Forest School

sparkle forestOur group of home learners here on the Gulf Islands has made plans to be outside during our time together one day a week.  We are calling it Forest School, and while it is not a new or original concept, it is a new intention for us as a group to meet at a local farm (which has lots of forest) and play games, explore, honor values, and create team building opportunities.  Our mild, west coast winters make it quite easy to be outside, providing we are moving and have a warm fire to sit by.  The “original” format of Forest School came out of Wisconsin, but also Sweden, Denmark and the UK, all places with more difficult winters than ours!  Wikipedia says this about forest schools:

bio-regional mapForest school is a type of outdoor education in which children (or adults) visit forests/woodlands, learning personal, social and technical skills. It has been defined as “an inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on learning in a woodland environment”.  Forest school is both a pedagogy and a physical entity, with the use often being interchanged.

Forest school uses the woods and forests as a means to build independence and self-esteem in children and young adults.  Topics are cross-curriculum (broad in subject) including the natural environment, for example the role of trees in society, the complex ecosystem supported by a wilderness, and recognition of specific plants and animals. However, the personal skills are considered highly valuable, such as teamwork and problem solving.  The woodland environment may be used to learn about more abstract concepts such as mathematics and communication. Forest school provision is also called nature schools.

mushroomsIn Denmark it became an embedded part of the curriculum for pre-school children (under seven years) stemming from their småbørnspædagogik, or ‘Early childhood education’. Children attending Forest kindergartens were arriving at school with strong social skills, the ability to work in groups effectively, and generally children had high self-esteem and confidence in their own capabilities.  In 1957, a Swedish man, Goesta Frohm, created the “Skogsmulle” concept to promote learning about nature, water, mountains and pollution. With an increasing focus on measurable outcomes, forest schools have gained acceptance as an educational method in their own right.

Beyond primary school age children, forest school is frequently used to further develop social skills and explore creative learning and focuses on developing firm foundations for continued personal and education development.

cedar's sit spotForest School Canada says this on their website~

Our vision is for all Canadian children to play and learn in local forests, creeks, meadows, prairie grasses, mountains, and shorelines with a wise and skilled educator who understands the power of play and child-directed learning and how this can contribute to a more sustainable world.

Forest School Canada runs a practitioner’s course in conjunction with the the UK Forest School Association. The course is “a program steeped in the tradition of Forest School abroad, but grounded in the realities of the Canadian experience.” Julie Johnston, our Spring Leaves resource teacher and facilitator attended their July 2014 program held at UVic — a wonderful week of outdoor learning about how to engage children in outdoor learning. They focused on risk assessment and management, practical outdoor skills (fire building, tool making and safety, flora and fauna identification), woodland management, the theories of holistic learning and development, and the establishment and delivery of a Forest and Nature School program.

Our Spring Leaves Forest School is a blend of Forest School ethos with the themes in Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, which is a book about the principles, games and other activities in Coyote Mentoring, a program and “way of learning” based on Tom Brown Jr’s Tracking School and Jon Young’s Wilderness Awareness School.  Julie’s background in outdoor and experiential education and the combination of these two programs has created a wonderful foundation in which our group can explore the needs of our large span of ages (preschool to 13, plus adults!).

the walk to forest school

the walk to forest school

We have had three weeks of our forest school so far.  Each week we have left our cars and made the 5 minute walk through agricultural fields and up to a place with a fire pit surrounded by bench seats.  We have a circle, where we each have the chance to say how we are doing, feeling, or what we are grateful for.  Julie introduces the theme of the day, and offers an activity or game that gets us involved in the theme.  We have spent time practicing our owl eyes, deer ears, and fox walking, and considered what around us we can catch, gather, eat, climb and tend.  We have made ourselves aware of potential hazards of the area, and made sure everyone understands what to do in case of getting lost.  We did some tracking and observing of landmark features, and we spend some time in our own quiet meditative sit spot.  We also have a growing list of fun games to play.

