became the melody of the creek and chatter of the chicadees as they munched on the food we set out for them.   Each week we’ll be checking on our sit spots to see who’s been through, eating on our suet:)   After site spot, we wandered back up the hill for pick-up.   On the way we tested out different hills and slopes to find the best sliding spots.  Once at the top, Kaia handed out some delicious homemade Valentines day cookies.  Each individually wrapped with varying ingredients to accommodate any potential allergies.  

Winter Session, Week 3

Story of the day from Thursday, Feb 4th, 2021

We started the day out with a few games of Fire in the Forest and Otter Steals Fish while some free played with giant snowballs tucked in the pines amidst the Mourning Doves and Chickadees.  Once we then joined for morning circle sharing our names and our favorite birds, kicking off our focus on birds for the day.  After circle we split into 2 choice based groups, one group opted to wander and explore the wetland on the way to basecamp-  they were greeted with many birds on their wanders, included a Bald Eagle that circled right above their heads and eventually made its way to camp for lunch!  The second group opted to head to camp straight away and get the fire started and make homemade suet for the birds.  The kids did great working together to build a 1 match fire.  Once it was roaring, Kriya put on a pot of Forest Tea (made from White pine, Scotch Pine & Cedar) and reheated the fat that Tuesday’s group already rendered down.  Once it was melted, it was mixed with birdseed, nuts, fruit etc to make little suet cakes the kids can all hand from trees next week.  We also put up a bird feeder with high hopes of attracting our feathered friends right into camp with us so we can continue to learn from them throughout the session.   The kids ate lunch, played, and helped with the suet cakes.  Many wanted to start their own personal fire again like last week so we held a safe space for that as well.  Their confidence and skill levels continue to grow!  Soon we moved on to a big group game of capture the flag.  Kaia brought a snowball maker and the snow was perfect for packing.  The kids made quick work of manufacturing bucket loads of snowballs for the game.  We spent the rest of the afternoon playing the game together while a couple of kids free played by a nearby Cedar…  they found a dead white-footed mouse which we all got to look at and be curious about.   Soon it was time to trek up the big hill for closing circle and sign out, it was a beautiful day! 

Winter Session, Week 3

Story of the day from Tuesday, feb 2nd, 2021

Morning games included krackaboom, making a duct tape sled, and playing around in the field.  We split up and headed down to the main camp, a nice warm fire was awaiting us.  Once everyone had arrived, the camp was alive with activity.  A group of us took the home made sleds and scoured the hillsides until we found some decent snow, it was a wild ride and ended up with some classic king of the mountain play.  We had lunch around the fire.  After lunch there was an epic snow ball fight, white pine tree climbing, crafting around the fire.
The olders group headed off to our own little camp to wrap up our day, Gabby and I broke the kids into 2 groups; a sit spot group and a fire challenge.  They had 7 minutes to work with their group to build a fire strong enough to burn a golf ball diameter piece of wood without using any birch bark.  Each group had a nice sit spot and did the fire challenge, we were quite pleased at each groups success at the fire challenge.  The bobcats, youngers, split off after lunch to go play at their fort. We were able to use chalk to decorate and make it our own.  We headed up to the top of the hill where we played eagle eye as we waited for the olders to join us for closing circle. 

Winter Session, Week 2

Story of the day from Thursday, January 28th 2021

We started our cold morning with some snow soccer and some nature collections while everyone arrived and settled in.   Morning circle was short as we were eager to get moving to keep our inner fire’s warm and to head on down to a big ole campfire that was already cookin!  On the way down we split into 2 choice based exporation groups; One group had a mission of finding things that burn well.  And the other group had a mission of finding things that are good for tea.   Both groups did great and found many treasures to bring back to camp.  Once we arrived and stoked the fire and grabbed a snack, it was challenge time!  We offered 3 fire-based challenges at levels 1, 2 and 3.   Level 1 received instructions and training from Zach and Gabby before trying to start their own fire.  Group 2 received no instructions to try to complete a 3 match fire challenge and Group 3 received 0 matches and had to use coal from the fire to try to start a fire.  The kids did great learning, exploring, experimenting, working together, and holding safe spaces around their fires…   We were ultimately very impressed with their abilities and attitudes to continue to troubleshoot and try, even when results did not come immediately and required work.   Many of the kids opted to keep their own fires going during lunch and continued to tend their fires safely and well.   All too soon, it was time to shift gears and Zach was in charge of helping everyone get their fires out with a large bucket of water and playful protest from the kids;)   Then we headed deeper into the woods, where the Maples, Ironwood and Witch Hazel met transitioned into to the Cedars, guarded by a few mighty Hemlocks.  Here we set the scene for capture the flag, and played until it was time to head back up for pickup.  We ran and hid and chased and slid.  Rosy smiling cheeks stood out as giant snow flakes drifted and swirrled peacefully and playfully to the ground.  It was a cold day but a great day!  
Once we arrived, we dropped our packs and some kids chose to free play and explore the creekside while others chose to help Matt and Zach get a fire going with the materials we gathered together.  Soon the fire was cookin and it was lunchtime.   Matt and Kaia both led rounds of the Story/Game “trickster transformer” during lunch and it was quite a hoot.  Afterward, free play, fort building, snowball play and sit spots happened quite naturally.   Soon it was time to head back up so we split in 2 choice-based groups to wander our way back up.  One group exlored the lookout trail while the other followed bob-cat trail deep into the wetland.    We all reunited up at the big field for some snowball play, giant snowball making, and many silly incarnations of “billy” the snowman occurred.
At closing circle we got to hear everyone’s favorite part of the day.  We look forward to seeing everyone next week! 

Winter Session, Week 2

Story of the day from Tuesday, January 26th, 2021

The younger group has decided to be called the Bobcats!  We heard there were fresh bobcat tracks last Thursday and the group itself love to pretend to be kittens. The individuals in the group all have a unique form of bobcat, ranging from ninja bobcats to bobcat chickadee.
After large group time in the morning, we had a fun time finding our way back to camp by following Rudy, who found us a fun “path” down to the main trail. Once we arrived at the main fire, everyone took time to explore some more around the area. Digging up ice crystals from the mud, watching the fire, playing on a sled pulling each other around, and just exploring around the creek.  After lunch, by the fire, we set out to find a new location for a shelter. We all found a perfect spot not far from the main area where cedar trees had fallen. Everyone worked together to clear out the space and “tidy up” the logs around. We have a perfect start and can not wait to continue working on it next week. After construction, we hiked up the big hill following the deer trail and checking out the rabbit tracks as we went. Once we made it to the tall lookout everyone took time sliding down the hill, several times. The hill was so fast!
We finished our day climbing and playing on the large snowballs that were in the middle of the field while we waited for pickup.

Matt’s group, (name still tbd): The main morning game was krackaboom but there were lots of side games, field guide exploration, and some tree climbing.  The cold wind drove us to head out earlier than normal and our group took the switchback trail to the valley bottom.  As we made our way we found a mouse trail that went in and out of the subnivean, lots of probable deer tracks, a huge deposit of frozen sap, and suspicious tree holes we suspect are animal homes.  In the first meadow, we took a few minutes to slide down a steep slope but the thin layer of snow was not enough padding from the rocks!  When we arrived at main camp there was already a warm fire going and our group naturally spread out to their favorite hang out spots to have snack.  The youngers group arrived soon after and then many interesting free play things began to happen all around camp such as ice chunk gathering, ice crystal mining, tree climbing, toboggan rides, fireside lounging, and craft projects.  Things were going so well we decided to forego planned morning activities.

After lunch, our group assembled and struck out to find our very own camp spot where we could build our own thing.  We brought some supplies with us on the sled and looked for a spot with lots of firewood, building resources, and exciting natural features.  We did find a really nice place and set to work; some of us focused on starting a shelter while others were gathering fire supplies or playing on the nearby slope.  Some of us teamed up and harvested a small dead cedar tree using a hatchet and carved that down into a bow drill friction fire kit.  We used that to get a coal and almost got a flame but unfortunately, the tinder bundle we had made was a little too damp.  Quite a few kids in our group seem interested in learning the bow drill so we will follow up again next week, this time using some better tinder.

Winter Session, Week 1

Story of the day from Thursday, January 21st 2021

We started our day off with golden sun shining on the snow-covered bows of the nearby white pines as chickadees flitted about.   What a beautiful first day for our Thursday Winter Session !  As the kids arrived, piled out of their cars, and piled on their snow gear,  they ran to play some morning games led by Matt, Zach and Gabby.  While Kriya hung with a small crew as we built and designed our own snowperson,  “Billy”.   Soon it was time for morning circle where we got to hear from everyone, their name and what we were excited about for the winter session.  We also covered the basic agreements and safety rules.   By that time, the kids had had a nice snack and were ready to hike and explore so we set out!
We meandered and slid down a fun little slope and found ourselves in a nice opening where we split into 3 groups:  Birch, Cedar, and Pine.  Each group was tasked with gathering tinder and kindling from their group’s tree name and everyone did great!   Once we packed up all our fire goodies, we set out toward the fire pit.   Suddenly we happened upon a near-perfect trail of Bobcat tracks!  Fresh from the morning many beautiful tracks greeted our eyes and inquiries…  and we quickly named our first trail of this new place; “bob-cat trail” of course:)  Deer, rabbit, squirrel, vole and opossum tracks slowed our journey to the fire pit with new wonders with each step.  
Once we arrived, we dropped our packs and some kids chose to free play and explore the creekside while others chose to help Matt and Zach get a fire going with the materials we gathered together.  Soon the fire was cookin and it was lunchtime.   Matt and Kaia both led rounds of the Story/Game “trickster transformer” during lunch and it was quite a hoot.  Afterward, free play, fort building, snowball play and sit spots happened quite naturally.   Soon it was time to head back up so we split in 2 choice-based groups to wander our way back up.  One group exlored the lookout trail while the other followed bob-cat trail deep into the wetland.    We all reunited up at the big field for some snowball play, giant snowball making, and many silly incarnations of “billy” the snowman occurred.
At closing circle we got to hear everyone’s favorite part of the day.  We look forward to seeing everyone next week! 

Winter Session, Week 1

Story of the day from Tuesday, January 19th, 2021

Carries  & Zach’s Group (Group Name TBD!)
We had a great day exploring around the optimist club property.
We watched snow melt in the creek and warm spring, hiked in the blue marked trails and wandered down the trail after lunch to try and build a fort.
To build our fort we had to clear branches away from our location. This was a great time for everyone to practice climbing trees and moving snow. After attempts were made in building a fort we settled on a sturdy bridge instead. We have the basics down and next week we will find a better location to build a new fort. saFarther down the trail we found a great spot to try some penguin sledding. It was so fun to see everyone sliding down! We ended our day with a big hike up to the top of the hill and ended with a fun game of duck duck goose.

Matt and Gabby’s Group:  (Group Name TBD:   Our first day on the olders group went well, we explored our new winter territory, made new friends, and had a good old time.  Right off we played a handful of games including fox and geese, eagle’s eye, and freeze tag.  Afterward, we split into our 2 groups and made our way down into the valley where we set our things down and had a snack break.  During our break, we swapped stories, shared our names and some fun facts from each person.

From there, we went on an exploration first along some of the expansive boardwalks through the wetlands and then all the way up to the highest point in the property overlooking the whole area.  We raced down the big hill and back to camp where the kids built a campfire and some of us even roasted food over the fire during lunch.
In the afternoon, there was some free play time during which some kids came up with a game of Island kingdom, another subgroup built bridges across the creek, and others spent some time by the fire and made fire tongs.  Of course, there were also some snowball fights here and there.  We then offered an opportunity for Knife training and certification, more than half the group joined in on this and will find out their certification level next week.  We ended our day with a raucous series of dodgeball games before gathering with the big group to share “apples and onions” from each person’s day.
Things we will be working on
  • Coming up with a new group name.
  • Learning about each other, sticking together, and teamwork.
  • Temperature regulation and all the little choices we can practice that help up stay warm in freezing temperatures. 
  • Fire building and fireside craft projects including carving opportunities.
  • Wildlife tracking and learning about winter wildlife.
  • Duct tape sleds!

Week 8 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Thursdays,  Oct 29th, 2020

Carrie’s Group   
Carrie’s adventures: Gabby started our day showing us how to make a fire with a bow drill, after a couple attempts she has a great coal! We then headed out to the woods for some fun climbing on trees. Everyone has really become so at ease up in a tree. After the wind pushed us out of our resting spot we headed over to the big maple tree by the spring for lunch and to meet up with Matt’s group for an afternoon of games and some more tree climbing. We all had fun playing some hiding and tag games, some of us got tired right out, and when we were staying perfectly still for one game we might have took a nice and cozy nap. When we got close on time we hiked back for goodbyes, and shared stories of our favorite day at nature school!
Blue Beavers:  After a morning of carving and bow drill practice,  we had a short opening circle before heading out to the shelter of the forest.  We began with a a pretty big trek, all the way up fire mountain.  It was a slog but we had some great rest and play breaks at some beautiful places along the way.  Once we arrived to our spot, we were nicely tucked away out of the wind and kicked off our time with a little fire as well as some climbing and jumping among the sandy cliffs.  After lunch we cozied in for a game of trickster transformer, followed by some free play time.  Then we were back on the trail, meanderings down through the beech/maple forest, dotted with hemlock as the we lowered in elevation.  Soon we pooped out at a favorite old place; the apple orchard!  With not much time to spare, we climbed the trees and taste tested the apples, finding “the most delicious apples ever!”  

Skunks: 

Our last day began with kickball, it was a spirited game and also a landslide victory.  Everyone played hard, for some it was kind of a new game and we learned as we went, by the end of the game most everyone was a little worn down and ready for a water and snack break. 

From there, we packed up and headed on.  As we hiked, the kids started forming impromptu clans for some unknown mission.  Our plan was for all the groups to meet in the ‘elephant graveyard’, we arrived first and the kids were pumped up about spying and scouting.  They snuck around looking for other groups and eventually snuck up on Carries group.  It turned out to be too windy and there were too many dead trees in that area so we packed up and went to an alternative location down by the spring where we had lunch.
Unfortunately, Kriyas group was not able to join us for the hootenanny but Carries group and our group had a blast playing games together.  We played Coyote Deer, Sleeping Fawn, Coyote Pup, and lastly capture the flag before hiking out all together.  Everyone played really well together, it was great.
In the big field, we said our goodbyes, the kids got cards from me, and everyone got their bow and arrow or atlatl projects to take home.  As parents arrived, we did some finishing touches on our projects and then some of us stayed a little later to do some target and distance shooting.  
Thank your everyone, it was a great and memorable session!

Week 8 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

The Salamanders
The Salamanders spent a fine last Tuesday together today through the full spectrum of October weather. We began under sleet, ate lunch under giant fluffy snowflakes, ended the day in the sun, and had a great time along the way.
At opening circle we shared stories from our sit-spots over the last week and talked about what we most look forward to this winter. That conversation may have called in the snow that would fall shortly, but who can say? Our first stop of the day was the spring and the generous shelter of white pines and maples nearby, where we enjoyed the beautiful snowfall while climbing, building nests from pine needles and playing at the spring. After lunch we set off for Otter Slide Hill, which the kids had no problem navigating to from memory, and where we would meet the other three groups for a ‘village’ afternoon.
At the base of Otter Slide Hill, we set up four stations, each led by an instructor, and the students were able to cycle through them at their own pace. Matt led an endless and spirited game of spide-rball, Carrie led crafting and drawing, Kriya led fire-making challenges, and Scott led soapstone carving. By the sounds of it, the students thoroughly enjoyed all the stations, and savored the chance to see all the groups in one place at a safe distance.
We all walked back to the lawn in a stretched-out train of students and instructors, and shared stories from each of the stations along the way. It has been a fantastic session, and it was certainly bittersweet bidding farewell to our fellow Salamanders, but we will surely cross paths again before long.
Mud Slug Survivors:
We had a beautiful snowy morning together working on our bow drill kits, doing a bit of carving and sharing stories under towering Norway Spruce as the snow fell.  Soon we were out and about, exploring some new cool places such as the “Hippie Tree” and taking deer trails through the Cedars.  Once in the Cedars we gave the kids a fire challenge.  They worked together and did great!  Afterward they carefully selected dead and down birch and cedar trees to gather tinder bundle materials from went above and beyond in getting great bundles together to dry and save for, quite literally, a rainy day:)  We then followed bike trails up, up and up some more, until reaching the top of fire mountain.  The view was lovely and the sun came out and we rested with our backs against mossy trunks to enjoy our lunch and conversation together.  Once we were rested and nourished, we followed a winding trails through the Maple and Beeches to Otter Slide Hill and spent the remainder of our day, sharing the space with the other HNS groups and giving the kids options to tour through different activities such carving, soap stone sculpting, nature art, fire making and a few games.  It was a lovely end to the session!
The Eagles 
Our grand finale!  Today, we wrapped up our fall session with a kids passion day, meaning we followed the lead of the kids throughout the day.  In the AM, we played some spooky games including Predator-Prey-Protector, Murder, Run-Scream-Die, and jump the mace.  A number of us were wearing Halloween costumes which lead to goofing around and Halloween shenanigans.
Our destination was Otter slide hill, on the way we noticed some newly broken windows in the abandoned asylum, we took the opportunity to carefully peek in….strange sites and smells for sure!  At the hill, we had some time to put finishing touches on our shelter using beech and ash bark for shingles to hold off the rain.  Also, some of us scouted around the area, listening to bird language and subtle noises to indicate the coming of other groups.  Just before lunch, the others began to arrive.  We had lunch at our shelter and got ready for the afternoon fun.
Village day!  We spent the afternoon playing and crafting with the other 3 groups.  Kids could free flow to any group, one group played ‘Hog-Nerg’, another group was making wooden beads and soapstone pieces, another group was doing wood carving, and another group was working on fire making skills like bow drill.  Time really flew by, we had to beat feet to make it back in time and wrapped up with some sweet goodbyes and all the kids got appreciation cards.
Thanks Everybody!! 
 Snail Pigeons :

 It was a fun last day. We started off our morning with a check in on how everyone was doing, and playing our best card game from Radley. The smalls of our group also did some amazing team work to climb a big maple tree on the main lawn.  After the first major rain/snow storm we started our walk heading towards the botanical gardens. We were excited to check in where we started our first fall session, the secret garden! It was a tough walk as the rain and snow tried to get us to turn back, but we stayed strong and some of us tried catching the snow flakes on our tongues. It was impressive to see the amount of work that has taken place at the gardens since we began fall session, and we enjoyed seeing how the gardens have progressed all fall, from full vibrant blooms to only a couple flowers left still holding color. We ventured up to the woods after a mice walk into the labyrinth, this space has been so busy all fall we never had a chance to explore it. We took a lunch break in the big eagles nest before walking through to see all the new fairy houses that have been placed. Our afternoon adventure took place at the popular otter slide hill. We met all the other groups where we broke up into groups to participate in a free choice of activities: carving, drawing, fire building, soap stone carving, and spider ball. All the girls did a little of everything,  it stayed together  our group for the most part. After our walk back to the commons we were able to enjoy a big cookie while we talked about our favorite parts of the fall- the consensus was the day at the spring.