Our kids have grown up in nature.  Their everyday world provides them with opportunities to connect with nature, from looking out the windows, to walking or bicycling down the road to a friend’s house, or  spending time kayaking, or looking up at night to see the brightness and clarity of a sky full of stars.  I have seen them, as babies, toddlers, and little children, fall in love with rocks, sticks, clouds, trees, and fields of grass.  It seems very clearly inherent, instinctual, and life supporting for us as an earthly species to understand and feel our place as interconnected, as a part of the natural system.  I think it leads to a deep sense of well-being and confidence, a foundation for children to bring into the adult world strewn with so many detrimental substitutes.  Here is my own list of benefits to being outside as a form of education:

magic sit spotIn nature we find peace, reflection, micro systems, macro systems, observation, exploration, growth patterns, elemental effects, cascade of reaction, challenges, physical movement, high intake of fresh oxygen, moving up and down, scrambling, reaching, walking carefully, stillness, problem solving, understanding safety, being closer to the reality of survival, understanding comfort, help from others, learning skills and then doing them, leading others, helping others, asking questions, seeing our effectiveness or consequences, fun, playing games, imagination, diversity, seasonal cycles, life cycles, beauty, creativity, symbiotic relationships, healing, spiritual connections~ mind, body, spirit.

I am sure this list could be plenty longer.  I am also sure that some things on this list are attained in other ways.  This is what I experience, and what I see my children experience when they are outside.  Over many years together as a changing group of home schoolers, other parents also agree that basically, being outside together seems to be the most satisfying and uplifting scenario, for the kids and for the adults.  Finding that this type of “education” is recognized as being consistent with Attention Restoration Theory, where children taking part in forest school have been described as more relaxed, is not surprising.  Relationships between the children and each other, with adults, and with the environment, are important.  Forest schools have been found to help children with additional support needs, including Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic children.  The Biophilia hypothesis argues that a love of nature is instinctive. The term ‘nature deficit disorder’, coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, recognizes the erosion of this by the urbanization of human society.

Forest Schools are being created all over the globe, with classes filling to capacities.  It is no surprise that we recognize the need for such educational reform, especially in the early years, but also as we grow.  There is a Hopi word, koyaanisqatsi, which means life out of balance, or a state of life that calls for  another way of living.  The way we bring our next generations into the world is a vital part of all systems that we as humans need to change to bring ourselves back into balance.

Deep thanks to the family of the Valley Home Farm for opening their beautiful land to us.

A Path of Education

collage

Taeven’s 2015 collage of learning

January has headed us in a new direction, once again, as home learners.  Responses to our past experiences in our individual paths has created new choices and ever evolving explorations.  My oldest daughter (12), decided to return to home learning after a three month period of being in the classroom, with a renewed sense of what it is to be home schooled.

It was an interesting journey, witnessing and discussing the new environment and learning format that Taeven experienced while in school.  She did not dislike being there.  Most of the kids in her grade 7/8 class were familiar friends in the community in which we live and play.  Her reading and writing ability is strong, so keeping up with assigned work in a larger body of students was not difficult.  She enjoyed the opportunities to work with the other kids on learning projects.  Her teacher was young and fun and easy to get along with.  Taeven knew that any extra help was always available, and she felt no hierarchy in terms of social pressures and competitive academic results.  Lovely!

calligraphy

exploring calligraphy

Without any negative influences that can be layered over the simplicity of education, Taeven had the chance to really compare with clarity the new learning situation with her past 7 years of home learning,  which was spent mostly in a state of free play, individual direction, and spontaneous exploring.  She found that she liked the framework of assignments, but was having a hard time focusing energy into a topic that wasn’t in her interest.  She liked constructing essays, for example, but it was so much work when the topic was handed to her rather than of her own choice.  Without a goal for her to apply the topic of the essay towards, the assignment became more tedious than interesting.  It felt like a really long day at the school without accomplishing any learning in the areas of life that really sparked her spirit.  She also found that being inside so much made her always feel sleepy.  One day when Taeven was splitting kindling outside with me, she stated, “I feel so alive!” I was a bit surprised by such an enormously simple self-observation, and when I asked what spurred her sentiment, she reflected that, compared to being in the classroom, being outside and active makes her feel alive and happy!  And therefor, more ready and eager to soak up her experiences.