Week 7 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Thursdays,  Oct 22nd, 2020

Carrie’s Group   
Carrie’s adventures went out today after playing a few new games on the lawn. We set out to climb one of the  highest points on the commons. This was tough work, but Gabby says we did it in record time! We took a mice long break at the top before heading to our lunch location. Once tucked into the maples everyone started working on their very own forts. Each group took a different approach but all of them looked great when they were done! The reward of being able to eat lunch in each fort was worth the hard work! After lunch everyone took turns playing in and around the trees. We have some pretty impressive tree climbers. Before the rain started we began our hike back. The route back was so much more fun as we had a chance to run down otter slide hill. On the way back to the commons we also found some spare porcupine quills. We ended our day with a great story on a Big Storm. It fit well with the heavy rain we received!
Blue Beavers: It was lovely to get back together after missing the previous week.  We started out with games as well as a beautiful bow drill demo from Zachary.  Zach got a coal and with the help of a cedar tinder bundle and some air, he was able to blow the coal into flame!  Upon circling up, we casually discussed where fire comes from and all the ways humans, including all of our ancestors have relied on fire; a thrilling and compelling topic to be sure!  Kriya then shared a spooky/funny myth about the discovery of fire.  Once we were on the trail, we soon realized we were all moving kinda of slow and tired like so we amended our big plans to stay closer to base and tucked into the fairy forest near the eagles nest for a break and a few rounds of “grounder”.  It was a lovely nook and we enjoyed lunch there after.   Expecting some afternoon rain, we looped to a hemlock patch in the “elephant graveyard”.  We set up our “bushbuddy” a small portable fire container, and gave the kids a fire starting challenge: 3 matches + 5 minutes to get a fire going.    They were on the right track, grabbing hemlock twigs and leaves (unfortunately everything was pretty damp so it was a tough start)  Kriya grabbed some Birch bark taught some fire starting basics and gave the kids another try, they did great but were largely spooked by holding a match once they had lit it and tended to immediately toss it into the fire.  So we taught basic match holding tricks and started an impromptu competition to see who could hold a flame on a match the longest.   The kids got the hang of it real quick and gained confidence and skill immediately.  37 seconds was the record!  Then some kids carved, while others  balanced on logs and others climbed up and down the steep slopes.  We then headed back to base, gathering our new friends, Birch and Cedar bark as we traveled, preparing ourselves for the next fire challenge.   And upon arriving back at base, we too huddled under the lofty Norway Spruce as the rains came down.  

 

Skunks: 

WooHoo, what a day!

We had a pretty lax start, some of us worked on atlatl and wood craft whilst most everyone battled it out in a crackaboom royale!  Winner of each round was Crackaboom King and got to watch from the inflatable throne, make rules, call jailbreaks, and have the adulation of the people.  Once this had run its course, we assembled and got into our morning project all together, our goal was to wrap up and complete our archery and atlatl build.  We were sawing, chopping, cutting, flaking, hafting, stringing, glueing, and working our way through but despite our best efforts the clock caught up to us again.  A few people did complete atlatl throwers and/or darts and some others made great progress on their archery arrows….hopefully with a little more time next week we will be finally complete and everyone will have a complete set to take home.
After a lunch break, we beat track and made our way to the woods.  We had a brief exploration, having heard the DNR was trying to live trap a black bear in the commons we went looking for the bear trap.  We just wanted to have a glance at it and see what the deal was but perhaps we missed the boat as we did not find the trap rumored to be behind Spanglish.  Nearby we settled into a great spot by the creek and played several games including Dethrone, Eagles Eye, and some classic Capture the Flag.  The rain started to pour down but that did not deter our game and we played it out until there was a triumph.  We made it back just in time for pickup, huddled together under a great big Norway Spruce.
TAKE HOME CHALLENGE:  Black bear safety, do research and determine how to be safe when black bears are known to be in your neighborhood and what to do if you have a close encounter with one.
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Week 6 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Thursdays,  Oct 15th, 2020

Carrie’s Group   
Carrie’s Adventures:
We started off with a great game of Get Gabby with pool noodles! Everyone was full speed running around and having so much fun, well maybe Gabby had a little less fun then the kiddos. For morning circle we read a story of how a young girl imagined what it would be like to be a snail crawling around. Before we went too far on our hike for the morning the kids could not resist the leaves, they needed to create a large pile so they could take a couple jumps into it.
Our hike took us up to Otter Slide hill, but on the way we had a great time practicing coming down a smaller sand hill, and took a break out of the brief rain shower. After we arrived at Otter Slide Hill, named because in the winter many children will be seen sliding down like otters on their bellies, everyone took a turn going all the way up and running down. While they rested at the bottom we were on a search for our favorite rocks. There are so many different types and colors of rocks there it was hard to choose the favorites. Lunch was a welcomed distraction from the hill as we all worked up a big appetite. After lunch some individuals took a couple more runs on the big hill while a new nature band erupted in the lunch spot. Soon all the kiddos were helping out, singing and drumming. We had quite the beautiful noise coming from the woods. The rain that came only added to the wonderful noise, creating a different sound to the mix. No one seemed phased by this rain and kept on singing.
After the rain passed we packed up and took the scenic route back to the commons. We climbed up and down many more hills, and were able to see some interesting trees and even some bone pieces. We ended our day back at the big lawn with the story of the Indian Paintbrush.
The take home challenge for today is to watch the sunset or a sunrise.

Skunks: 

We started with some good old fashioned “crackboom” which has become a fan favorite in recent weeks.  During this, some of us did some next steps work on our DIY bow and arrow build including cutting/prepping turkey feathers and attaching them to arrows using paracord strands on and melted spruce pitch as well as debarking and straightening of arrows.
From there, we went on over to kids creek to gather some willow suckers so we could build atlatls.  While at the creek, we spotted some remnant salmon including a couple really big ones!  All told, we found 8 good darts and 3 decent throwers, we brought these back to continue on later.  
Our post lunch plan was a final archery tag showdown, this we did until we wore out our hands!  It was a blast!  We concluded our day with a few rounds of archery skookum, another new classic reinvention of the old ‘fire keeper’ game.
TAKE HOME CHALLENGE:  What is an atlatl?  Learn 5 things about them.

Week 6 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Tuesday, October 13th, 2020

The Salamanders

The Salamanders spent another fine October day together today. Sure, a day haunted by the prospect of rain that at one point had us discussing whether to build a shelter, run for the building or panic, but in the end a dry, colorful and fun day in the Commons together. We began the day with a spirited game of ‘anemones and plankton’ (which is a spinoff of ‘amphibians and insects’ — itself a spinoff of ‘sharks and minnows’), before finding a nice sunny patch for opening circle. We took turns sharing our stories from the last week of stargazing, and heard about the Big Dipper, Pleiades, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and the thin crescent moon.
Our first stop of the day was the Botanic Garden, where we explored the hushed alcoves of the ‘stable garden’. In the pollinator garden nearby many flowers were still blooming, and insects of all sorts were busy stocking up on food. Our walk next took us into the woods to the ‘giant bird nest’, where we played a few informal games, and onward across a single-log bridge to the aspen grove beyond. At the aspen grove we chose a comfortable, dry spot to eat lunch.  After lunch, word came in from the directors that rain was moving our way, and since we weren’t all dressed for wet weather, we opted to walk back to the building after some deliberation. On the walk back we watched dark rainclouds pass around the Commons, but remained mercifully dry. Back at the lawn we played a few rounds of ‘eagle eye’, that Salamander standby, and adapted it to different species. We played one round of ‘chickadee eye’, one of ‘hawk eye’ and one very short round of ‘salamander eye’ before adjourning to play among the wildflowers going to seed along the banks of the stream.  The take-home challenge this week is to collect colorful leaves again, like we did the first week, and to come up with fanciful, poetic or silly names for their colors. Pay attention to how the colors and textures of the leaves have changed since September, and bring a few favorites and their names to share with the group next week. Can you catch a leaf as it drifts down from the blazing canopy?

Mud Slug Survivors
After morning games, circle and story, we headed out with a an adventurous spirit to explore brand new areas and trails.  found our way following deer trails through cedar swamps, playing on the branches of giant fallen Black Willows like they were our own special jungle gym and tuning into our senses and and surroundings as we went.   We found a nice open sunny meadow for lunch and then had some time to practice carving and take on a leaf ID challenge.   Then  the kids found another fallen tree with jungle gym branches, this time a Box Elder! And spent their free play time enacting challenges and adventures walking and leaping from branch to branch.  Soon it looked like rain was on the way so we took to Hemlock Creek to afford ourselves some nice shelter should the rains start.  It remained dry but the kids couldn’t help but play in the creek, exploring up and down, building dams ,  throwing rocks (carefully at targets:) and having a lovely time. 
The Eagles 

We had a pretty relaxed morning, kicked around a soccer ball, played a few rounds of dodge ball, and chatted as we got caught up and warmed up.  In our morning circle, there was a grand announcement that Kaia, after having completed her take home carving project to the best of her ability and having turned that in for a full staff review has now officially earned and received level 3 certification for knife skills!  This is our highest level of certification, Kaia now has our full confidence and is able to carve independently at class and even monitor level 2 carvers.  Nice work Kaia!! We went on out to the woods and stopped at a well stocked carving and crafting area.  Most of our group were excited to work on some carving projects, a few of the kids were doing log balancing and lumber jack rolls nearby.  We scouted around for the perfect piece of green basswood and had to improvise a ladder to harvest the perfect branch.  As we scouted we also identified ironwood, beech, and sugar maple trees.  We had our lunch there but decided it had gotten too cold for anymore handicraft, so we wandered on down to a nearby stream.  The sun came out for a bit and we enjoyed wading in the stream, scouting around, and using the rope swing.  We saw a quick flash of action in the creek, guessing it was a brook trout.  We had to get back for an early pickup, so we assembled and hiked back. The rest of our afternoon was spend playing a variety of games in the lawn space, this included ‘trick or treat’, ‘mirror’, ‘pass the stick’, ‘everybodys it’, ‘noodle ninja’, ‘murder’, and more. TAKE HOME CHALLENGE:  Catch a wild leaf!  Thats right, catch a leaf as it falls from a tree before it hits the ground, bonus is to catch as many differently colored leaves as possible and report back next week!  The previous record for leaves caught in one week by a student is 21.

 Snail Pigeons :

The Snail Pigeons started the morning reconnecting with each other. It is amazing how much has happened after a week apart. We had some fun laughs while Radley taught us a new card game, similar to War but with a twist. We took a nice hike out to the spring where we were able to catch the sunshine, rolling down the hill, climbing trees, and play in the spring. The girls worked hard to help the flow of the spring by removing the pine needles. A tiring job as the wind was persistent so the needles kept falling from the pine up above. We took a break and a short walk down into the swamp to collect some materials to at temp cattail weaving and natural cordage. While on the walk we were able to snack on autumn olives and find wands for everyone that wanted one. With the chance of rain we headed back early to the commons where some of our group joined Matt’s in a few games of “tag” with noodles. Days like today are hard to beat, but we can not wait for next week.

Week 5 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

The Salamanders

Today was our fifth Tuesday together, and after a week of rain, we savored the clear skies and warm breeze with a good long walk, lots of games and some unexpected October flower collecting at the end of the day.
We began the day with a reprise of ‘Sharks and minnows’ from last week, except this time it was ‘Amphibians and insects’. Who knew worms could run so fast? At opening circle we each shared stories from our sit-spot, and we heard about chickadees alarming from the trees, woodpeckers at work, barred owls corresponding in the forest at dusk and gulls calling overhead. I encourage the kids to keep up the practice — there is untold richness in sitting. The first leg of our walk took us down Autumn Olive Lane, where there were still a few speckled red berries clinging to the branches, to where Kid’s Creek flows under the trail. There we looked for spawning salmon, puzzled at the sound of walnuts falling from the surrounding trees and watched crimson leaves circle the whirlpools beneath the bridge. Next we made the hike over the the aspen grove, where we spent some time on another sunny day this session, and settled in for lunch. The rattling leaves overhead provided just enough shade as we ate and told stories. The last leg of our long walk took us back to the lawn where we played a good many rounds of ‘Eagle Eye’, a favorite game among the Salamanders. At first glance, the grassy expanse dotted with trees didn’t seem to offer many places to hide, but after a round or two we found that it’s a great place to play the game. After ‘Eagle Eye’, we visited the stream and the kids collected bouquets for their parents. The take-home challenge this week is to go outside after dark or before sunrise and see if you can spot any planets. How about constellations? What phase is the moon in? Draw a picture of what you saw and bring it next Tuesday to share.

Mud Slug Survivors
After our morning games we circled up, shared some gratitude and created a whole new, funny, spooky, mystical story all together as a group, each person getting a chance to add to the story.  Then we packed up and headed out toward the clay pit.  On the way, we ventured up a mighty hillside speckled with autumn olive, golden rod and sumac.   Then we made our down through Hemlock creek, passed by some familiar toxic plants the kids immediately recognized (Dolls Eyes, Deadly Nightshade and Virginia Creeper, great job kids!) We took a break at a Jewel Weed patch to pop the seed pods, always fun! Then made our way through the Cedar Cathedral and on to the clay pit.  We gathered some clay and then headed to the spring to play and build and tree climb and work our clay.  After a nice lunch we practiced carving some more and built shelters. Eventually we headed back to base for some games, sit spot and free time.  It was a beautiful day!
The Eagles 

Yesterday began with a wonderful treat, Kaia brought in home made pumpkin donuts and we had some local organic cider form Omena.  We swapped some stories from the week and talked about our day which was focused on archery.  We teamed up and brought out a slew of archery equipment and set up a shooting range. After some brief review and instruction, we let loose on the range and sent many volleys of arrows.  The first round, 35 arrows were shot and almost none of them hit the target but as things went on the vast majority of shots were on target.  Throughout this we had a points tournament going, the winner got to be “teacher for the day” which has become a theme in which a new person each week gets a special leadership role after lunch.   We had lunch and as I set up for archery tag the girls were chilling in the sun and the boys were pretending to be cats.  We played a few rounds of archery tag which is a game similar to dodge ball but replaces the balls with foam tipped arrows and has some small targets you need to hit in order to win the game.  This is a fast paced and adrenalated game which also demands a high level of focus to fire a bow arrow and dodge too.   After a water break, we decided to press pause on archery and play some good old fashioned ‘murder mystery’ which is a classic school yard game.  Our final archery session of the day was a capture the flag type game which was a big hit!  

 Snail Pigeons :

The Snail Pigeons enjoyed a perfect fall day on the commons. We took a long route to the Aspens where we took a break for lunch. While there everyone enjoyed running through the woods, climbing the tree, and just building connections. We traveled up to otter slide hill for afternoon adventures. Everyone enjoyed heading to the top of the hill and running down, carving sandstone, and just full on imaginary play. We got to see some great salamanders as well under the LARGE logs. When we made our way back to the big lawn we played a fun game of Animal Charades. It was great to be out in the wonderful weather!

Week 5 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Thursdays,  Oct 8th, 2020

Carrie’s Group   
We started with a fun game of plant matching with cards. We have been practicing identifying different types of plants, and this is a fun way to look at details without direct instruction. After a beautiful story about flowers went out to a new place for the day. We headed to the “frog pond” near a small patch of red pine trees. This is a great spot as it is not too far, but has a great deal of habitat to explore. We took a peak in the pond and could not find a single one, we did have a strange view of bobbing apples in the pond, and after some looking Gabby found a tree full of wild apples. We took some attempts at hitting them down with other apples, throwing sticks, and shaking the tree. All those that were interested were able to try them, they were so sweet! After gathering some cattails, both the leaves and the cattail heads ( they did not last long as many tried to see how far the fluff would travel), we headed back into the pines and attempted some cattail weaving. Crowns were being made all around! Cattail weaving is not an easy task, but we all had fund attempting. As some friends worked on their weaving others went on a mission for more cattail and a good time sliding down the big hill. After a short break for lunch everyone went off to play more on the hill. We traveled back to the commons the more adventurous route across a creek, we were lucky to spot a nice garter snake and two salamanders. When we got back to the big lawn we took time to practice jumping off the big stump, play around the creek and some friends got their hands dirty in the stash of clay. We ended our day with some stories and a game of tag with the extra cattails we had left over. 
Blue Beavers
After a morning of games we circled up for morning circle,  shared some gratitude and heard an ancient story of people and their place.  Before heading out for the days adventure, we spotted a Blue Heron at the nearby stream and fox walked over to see if we could get a closer look; it was beautiful and awesome! Then we headed on down Autumn Olive Lane  the Salmon Creek to see what we could find.  We built some fishing poles from nettle cordage, hawthorn hooks, box elder bobbers and hand filed soap stone sinkers.  We crafted happily along the shore until a salmon was spotted and an uproar of activity ensued, chasing and hunting the salmon.  One kid jumped in right after it, chasing it down the creek, trying to catch it by hand, it just barely escaping his grasp.   The excitement was tangible! Soon we settled back into filing, carving and crafting until another salmon was spotted and the flurry of activity erupted all over again!  It was an epic and beautiful day:)  We finished the day off with a game of fire keeper and then some free play where the kids chased each other barefoot around the field, breathless and joyful; classic! 

 

Skunks:  Today was great, fun and games ruled the day.  In the morning we played ‘crackaboom’ which is a all vs all tight knit version of dodgeball, this included classic, b-ball version, and elimination.  It was a riot.

The rest of our morning was spent scouting for white tails, we went into the nether regions of the commons hoping to spot some deer, find signs of the rut, and maybe even rattle in a buck.  We did find some fresh buck rubs, some tracks and scats, and found some great deer areas but what we found more of was junk and trash from people.  Unfortunately the area was pretty littered so we skirted around the area and found our way to the main trail.  Along the way, we did find an interesting snake.
Around noonish, we wound up at a trailhead where I had our bows and arrow projects from 2 weeks ago waiting for us.  I had done some more prep work on the staves and brought in some special tools for the next steps.  I had also brought in a bunch of turkey feathers for fletching our home made arrows.  Unfortunately, the woods were a little too chilly to have much focused handicraft time so we had to cut our work short before anyone completed their project.  However, several students are really making great progress.
We hit the trail to warm up and get fired up for some afternoon games.  Back at the lawn space we played A LOT of dodgeball including classic, left hand only, switcheroo, and 2 vs. 7.  It was a ton of fun.  We wrapped up our day with a version of capture the flag that used dodge balls in place of tagging, a game very similar to snowball capture the flag for those familiar with that game.  
WooHoo-Game Day!