moss and fernsTaeven missed our land, missed the forest, missed the beach, missed her little brother, and missed having so much time to just be.  She is not a twelve year old looking to be sixteen and head off into social peer world.  She wants to be at home with her family, but have opportunities to be with her friends, and play in the forest.  There have been things about school that she has asked to bring into our home learning schedule, like a certain spelling/language program, and researching and essay writing assignments.  Since our return to home learning in January, we have outlined interests and activities on a mind map, drawn them out in a Venn diagram, and organized ourselves into a loose weekly schedule.

back yard hike

our backyard hill

snorkeling

snorkeling excursion

We head outside in the morning for about half an hour, as often as we can, either hiking up the hill behind our house, bike riding around the closest loop, or testing out our bootcamp style cardio/strength moves.  Then we open the grade 7 JUMP math book , do a few pages, move on to a music practice (violin for Taeven, cello or drum for Cedar) and hopefully explore some language arts of any kind before lunch.  The afternoons are more random, but usually we are focusing on independent study topics, which for Taeven, are documenting what she sees when we go snorkeling, or researching angora rabbits (which we all want!) discovering permaculture, or writing stories.  We also foray into a variety of art projects, which recently have been zen doodling and sketching.  She often attends a history class with other home schoolers in our group, and she is pretty excited about Forest School with the Spring Leaves. We split cedar kindling to sell in bundles at a roadside stand as a small business.  She does karate twice a week, attends a dance class once a week, and we go to the big island where she swims every friday with the Otters Swim Club.  If it works, we also go skating and climbing at an indoor climbing wall.  She still wants to learn more about cooking, stained glass, and typing.  She still has lots of time and energy to play with Cedar in an infinite amount of ways in which they connect.

zen doodle

Taeven’s zen doodle

Taeven’s time in school was a great way to clarify what direction she would like to take with her life learning experiences.  We discussed how a classroom format may be something she will encounter as she continues, either as high school, or as college, or university.  She may want to pursue an interest that takes her into a classroom in order for her to attain certain skills and knowledge.  She may need to be inside a whole bunch taking biology classes so that she can get outside and be a marine biologist.  Keeping those educational roads open is important when a passionate goal is being followed.

happy outsideHowever, Taeven’s passionate goal right now is being happy!  I think that is so wonderful, and I hope to support her in this time of being herself as a happy, joyful, and exploring spirit.

Archipelago- Exploring the Land

In continuing with the Archipelago game that we started with Spring Leaves last year, we have been exploring land formation, compass skills, and simple building, as well as going on the adventurous journey of arriving at our islands.  (Archipelago! and Archipelago Activities)  We have been introducing Archipelago to Lauren, our Spring Leaves facilitator for this year, and she has been excitedly offering some fun ideas and activities as well as joining us and hanging out as we trek around on our island adventures.

In the fall, we picked up with our game by building topographical models of each of the islands that were created on paper last year.  With lots of cardboard collected from the recycling depot, the children worked in their island groups tracing each of the 10 meter layers on to pieces of cardboard, cutting them out, then gluing them together to create the features of the islands.  They were glued on to an ocean piece, and then painted with beaches, lakes, rivers, and rocky peaks.  Everyone was then invited to choose a place on their island where they would imagine building a homestead.  We copied a compass rose on to each island to consider sun exposure, and the arrangement of the islands as a group gave the kids an idea of where their island sits in relation to their neighbors.

Next, we organized a trip to experience “arriving” at the islands.  Those of us who owned boats of some kind hauled them down to a launching point on a chilly but dry January day.  After arranging kids and adults in each boat, which included a canoe, a single kayak, and two row boats, we headed off to explore the coastline and find a suitable landing place in which we would settle our future homestead.  The tides were slack as we rounded a rocky headland, revealing a little bay protected by some outlying rocky islets teeming with inter-tidal life.  Sheltered mud flats housing clams and oysters stretched to the little beach, which helped direct a small forest stream into the ocean.