Week 4 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Thursdays,  Oct 1st, 2020

Carrie’s Group
We started our day with our surprise from Carrie, animal “slingshots”. These were fun to run around and shoot before morning circle. It was a great way to keep warm and interact with each other, plus we really enjoyed the sneak shots we got on Gabby! We shared our favorite leaves that we have in our yard, or grandmas yard. It sounds like we all have similar species. After a bathroom break our hike started with a tall hill, which the group loved going up but decided we did Not need to do again, unless there was snow. We hiked on to the hemlock creek, where we were surprised to see fairies had moved into. It is always a nice surprise for everyone when we can find these little treasures our in the woods. The group then enjoyed building their own houses, climbing on the trees, jumping over and in the creek and playing with each other. After a small break for lunch we all went back to working along the creek, and exploring some more. As we kept playing around the creek the rain came more frequently and some of us got our feet wet, so the best solution: hike to stay warm. So we traveled through the trails where we practiced climbing on more trees, one being the big Hippie Tree. On the way back to the commons we tried to sneak up on Matt’s group but Carrie gave away our location. We ended our wet adventures today by reading a story and playing slingshot tag again. Take home challenge: bring in either a fruit or nut growing in your yard or your favorite leaf you can find.
Blue Beavers
We enjoyed a beautiful morning of games and circled up to share gratitude and heard the Badora Story.  Right as the story was ending we spotted a Red Tail Hawk hunting squirrels! We were able to sneak up really close to the hawk and witness it’s many attempts to swoop through and catch a gray squirrel.   The Hawk was not successful and it didn’t take long for all the birds to quiet forming a tunnel of silence and every squirrel was on high alert and in good hiding.  The hawk left realizing it was busted and would have to try again later:)  Then we headed out to the forest.  Throughout our hike we tuned into to many plants and trees through the lens of what would work well as tinder.   We carefully tested the various materials gathered with a lighter to see if they would catch and hold a flame.   This activity worked really well to help attune the kids to their surroundings more deeply.   Soon we found a nice spot for lunch under a big Hemlock to protect us from the passing rain.  Then it was a big hike up to Otter Slide hill for free play, carving practice and shelter building.   When the rains came back through, we tucked in under a big Ole Hemlock again and played a story game called trickster transformer.  Then it was time to head on back.

 

Skunks!

Our day began with a game of ultimate frisbee, the competition was intense and the victory of team Hammersley was by a wide margin despite the best efforts of team hive.  After this, we took a much needed breather and snack break.

Our morning was all about salmon, we headed over to an area of rapids on kids creek where the salmon can be found resting between their upstream efforts.  Along the way we checked all around the abandoned buildings for Turkey Vulture feathers to be used in finishing our arrows next week.  At the rapids, we did find quite a few salmon and everyone who wanted had a chance to pet them and get plenty of close up time observing them.  There was also a brief attempt by the kids to dissect a dead salmon, we realized they have amazingly tough skin!
On our creek exploration, we wound up at some awesome cedar trees that made a natural shelter and settled in there for lunch.  There was a natural tree fort which was great and we spooked a Great Blue Heron off, really neat to see!  Some of the kids were inspired to improvise some fishing gear and made a go at trying to catch a salmon, the ideas were creative but not fruitful.
During lunch we realized that all around the edge of our area there was poison ivy, we wrapped everything up there and carefully made our way outta there and then to a precarious log bridge where we helped each other across and out of the poison ivy zone.  Folks were a little chilly at this point due to the nw wind and the occasional rain showers, we hiked a bit to warm up and took a break to gather and munch autumn olives and wild grapes.
We made our way up to Higher Grounds hill which offers good wind and rain shelter to do some fire challenges in the rain!!  We split into 2 groups, given 15 minutes 1 group was tasked with making a bow drill from scratch and the other to make a fire in our camp grill from all found materials.  Each group scrambled against the clock to gather the perfect materials and work as a team.  Each group got to do each activity and with some help from Emmerson and I, all eventually had success!  We took some time to warm our hands by the little fire and played a few rounds of a game called trickster transformer, a naturalist story game.
We made it back to the pick up area with just a few minutes to spare and got a chance to play some “monkey in the middle” frisbee at wrap up.
TAKE HOME CHALLENGE:  Gather and bring in 3 different natural tinders that would be useful in fire making, what species of plant have you found?

Week 4 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Tuesday,Sept 29th, 2020

The Salamanders

Today marked the halfway point of this fall session, and The Salamanders spent it in fine form, enjoying the surprise sun in a favorite spot. There was spring water, clay, daylily cordage, toads and the unexpected discovery of traces from our first day together. We began the day with a spirited game of ‘Sharks and Minnows’, which is a kind of tag with pool noodles, and which gave us an opportunity to speculate on the great variety of fishes in the sea. Who knew there’s such a thing as a lemon shark? At opening circle we all shared the flowers we had collected over the last week, and we wondered at how the colors of the pressed goldenrod, aster, jewelweed, etc might appear as we flip through our journals in deepest winter. On our way out into the forest, we encountered a big group of chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers spread out among the trees. We froze and listened to the birds for a few minutes, struck by how many more we noticed when we were still. Our first stop of the day was a special spot where we spent the afternoon of our first day together this session. There, on the surface of a beech log, right where we had dug out rusty red decomposing wood, a pearly flush of oyster mushrooms had emerged. Nearby, we rediscovered the surprisingly well-preserved ruins of our mandalas and miniature villages. From there we walked to the spring and the nearby pines, where we would set up camp for the day. Beneath the pines we built tiny toad houses from sticks and pine needles, and in the spring we found a nice deposit of fine, gray clay, which provided plenty of material from which to fashion tableware for the toads. A nearby patch of daylilies provided good material for braiding and twisting into cordage. After lunch, Scott read aloud ‘Inch by Inch’, which is about an inchworm’s clever response to a nightingale’s riddle. The take-home challenge this week is to find a ‘sit-spot’ in the yard or on a walk with family, and to sit still there, watching and listening to whatever is going on, for at least five minutes. Bonus salamander points (I just made those up) if you sit even longer. We’ll be able to share what we heard and saw at our sit-spots during opening circle next Tuesday.

Mud Slug Survivors
After our morning games we circled up, shared some gratitude and heard a sweet story from Taylor.  Once on the trail, we headed all the way up leek mountain and settled into a sweet spot for lunch.  After lunch we built a cool and shelter and had time for carving practice.  The kids did great at remembering the safety rules and settled into the carving with ease.   On the hike back, we found a sweet sunny spot in an upper meadow and had some sit spot time, journaling time, nature nap time,  and resting time.  We got a couple games of Eagle Eye in before heading back down the mountain; it was a beautiful day!
The Eagles 

We had another great day, we began with a continuation of our skull sorting project, this time focusing on small skulls.  The kids were most interested in the strange skulls like the longnose gar and the little brown bats, also really excited about the carnivores!  We were also hanging out and catching up.

Our focus for the day was fishing!  We kicked it off by gathering willow cane poles, choosing willow because it will regrow rapidly after harvest and they have a nice bend for a fishing pole.  We meandered on down to the trail bridge over kids creek that offers plenty of space for us to spread out.  Gladly, we found there were a nice number of salmon right there waiting for us!
The kids learned the fisherman’s know and set up their poles with line, a hook, and a sinker.  For bait we had wax worms, red worms, crawlers, and fake salmon eggs.  We gave it our best, all told we caught 4 sucker fish and 1 rainbow trout.  Try as we might, we could not get those salmon to bite but it sure was exciting seeing them swimming around.
After lunch, we goofed around a bit at the waters edge, daring to cross over on a narrow beam and chucking rocks into the mud.  From there, we decided to pick some apples up at the old orchard.  We are considering making a DIY apple press next week and make our own cider.  On the way, we found a couple of salmon that were stuck on the rocks, trying to get up creek.  We attempted to assist them up and over the rock impasse but they powerfully flopped on back downstream.
At the orchard, we climbed and shook the trees and came away with a few dozen apples.  It seems the trees had already been picked over, next week I will bring in some apples that we can use.  By popular demand, we rushed back and set up a game of spider ball, now known as hognerg which was the grand finale of the game.
 Snail Pigeons :

The Snail Pigeons took a stroll today. We headed up to the spring to see what it looks like, as no one in the group had been there for a while. We noticed the cool water, and tiny insects swimming. After a brief wave to another group we moved on to the Botanical Gardens secret garden for lunch. This has become our “go to” space. We love the colors, the stone guard dogs and the nice protection from the wind. We warmed up in the sun and enjoyed a quiet lunch. After lunch we wanted to head to the woods to work on some soap stone projects. This is a tough project as it takes a lot of time, and you have to be careful not to be too rough as the stone will break. Everyone caught on quick and dug right in. Free play and soap stone carving kept us busy until it was time to hike back for pick up

Week 3 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Thursdays, Sept 24th, 2020

Carrie’s Group
What a great day! We started out by testing our jumping skills and playing a game in circle. Everyone can jump so high! We also had a chance to look at our new flag we all created together last week. Our hike took us to autumn olive lane where we could enjoy probably the last hot day of fall. We took a stop by the creek and bridge where everyone took to jumping some more. It is a good thing we practiced with the jump rope, everyone could make it from the bridge to the bank across the water without getting wet. Once our bellies were really hungry we moved down the path to the large box elder tree for lunch and some climbing. Gabby taught us a new hide and seek game- Deer and coyote. It was fun hiding in the tall grass while the coyote tried to find everyone. After everyone who wanted was able to be the coyote we headed back to the commons, but we went on the more advanced route! We bushwhacked through the tall grass, across thistle patches and through the wet cattail- where we had to back track and find a new route. This was tough, yet we did not give up. We came out to the other bank tired, a little muddy, and so relieved to make it. Gabby and Carrie were so proud of each kiddo! There worked hard and never gave up! We finished the day by playing in the “clean”  creek near the lawn, mostly to wash off the smelly mud from the cattails and to have fun. We also took a snack break while listening to a few stories back by our pick up tree. We have decided that was one of our hardest hikes we have done, and Carrie promises that all the rest of our hikes will be a breeze now. Great job everyone! Take home challenge was to find a leaf from your favorite tree in your yard and bring it to share with the group next week.
Blue Beavers
Wow, we have a pretty unstoppable group!  After morning games and circle, we heard part 2 of the leopard story.  Then we headed out for a big hike to the Apple Orchard.  When we arrived the kids climbed up and down a steep, rocky, sandy slope.  They choose the most difficult route and took turns “saving each other”.  They could’ve played their for hours but the sun was getting hot and it was shade time and lunch time.  So we hiked down under the big Box Elder tree in the apple orchard for lunch.  During lunch Kriya taught knife safety so now the kids are ready to being carving practice! Soon after, the kids were back at it, they were climbing apple trees and working together to collect as many apples as they could fit in their packs.  Again, they could’ve stayed with this for hours but the sun and heat was getting the best of os us, so with heavy backpacks of apples in tow, we descended back into the cool forest.  On the hike back we cooled off at the creek, played on the rope swing, built rock stacks, and cooled off in the water.  By the time we made it back, the kids were visibly tired but continued to run and play and just couldn’t seem to stop playing and rest:)
Take Home Challenge: If you haven’t already, Find a sit spot in your yard and watch the sunrise… and now this week also watch the sunset!
 Skunks! (Matt’s Group)

We kicked off our day with a couple of versions of soccer games.  At our morning check-in/snack time we reviewed the day and goals going forward, many students are excited to have another day of fishing, perhaps next week if the weather is right.

From there, we went directly to our wood crafting spot up in the hills.  We harvested a sapling that had been crushed by a deadfall tree to be built in bows.  We then set on a wander to find suckers or shoots that would make serviceable arrows.  It didn’t take long before we had found all that we needed.  Along the way, there was a creek to explore and some cedars to climb.  We were also looking for feathers to make into fletchings, we didn’t find a lot but we did find an owl feather and owl pellets!
We took an early lunch break and then set to task.  I showed them a billeting knife carving technique to reduce their bows into a shootable form, everyone worked really hard and few people actually completed their bow, but we did run out of steam and decided to take a break until next week.  We learned about tree and shrub species, carving, & where to find select species.
We then went back to the game field to play archery tag, utilizing foam-tipped arrows and low-powered bows.  There are several games we play using these, it is adrenalated fun and great target practice.  We played 3 rounds team battle, it was intense, epic, each team won 1 round and the final round ended in a tie at the buzzer…perhaps there will be a rematch in the future?
Take-Home Challenge:  Collect and bring in at least 3 samples of wood or branches representing soft, medium, and hardwood.  To confirm, press your thumbnail into the wood (not the bark, bark needs to be removed) to see how easy it is to dent.  Some will be impossible to dent (hard), some will be very easy (soft), some in the middle.

Week 3 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Tuesday,Sept 22nd, 2020

The Salamanders

The Salamanders spent a fine autumnal equinox together in the sun. There were cattails, flowers, excellent hiding spots behind aspen trunks and so many apples.  At opening circle we all shared our paintings, drawings and stories from a week of sky-watching. We heard stories about sunsets, sunrises, midday brilliance and even the sight of Mars amid the astonishing starfield of the night sky. We also discussed the significance of the equinox, and what astronomical factors might bring it about.  The first leg of our long walk today took us through a field of cattails, where our feet stayed dry thanks to a well-placed boardwalk. Along the way we saw tons of snails climbing the stalks, jewelweed in bloom and birds migrating overhead. The boardwalk led us to the Botanical Gardens and the mysteriously serene ‘Stable Garden’ which we could only glimpse through a locked gate. After climbing a hill we arrived at our home base for the day: a huge, sprawling box elder at the center of an old apple orchard. In the tree’s kindly shade we began collecting materials from which to make hanging mobiles, like sumac blossoms, colorful leaves, stones, apples and thin, straight sticks. We spent the rest of the morning constructing our mobiles and collecting apples. After lunch, as per Salamander custom, we settled into the cool shade for story time. Scott read aloud ‘If You Want to See a Whale’, which fancifully describes the steps one might (or might not) follow to see a whale. After the story, we continued work on our mobiles and the important autumnal rite of collecting vast quantities of apples. On our way back through the forest we crossed (with all 16 feet dry!) a narrow, single-log bridge over a muddy stream, which led us to a sun-dappled grove of aspens. There we played three rounds of Eagle Eye, which involves hiding quietly while keeping the ‘eagle’ in sight. The students loved it, and we’ll return to the aspens for more of that another day. The take-home challenge this week is to collect a few flowers that are still blooming and either press them in a book or draw a picture of them, learn their names, and bring them to share at opening circle next Tuesday where we’ll savor the last colors of summer together.

Mud Slug Survivors
After our morning games we circled up to share our favorite part about fall on the first day of fall and heard an eventful story about a snapping turtle!  As we gathered up to head out to Autumn Olive Lane, Rown began gathering plantain to make a salve with.  This immediately inspired an incredibly focused and enthusiastic plant gathering  morning.  For a full hour we explored the many wonderful green things under our feet, finding all sorts of edible and medicinal helpers.  You could see the kids starting to walk differently as their minds opened to the immense gifts and support nature provides with each step:) SOon we found a nice spot to run and play and hide and seek and plopped down with a nice lunch with our new friend “Silvia” (a wooly bear caterpillar:)  Due to some sore feet in the group, we headed back to base early and played by the creek, building boats and drying our plants.  Next week we’ll put our dried plants in oil and then make them into salve by the end of the session.
The Eagles 

Skulls!  We started our day with step 1 in a project of identifying and organizing some of the animal skulls in HNS’s nature museum.  We worked on mid sized animals ranging from squirrels and chipmunks to beavers and coyotes, next week I think we’ll work the small skulls.  Also, of course there was a lot of chatting and catching up to do as well as some catch being played.  Once we had a snack and then a restroom break, we packed up and hit the trail. We took a new route which lead to us (Kaia actually) finding a really neat chopping stone which we hope can become a stone hatchet.  We decided to take a long hike and enjoy the gorgeous fall displays, all the way fire mountain to our old camp spot from many years ago.  There we found a great stash of excellent bow drill carving wood and everyone was eager to do some knife work.  Projects included bow drill, spider ball rackets, and of course continued work on spoon projects.

We had lunch there, I left briefly to find hand hold materials for the bow drill and when I stepped away the kids all got to see a red fox up close.  They yelled “fox!” and I ran back thinking they were yelling “wasp”…..They were all really excited about the fox and told me all about, I left again to get the material and then they yelled “fox!”.  Lucky kids got to see the fox again!! There was some tree climbing and story swapping but soon we headed over to our “spider ball court”, this has become a HNS classic and we had a great time playing.  We also wove a ball hoop in a ironwood sapling and shot some hoops.  We hiked down and made our way to the creek to cool off, there we played a story game called “trickster transformer”  which is supposed to be a animal based narrative full of interesting naturalist facts and knowledge, today it digressed into more chaotic but hilarious ideas lead by the kids. We ran completely out of time and had to rush back, actually arriving 7 minutes late!  Sorry again about that.  Take home challenge from last week continues this week, TRY TO SPOT A BUCK (Milo did spot a buck and I did spot a buck last week) but an additional bonus is to find deer tracks, scats, trails, and signs, students are encouraged to bring in sketches of what they found.
 Snail Pigeons :

What a beautiful day. The Snail Pigeons started by exploring the plants down by the creek. We decided to collect different plants at different ecosystems in the commons today. We gathered at put them into a flower press for our project for the day. We strolled up the the woods behind the commons and practiced balancing on logs while we gathered some ferns and leaves. After the mosquitos pushed us out we headed to the big open field, this walk took us through some low lands and woods where we could gather more flowers and leaves. It was so nice to take a break in the field for lunch, there are not many hot fall days, so we took time to enjoy it out there. To cool off we took a walk to the rope swing creek. Everyone had fun splashing and exploring around the creek banks. To dry off we headed back to the big lawn to work on our bookmarks. We used paper, our plants that we gathered throughout the day and markers. We can not wait to keep exploring and working on more projects!

Week 2 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Thursdays, Sept 17th, 2020

Carrie’s Group (group name coming soon)
Carrie’s Group started this beautiful fall day with a small hike up to Unicorn Spring, this is the term that Gabby and Sylvia refer to the natural spring in the commons. While there everyone had fun watching and manipulating the movement of the water down the hill. Many built bridges, sent items down the water shoot and just climbed around the water. We moved over to the pines for lunch and were greeted by a small, yet plump, chipmunk. This was the highlight as this chipmunk did not seem to have any fear and proved that by sitting on Gabbys foot for a short rest. We all had to stay on our toes watching our lunches, but this gave us a wonderful laugh. After lunch and a story we began to gather natural materials to help decorate our group flag. Each youth was given a section of cloth to use as the canvas and was encouraged to gather different types/colors of plants to “press” into the cloth. We had fun experimenting with the technique, jumping, rocks, sticks, all these had varying degrees of success, but eventually the rock pounding was the way to go. We also took time to gather a one matching plant that was on someone’s canvas to add into a flower press. We are excited to see what the pressed flowers look like next week, and if we can match them to the plants on our flag. Everyone ended up with a beautiful cloth and will be on display next week during drop off! Once we were packed up we had to take a pit stop at the rope swing. Everyone had fun trying out the rope and swinging over the water, attempting to cross the creek by a handmade bridge, and just jumping in the cold creek for fun! At the closing circle we talked about our favorite things from the day, and shared a picture that we drew in our nature journals.
Blue Beavers :
We began with games and coloring and circled up for a nice morning circle as the sun began to find its way through the cloud cover.  After sharing a gratitude for something we could sense in the moment,  Kriya shared an epic sit spot story with the group.  Once we got out the woods, it was non-stop adventure and play the whole day.  Fort building, log climbing, creek romping, worm and salamander hunting, jumping, more building, beaver damn mud and stick building, autumn olive and apple snacking, sneaking, running, hiding, seeking… it was a big day!  A few in the group got into crafting with yarn and finger knitting.  The kids literally knit through every inch of yarn in 4 spools, creating a record long, 50 ft finger knit length.  We played hard, worked hard and had an absolutely lovely day!
Take Home Challenge: FInd a sit spot in your yard and watch the surnrise!
  Matt’s Group (Name coming soon:)

Our day started with playing “atsina stick” which builds focus and hand-eye coordination.  Then the group wanted to play some “500” which was pretty fun as well.  We circled up and everyone had an opportunity to share stories from the last week and to catch up.  We then talked about the goals and logistics of the day.