We hungrily ate our lunches and took in our surroundings a little further.  There was a beautiful clearing just back from the beach that the stream ran through, tumbling down a steep grade of thick, west coast forest.  After lunch we got out compasses to explore the directions, and we found that the beach faced southwest and the uphill slope of forest was to the northeast- a wonderful position for sun light exposure for warmth and plant growth, and a great place for water catchment.  We did some basic skills with the compasses, learning to keep the “red in the bed” while moving in any direction.

fireA few weeks later, we ventured out once again to our favorite outdoor home base, Limberlost- the undeveloped property of one of the Spring Leaves families’.  It was a frigid February day, with bright sunshine and crisp air, made more comforting by a large bonfire and thermoses of tea and soup.  The kids were making simple shelters from the forest- branches, bark, moss, fallen logs, and dry leaves.  Everyone’s was so unique and different, and some worked well and some didn’t, but all made discoveries about the skills, supplies, and teamwork needed to actually protect ourselves from the elements if we needed to spend a night or more outside with nothing from a store.  There was excitement about spending a night in their shelters in the warmer season.  In a second visit two weeks later, shelters were repaired and rebuilt, and new ones were made.  We used the compasses once again to determine the direction of each shelter from the central fire and the distance with counting out paces.  Thanks to Kenta for the shelter building photos!

In our homeschooling journey, being outside in all kinds of weather and using our hands to build and explore and learn appears to be one of the best ways to engage ourselves in a deep level- a level of really experiencing the land that we live on and rely upon even in a world where most of what we need comes from a store.  Especially in a world where what we need comes from a store!  Learning to be discerning about manufactured products in today’s availability of tomorrow’s garbage is important for our next generation.  What we need is inside of us.  What we need is often found in our local community.  What we need may also be bought with gratitude and understanding of where it comes from and who made it.  This is always a great reminder for myself as I move through the journey of life learning with my family and with the family of Spring Leaves.

circle

Archipelago Activities

camp fire lunch

camp fire lunch

Earlier this month I wrote a post describing a kind of game that we are playing with our Spring Leaves Family Learning group (see Archipelago!).  As well as being a game on paper, it also opens many doors to our choice of related physical activities within the theme of outdoor living in a wilderness setting.  The past month has seen many adventures for us around the island, and as the spring progresses, many more fun skills and experiences are on the schedule.

One of the highlights was using the Hope Bay Bible Camp grounds and equipment for 4 sessions for archery!  This activity was requested from the children way back in the fall, and finally getting 4 weeks of beautiful weather to practice 2 hours of shooting each week was a great opportunity for kids and adults.  An instructor from the island was able to lead us in our first session, and help us to refine techniques at the last session.  In between, we simply rotated through the practice of stance, balance, breath, and aim, as well as practicing safety measures.  Some of the older kids in the group already have experience with a variety of archery sports, and were able to help demonstrate and answer questions when the instructor wasn’t with us.  I was amazed at the capabilities that emerged from week to week for all the children, and felt myself connecting easily to this ancient activity.  Besides being a hunting sport, it brought for me a sense of relaxed focus and empowered strength and clarity.

We spent some time considering the practices of gathering, cooking and eating in an outdoor setting.  Earlier in the spring we spent a morning at our house identifying a variety of wild spring greens that grow around our property and all over the island.  Some were familiar to the kids already, like dandelion and miners lettuce, and some were new, such as cleavers, sheep sorrel, chickweed, peppercress, and plantain.  We added lemon sorrel from the garden, kale, and lettuce, and tossed everything gathered  with a light balsamic dressing for lunch.  A few weeks later we met at another families’ house and did some campfire meals.  A fire had been started in the morning so there was lots of hot coals when we arrived, bringing with us a variety of chopped vegetables for a soup.  There was potatoes, yams, carrots, kale and chard, onions, tomatoes and a variety of freshly clipped herbs from the garden.  soups readyThere was even some dried seaweed that some of the kids had prepared from an earlier excursion to the beach.  We put everything in a large soup pot, set in on the pile of coals, and let in simmer away for the rest of the morning.  We also dug a hole in the ground near to the fire, put tin foil wrapped veggies into it and buried them with more coals from the fire.  A layer of earth went on top to make a kind of pit oven.  We also had the makings for bannock, and once the other dishes were cooking, we got into mixing up the dough and sharpening alder prunings for cooking sticks.  The older kids started a smaller camp fire for grilling veggies and meats, and for roasting the bannock on the sticks.  It was a feast of beautifully simmered soup, toasted bannock, and  grilled kababs and sausage.  The communal feel of this outdoor meal making was heartwarming and fun, and at times we contemplated how this would feel if it were everyday, and every meal.  Each person might have their consistent role or job, and the interactions of every community or tribe member would be counted and important for the whole to function on this basic daily level.  There was still room for individuality to flourish, and new creative ideas to come into being as the many hands and minds come together and find their place.

We also had some fun considering shelters and furniture.  In two afternoons at the forested property of one of the Spring Leaves families, we experimented with different types of debris shelters made from the collected materials of the forest and built without tools.  Mostly in small groups, the kids started with finding a place that already had some kind of supportive feature, then they gathered branches for beams, sticks for ribs, and leaves or bark for insulation.  Each one was entirely different, shaped by different eyes and ideas and ages.  We also spent time learning the art of making rustic furniture with lashing, led by my mother Willow who remembered her own experiences from when she was a child.  We had some simple plans and a forest full of fallen branches that we collected and sorted into piles of different thickness and length.  One group constructed a four legged table with a tall back on one side to hang things for drying, and another team made a three legged wash stand.  We learned the patterns of lashing, whipping and frapping as a means of joinery and strength.

fort buildingA few weeks later we met at another of our families homes and handed the kids hammers, nails, saws, drills, and scrap plywood and lumber.  They were going to build a fort onto a previously framed up platform about 4 feet off the ground and nestled around the trunks of 3 fir trees.  The flurry of activity hardly faltered all morning as plans were discussed and hammers pounded.  A floor was completed and two short side walls were attached before the energy waned in the afternoon, but there was much enthusiasm for further improvements and for the imaginative games that the fort will provide a new space for.

Learning the Medicine of the Forest

mahonia tincture

mahonia tincture

As late winter gave its final nod to the delicacies of spring and the plants in the forest around us began to put on their greenery,  it seemed the perfect time to learn about the medicines that the natural world offers.  Our friend and neighbor has been studying and using herbs and wild plants for medicine for a number of years, and so another home schooling family and I asked if she would be willing to meet with us every few weeks and teach us about the qualities of wild medicines during this season, working with whatever plants are ready for collecting as the spring progresses into summer.

 digging mahoniaThe first plant we learned about, one that is prolific in these pacific northwest forests, is oregon grape root, or Mahonia Nervosa.  In the late winter (or in the fall) the brilliantly yellow roots of mahonia can be dug up, cleaned, chopped, and soaked in alcohol to make a very strong tincture.  It didn’t take long for our four enthusiastic children to get their hands into the dirt and gently coax up the long sections of root.  They cleaned it, tasted it, smelled it, chopped it, and covered it with alcohol.  Each step was accompanied by many observations about how the plant affected our senses, and sometimes these sensations were different for each of us.  After labeling the tincture clearly we each had a turn swishing the jar, and sending our own thoughts of love and healing into the mixture.  chopped mahonia rootWe learned about the quality of bitter as we tasted the roots, as well as when we collected the earliest spring greens that we can eat, one of which is the common dandelion.  Bitter flavours have the effect of instantly sending a message to our brains, which then send a message to our stomaches to release certain digestive juices which stimulate easier digestion.  We don’t eat very much bitter food in our diets these days, and often our bodies do not get the opportunity to use this system of response.  The root is also blood cleansing (minerals/ detoxifying), astringent (tightens and tones), anti bacterial, anti fungal, and anti parasitic. It expels heat type conditions, urinary tract infections and has long been used for skin disorders such as eczema and psoriases. This is largely due to the action that mahonia has on the blood system.