We headed out towards the creek and gathered some autumn olives along the way.  Once we arrived, we set to task to gather and prep some “cane poles”  which we made from willow and boxelder suckers.  We readied everything then learned how to tie a fishermans knot and tied our own lines.  We gathered Golden Rod galls to use as bobbers and gathered worms and grubs for bait.  We sited along the creek and spotted some trout passing by, we targetted an area around the bridge and soon spotted a very large fish which got everyone very fired up.  Several of us got good bites but no one was able to hook anything, unfortunately.
After a lunch break, we broke down our poles and set them aside for next time, everyone is excited to give it another go in the future.  We made our way the forest from there and found ourselves at a great spot to play some “grounders” which is a balancing game with some tag thrown in and some quirky sound effects.  By popular demand, we also played a few rounds of “spider ball” as well.  Some of us took some time to do some knife work on our ongoing projects meanwhile others were heaving logs around and practicing some stick fighting.  We ran out of time and had to head back, while we awaited the pickup folks to arrive the kids made up their own version of capture the flag.
 
Take-home challenge this week:
  • Fish ID: Research which types of fish might be found in Kids Creek this time of year?  Best guess at what kinds of fish we saw?
  • Knot practice:  Practice the fishermans know

Week 2 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Tuesday,Sept 15th, 2020

The Salamanders
Today was our second day together as The Salamanders, and it was a fun one. There were grapes and elderberries, autumn olives, a giant salmon, box elder beads, wind through the willows, and lots of laughter. At opening circle, we all shared the leaves we had collected for last week’s take-home challenge and got to hear some fantastic names for the colors, like violet, banana, sunshine, fire, jade, brown, etc. We shared stories from recent adventures as nearby as West Bay and as far-flung as Beaver Island.
Our first stop of the day was to collect grapes, autumn olives and the last few elderberries to make into ink later on. Some of the fruit made it into the containers and some into our bellies. We had great opportunities to learn the difference between Virginia creeper (not edible) and wild grape (edible but so sour), and saw a bunch of birds and insects along the way. At the bridge over Kid’s Creek along Autumn Olive Lane we put down our backpacks and set up camp for the day. We found plentiful fallen box elder branches from which to fashion simple ‘pens’ and set to work mashing the fruit into ink. While the students worked on this, Scott carved beads from thin pithy twigs, which looked really cool dyed with the grapes.
During lunch on the bridge, we spotted a huge salmon swimming upstream, which steered the rest of the afternoon toward making fishing poles out of branches and yarn, hooks from twigs, sinkers from pebbles, and improvised bait from leaves and goldenrod blooms. The salmon weren’t biting, but as any angler will tell you, the pleasure is in the pursuit. Midway through the afternoon, we gathered in a sunny spot and Scott read aloud ‘The Night World’, which is about a child and their cat who wakes up early and gets to watch a beautiful sunrise.
After the story, fishing continued and some of the students made necklaces from yarn, leaves, box elder beads, and painted paper cut-outs. The results were really cool. Our walk back to the lawn took us through patches of goldenrod and aster abuzz with honeybees, weeping willows streaming in the warm wind and more autumn olives.
The take-home challenge this week is to watch the sky, and when you see it turning a pretty color (maybe at sunrise, maybe at sunset, maybe at high noon!), to draw or paint a picture of it if you have art supplies handy. If not, bring a colorful description ready to share next week. Until then!
Mud Slug Survivors (Kriya’s Group:)
We had a lovely windy, sunny day!  After games and morning circle, we headed out towards the open meadows for wandering, exploring, hiding, seeking, lunch, and some nature napping.  The kiddos got learned how to give space to the bees, bull thistles, and burs as we sought out cattails and grapevines for weaving and autumn olives for snacking on.   After lunch, we headed to the White Pines and Maples for climbing on and then headed back to base a little early.   We played freely in the open fields, with the kickballs, made homemade kites to fly in the wind, colored and drew vibrant pictures on giant paper, and eventually settled in for a little sit spot out of the wind.
The Eagles 

We began our day with slacklining and tossing a frisbee until everyone had arrived and gotten warmed up.  We circled together for a snack break and everyone had a chance to share a personal story and or something about pets at home.  We talked about our goals for the day & everyone had a chance to add-in.  After a restroom break, we headed out.

We chose to go by way of autumn olive lane where we discussed ID features of autumn olives and virginia creeper and we sampled most all the autumn olives along the way.  We also gathered some apples as we went.  We steadily hiked towards our fort area, stopping to rest as needed, and stopping to investigate an abundance of porcupine quills which were spread across the trail (no other evidence was found despite our effort, we noted that the quills were in the location we noted last week for having feeding signs from a porcupine and also that there was not a very large tree nearby that had recently fallen).
We arrived at our fort area and dispersed into interest groups, some worked on the group shelter, others attempted to make blowguns using quills as darts, others swapped stories.  After lunch, we did some focused carving time, several students are attempting to get level 3 knife certification, its been nice to see the progress and skills developing!  Today I did introduce the use of the hook knife for making rounded cuts.
After carving time,  we played a few rounds of a sneaking and scouting game called “eagle eye”.  The spot we played was perfect and the game was super fun for everyone seemed to enjoy the nice solo sit spot time that’s built into that game.  We realized the day had flown by and we had to rush back for pickup.  Fortunately, we made a good time and ended up with just enough time to review last week’s Bio Region Quiz as a group, I was impressed with how much the kids know!
The take-home challenge this week is to ‘spot a buck’ and report back to us about what it was doing and where it was located with as much detail as possible.  To accomplish this I encouraged the kids to start paying attention to the landscape when they are riding in the car or glance more frequently out the windows at home and they will be surprised how much wildlife they will find, maybe even an elusive buck.
 Snail Pigeons :

The snail pigeons started the day by making our own personal collage. It was fun to look at old magazines and find photos that fit each of our personalities. After we completed our masterpieces we headed out for our hike. Our mission for the day was to make some fresh applesauce out at the orchard. On our way out to that old orchard by the barns, we stopped for a snack of autumn olives and take a look in the secret garden at the barns. We have loved this spot for the wonderful flowers and the nice peaceful space. After gathering apples and eating lunch we decided to head back towards the woods to get out of the wind and heat up the apples. We found a perfect rest stop at eagles nest in the fairy forest. As the applesauce was cooking some kiddos created a new fairy house while the others had fun just taking it easy. We were able to enjoy our fresh applesauce before we headed back to the commons for pick up. Each week we have added some fun art projects and next week we are looking to add some more drawing as well as explore a new place in the woods, hopefully by some water.

Above: Virginia Creeper

Above:  Autumn Olive (Edible).

First day of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Thursdays, Sept 10th, 2020

Carrie’s Group (group name coming soon)
Today after introductions the whole group decided we were going to go out on a nice medium hike. This was a great time to walk the trails, that many of the kids have been on before and talk about past times they have been out in the commons. After a snack break on the side of the path we ended up in the cedar area where we took a look around for all the different kind of leaves that we could find. We ended up with 17 different types, we were surprised at all the different shapes and textures of leaves there were in that area. After we had lunch and heard a story we hiked on. We meandered by the spring where we challenged ourselves to catch grasshopper in the field. We ended up with 100 points easy as we have quick hands in our group. The next stop for our hike was on top of Cistern hill where we chatted about what our group name should be and some friends played follow the leader with gabby.  We headed back to the commons where we tested our jumping off of the old oak tree that was cut down in the lawn area. We were surprised by how good some group members could jump. We ended back at the green balloons for a group scavenger hunt for more leaves, a close look at a Pileated woodpecker on the tulip tree, and some fun with the green balloons. We are still working on agreeing on our group name, but we all are looking forward to more adventures next week.
Blue Beavers (Kriya’s Group):
We had a lovely first day together!  After morning games and circle, we headed out into the woods and found a cool area to explore and begin fort building near a mighty Hemlock that could keep us dry on rainy days.  We found all sorts of cool mushrooms, fort-building materials, bark, leaves and hills to run up and down.  We headed over to the spring for lunch and did a lot more building, this time with mud and clay as well.  This is when the name Beavers came to mind!  The whole group worked, played and built really well together, like a little Beaver family:) After lunch, we climbed the branches of some White Pines and played hide and seek in the meadow.  Soon it was time to head back.  We took an adventurous way back along a deer trail through the Cedars and had a wet and muddy creek crossing.  Once we returned to base, we played some games and worked on some art projects as the sun came out.  It was a beautiful day!
Matt’s Group (Name coming soon:)

Our first day of class was a ton of fun!  We tossed the frisbee while we waited for everyone to arrive and then kicked off our day.  We took some time to talk about the session and COVID protocols, then each person introduced themselves.  With that, we were off and heading to the woods. We bushwacked up a to a windswept hill that has lots of good sticks and logs from blown down trees. There we set up a rabbit stick tournament, got into teams of 2, and played several rounds.  Rabbit stick may become an ongoing skill we practice, perhaps we will carve some really nice ones.  From there we went in search of an ideal “spider ball” tree, we ended up having a long hike up fire hill where we took our lunch break. After lunch, we set up an activity called “spider ball” which was a huge hit. We played for a solid hour.  From there, we hiked out towards the spring by way of otter slide hill. Of course, we took the opportunity to run and jump down.  At the spring we went over knife carving safety rules and certification, everyone had the opportunity to do some carving.  Also at this time, we were experimenting with Chipmunk traps and there was some fort building.  Then it was time to head back.  We arrived with a little extra time and used it to play some ultimate frisbee which concluded our day.