wild saladBesides dandelion leaves and flowers, we also collected chickweed, plantain, sheep sorrel and it’s garden cousin lemon sorrel, lemon balm, miners’ lettuce, peppercress, and cleavers, all of which were growing in a small area around our house and in our garden.  Because of the small size of our group, we were able to engage in rather intimate conversations about our individual observations of smell, tangy or mild flavour, and dryness or juiciness.  Our kids are all quite familiar with the practice of eating wild greens, and their openness to explore more options and use their intuitive senses is quite real.  So is their caution, however, and on a few occasions they found look alike plants that they were able to discern as being different and so unknown in safety.  We all went off in scavenger hunt fashion, to find and collect  a handful of each plant.  After mixing in some kale and early lettuce, and adding a light balsamic dressing, we sat and munched on an incredibly fresh and nourishing salad.  Ange served up lemon balm iced tea to refresh the senses even more.

straining tinctureA few weeks later we met to strain out the chopped pieces of the mahonia tincture and bottle the medicinal liquid.  We all found that it smelled horrible, and even tasted horrible, but it was evident that strong medicine was present.  Everyone took turns in the pouring, bottling, and labeling, and we learned that to evaporate the alcohol for children, we could pour boiling water over the dosage needed and mix it with honey or licorace to sweeten it up.  Mahonia heads

Then Ange turned our attention to the Douglas Fir tree that was growing right above our heads and the picnic table we were working on.  We noted the needles lying flat on either side of the stem they grew on, rather than circling in a directions like other kinds of fir.  At the very ends there was the lighter green flush of new needles.  As each of us each chewed on a few needles,  an incredible interchange of flavour and texture ensued with different observations about sensation being expressed by us all.  douglas fir needlesWe were going to make a fir vinegar.  After clipping the new growth off the branches we could reach, the stems were plucked and the luscious needles placed into a large mason jar.  Then we poured apple cider vinegar to cover it, and labeled it.  Joanne took the fir needle vinegar home to let it sit until we meet again to strain it.  I wasn’t familiar with the idea of tree medicine, and I am so grateful to learn more.  The trees hold so much for us, and I am always astounded at our forgetfulness.  fir needlesAll of the medicines we have made follow the folk method of measurement, which means approximate amounts and intuitive reasoning.  Whether adding alcohol or vinegar as the medicinal carrier, we have used just enough to completely cover the plant material without leaving too much extra liquid. If the plant material swells a little, a bit more liquid can be added to keep it covered.   The vinegar or tincture is kept in a dark place for about a month before being strained.

“A plant is always much more than it’s constituents. The action or energetics of the plant can be felt through our unique sensory organs, which can be a very personal experience. This is the foundation of herbal medicine and how we can reconnect to a beautiful wisdom.”  Thanks so much to Ange for her insightful words, and the opportunities that she has brought to us through her own journey.

Archipelago!

plants booksOur home schooling journey this past spring has somewhat exploded into new territories, both real and imagined.  With the resources and creativity of a neighboring island teacher, principal, and outdoor education leader Steve Dunsmuir, our group has embarked on an adventure involving the discovery of an archipelago of islands that have never been explored before-  because these islands exist within the imaginations of the kids.  But as the children learn to shape these islands and dress them in plants and animals, they also learn the real life skills of living on these islands without the modern developments that we live with today.