First day of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Tuesday,Sept 8th, 2020

The Salamanders (Scotts Group):

Our group had a great first day together! On our way out into the forest we turned over a few wet logs at Clara’s recommendation and found a number of red-backed salamanders living amid the moist duff. So many, in fact, that we decided to name our group after them. We will from here on be known as ‘The Salamanders’.
Our first stop of the day was the stream just downhill from the spring, where Nori searched for colorful pebbles, Sylvia discovered that day lily leaves make excellent string, Maya built a miniature raft and we all had an improvised scavenger hunt. After lunch, we moved up to drier ground in a natural ‘amphitheater’ filled with young ash and beech trees, where we listened to Scott read aloud a book called ‘If You Want to See a Caribou’. It’s about learning to sit still as a tree, and the opportunities such a practice might afford. We’ll give it a try ourselves soon and report back with the early results.

After storytime, we set to collecting colorful leaves and pebbles, which we arranged into miniature villages and mandalas. Miles discovered that beneath the bark of a fallen beech trunk the decomposing wood had turned a rich rusty red, which yielded a fine pigment to add to our creations. The results were beautiful, and perfectly captured the delicate hues of this season between seasons.
The take-home challenge this week is to find a few early autumn leaves and think up a fanciful name for each color. We’ll share them at opening circle next Tuesday. See you then!
Kriya’s Group (Still coming up with our name, likely to contain the word Dragon:)
After morning games and circle, we were ready to head out on several days worth of explorations.   We kicked off our journey down Autumn Olive lane and took some time exploring the differences between Autumn Olives (edible), Grapes, (edible),  Elderberries (medicinal), and Virginia Creeper (poisonous).   We continued to hike and explore through the wetlands all the way up the Eagles Nest for lunch.  After a good rest up and refueling session, the kids were back at it, running all around the nearby woods to check out every single fairy house they could find (built by the botanical garden folks:)  The joy was tangible:) After a time we shifted gears for a sit spot, the kids all got their own journals to take to sit spot and were tasked with choosing their own nature names.  After this restful time, we started looping back around toward the building.  On the way we munched on blackberries and took a play break at otters slide hill.  Lots of running, jumping, rock collecting and sliding occurred down the sandy/rocky hill.   Our last stop of on the way back was at the creek where we all washed our hands real well with the SoapWort plant and played by the creek for a bit.  It was a big hike and a big full day!  We were all pretty tuckered out by the time we made it back for closing circle.
The Eagles (Matt’s Group)
We began our day getting to know each other, jumping some rope, and catching up.  Soon thereafter we circled up and discussed some of the ways this fall would be different due to covid.  Also, we each introduced ourselves and shared some things we are excited for this fall and/or things that happened this summer.  After a restroom break, we headed off to the woods.
We made our way across the park and eventually to the spring area where we settled in.  Once there, we harvested a basswood sapling from an overgrown thicket for carving material.  We discussed the ethics of harvesting, ID characteristics of basswood, edibility of its leaves, its medicinal flowers, its bark as a fiber source, and its softwood ideal for carving.  We then went over the carving safety rules and certification process before doing a good amount of knife practice time.  Everyone reached a good stop point then we took a break for some good old tree climbing time.
Before lunch, we played several rounds of “fire keeper” to hone our fox walking and sneaking skills.  After lunch. We moved on and selected a secret spot at the base of Otter Slide hill to build our camp. We worked on a few shelters, the main structure is really quite impressive.  Other things happening there included stone and rabbit stick throwing contests, climbing and sliding on otter slide, sneaking and spying on Kriya’s group.  With all this going on, time slipped away and we had to skedaddle.
On our way back, we gathered a few blackberries and swapped stories. We got back just in time to brainstorm group name ideas and democratically decide to be called “The Eagles”.  We also squeezed in 1 round of a game called trickster transformer which is a naturalist info infused story game.
 Snail Pigeons (Carrie’s group):

We began with all smiles this morning.  Being a small group we wandered out pretty soon, to get out of the cold breeze. We decided that we wanted to look around the botanical gardens today as it was a moderate walk and it provided a lot of shelter space in case of rain.

Throughout the day we wandered around this area, stopping to work on our new banner/flag for our group, exploring the new fairy house path, hiking up the large hill in the old orchard, exploring the underground “tank” (not sure what this structure was), attempting to dye our fabric with various plants, finding and loving the new peaceful garden at the old barns, decided on our group name: Snail Pigeons, Hazel found a wonderful birds nest, and most of all enjoyed telling stories and interacting with each other.
We ended our day with a stop by a LARGE Autumn Olive bush for a pick me up snack, attempting to learn cartwheels or back headstands from Radley and planning for next week’s adventure.
It was a wonderful relaxing day, full of smiles, creative art projects, cold breezes, and warming friendships.

Nature Art from the Salamander Group!.

Above: Virginia Creeper

Above:  Autumn Olive (Edible).

Winter Foxes and Coyotes Story of the Day: Crusty Snow and a Fire Burrito

By Jack Hannert on Feb 6, 2019

We started our day struggling through the snow to play Crack a Boom, and that icy layer over the snow proved to hinder our travels throughout the day. We headed out, stopping for Otter Slide breaks at many a promising snow pile. We entered the woods with the intention of making a Fire Burrito, gathering plants for tea, and gathering fire materials. A Fire Burrito is a method of wrapping leaves, small sticks, and punky wood in bark to transport a coal or ember between areas. We found that our materials were a bit damp to be very effective, but we plan to revisit this technique when the conditions are more favorable.

We then went on a gathering adventure, getting together some cedar, hemlock, and rose hips for tea, and also finding some grape vines to try to make snow shoes! After gathering our plants and trying out our Fire Burrito (the materials for which proved to be a bit too damp to be very effective, but we plan on revisiting this technique when the conditions are more favorable), we were all pretty tired and hungry. We settled on a lunch at the base of Otter Slide. This meant no real fire or tea, but with a little sun and a lot of sliding we stayed pretty warm!

After lunch and project and free sliding time, we moved on to a different area. We stopped for more sliding as we worked our way toward the wetlands, also pausing to check out the tracks of a possum who seemed to be having as much trouble with the crusty snow the night before as we were today! When we got to the trail leading between the two wetlands, everyone got distracted jumping off into the deep snow there. There were running starts, icey slips, cannonballs, and a distance contest. After the fun, we gathered cattails to be dried and used as torches next week.

Gabby attempts to breathe life into the fire burrito.

Kaya crafting some snow shoes.

Logan cruisin’ the slopes.

Rowan tossing a killer snowball.

The Dickeys in a synchronized slope roll.

The Magic of Forest Kindergarten

By Emily Burke on Oct 29, 2018

Well, it’s official. Today was the last day of Forest Kindergarten for the fall session. We won’t have these kids back in class until the spring session starts back up in April, and I’m surprised by how much I already miss these tiny nature explorers. My time in the woods with them was full of wonder, excitement, and unabashed curiosity. They remind me how to look at the world with fresh eyes and teach me how to let my imagination run wild again.  Naturally closer to the ground, they notice things that I completely miss, like a weird mushroom or a beautiful baby leaf. There were too many memories made this fall to count, but here are some of my favorites:

1) One cloudy day in late September, the kids created an epic obstacle course on a series of fallen logs over the creek that winds through the hemlock grove.  It had rained heavily the night before, so the banks were super muddy, and the small sandbar had turned into a jelly-like quasi-solid.  The kids spent a full 45 minutes testing their balance on the slippery logs and leaping across the creek onto the jiggly sandbar. When Odin The Lava Monster suddenly turned the creek water into hot, bubbling lava, they scrambled to construct a dam from clay and sticks. After working together to defeat The Lava Monster, there were high-fives all around.

2) On a rainy day just as the maples were starting to change color, I crowded around a rotting, fallen ash log with a group of four- and five-year-olds bundled up in colorful rain gear.  The log was covered with slugs, and just as I was about to roll the log to look for some red-backed salamanders, Iris gently plucked a tiny slug that I had overlooked from the log, dubbed it “Baby slug,” and began rocking it in her arms while softly singing. Soon, most of the group was joining in on the sweet lullaby to this slimy critter.

3) On an unseasonably cold day, Amalia, Emily D, and I decided to hike our group to the legendary Otter Slide Hill in hopes that we could convince the kids to climb all the way to the top of this giant sand dune to keep warm. We didn’t anticipated that all 8 kids would spend the entire lunchtime crawling up and running/sliding/rolling down repeatedly. It was hard to pry them from the hill when it was time to head back, but, perhaps spurred on by the thirst they had worked up from all their playing, they collectively pretended that the aspen grove we hiked back through was a vast, hot desert. Dogs we passed became camels, willows were palm trees, and the Greenspire creek was a life-saving oasis.

4) On the last day, we headed to the cedars to play with track molds in the mud. Vowing to get good and muddy while making bear, coyote, skunk, and raccoon tracks after we had eaten, we chatted about various mammals while we lunched in the shelter provided by the cedars’ delicate, fringed foliage.  Just as we were discussing red squirrels, a loud trill rang out from across the grove.  I motioned for everyone to quiet down, and the kids’ eyes widened as they connected that the trill was made by the same animal we had just been talking about.  Excited shouts and pointing followed as we tracked the red squirrel – no doubt perturbed by our presence in its territory – as it bounded along a fallen log across the creek, crossed the forest floor’s carpet of golden cedar fronds, and scampered up a nearby trunk to scold us from the safety of a branch.

The frosts started in earnest last week and the long nights of winter are looming near, but I’m making a concerted effort to hold onto all that the little ones have taught me this fall: splash in puddles, collect pretty leaves, catch raindrops on your tongue, investigate all bugs, and, whenever things get dull, always pretend there’s a lava monster.