The game is called Archipelago, and it started off with one of our parents, Karen, and her dramatic performance announcing to the kids that our facilitator Julie and her husband drifted off to sea the evening before.  They had called in to the coast guard with co-ordinates of where they were, saying that they were safe and sheltered within a group of islands that, strangely, were not on their charts.  Just as we were hoping that they would be brought safely home, (and many children were glancing around suspiciously as the word “archipelago” started to remind them of the name of a game we had been talking about learning), Julie burst into the room in a life preserver and a paddle, seaweed tangled in her hair, and with exasperation, staggered to a chair and excitedly told us of these islands that no one even knew were there, just right off our coastline!  (I mean, how far could they really have drifted?)

island outlineWe grouped the kids into 4 island groups and gave them a large piece of paper and they worked together to draw the outline shape of their island.  Then they traced that shape onto a piece of graph paper, and then the originals were placed on the wall of the room onto a big blue background, which then determined the directional placement of the island.  Each island now had a defined shape and a compass rose, and a proximity to the other islands.  compass roseThen we rolled dice to give elevations and water ways.  First roll was with a six die, and it determined how many high points there were, and then each high point was given an elevation with the roll of a 10’s dice.  So if 4 high points were rolled, and then 60 was rolled, one of the high points would be 60 meters.  The kids then worked together to decide where each of these elevations would go, in regards to the compass directions of the island.  The same was done for lakes, and for rivers.  Eventually the kids learned to draw contour lines, giving visual dimensions to their new islands.  We did a fun exercise of placing a large rock in a tub and pouring water on it, marking a line around the rock at each 6cm interval to show the changes in elevational contour.  We determined, with the scale of 1 square=1 hectare, that the islands are about 3.5 kilometers long and 2 kms wide.  That put a perspective when we compared it with the size of the island we live on.  One day we all went out for a hike, walking a route that spans the length, and then hiking up a ridge that is similar to the elevations of the imaginary islands.  They are not very big islands, but considering there will be no roads, paths or trails when we get there, they are just the right size for two or three kids to imagine exploring and gathering from every side of it.

Iisland creation haven’t mentioned yet the other imaginary aspect- characters.  The kids all created their own personality- age, name, attributes, skills, and abilities.  Some of the abilities and skills are real life learning experiences, and some are imaginary with a bit of research.  For instance, from a list of 100 skills, each child picked one for their character that they already have, one that they would like to learn, and one random one (determined with rolling dice).  The one they want to learn is one they came either learn for real, or just research about it and present the information.  Taeven picked cooking, and so we have embarked on a more exciting journey of learning to cook, something which was always a bit of a struggle before.  Cedar picked archery, and lucky for him, Julie had already organized 4 weeks of archery lessons because most of the kids had requested earlier in the year to do archery.  The kids also have a record of other attributes, such as endurance, balance, aim, and finding.  They can earn greater points during our real life adventures for these attributes.  We also try to offer this aspect of attributes on a personal level, so achievements are kept as a reflection of each child’s individual abilities.  It is also light-hearted and fun, so we are not strict with our standards in any way.  Often the kids will decide for themselves if they feel they have achieved a greater level of ability.  Taeven and Cedar have been in the habit of awarding points to each other even!

plant legendWe spent a flurry of time and activity discovering all the plants that grow on these islands.  From a list of 100 native flora divided into groups of habitat, the children rolled dice to get a plant, then roll again to find how many squares of that plant they have.  Then they decided where on their island that plant would grow, and a symbol would be created and added to a legend of all the plants on their island.  The kids could then do additional research to find out how the plant could be used, either for food, shelter, water, transportation, safety, communication, first aid and medicinal, or happiness!  The possibilities of going deeper into any area of this game is staggering.  Because we only meet twice a week, and because our kids are all so diverse, we have taken a loose approach to each of the deeper explorations, leaving those who wish to learn more the chance to do so in their own time.  plant cardsEven just researching one plant can be plenty- Cedar has ocean spray on his island, and when he found out that the long, thin, strong branches were traditionally used to make shafts for spears, arrows, bows, as well as other structural uses, he went out and began crafting himself a harpoon.

mappingWe had an afternoon of discovering the animals that live on these islands too, through more rolling of dice.  Julie had a computer hooked up to a projector and was searching for photos of each animal as they came up around the room, giving the kids visual identification and opening opportunities for other “islanders” to share what they might already know about each animal.  We learned that there are many different types of mussels, and that sea cucumbers can indeed be eaten, and we listened to the call of an oyster catcher.  The kids kept track of their animal populations by placing them in appropriate habitats and creating a legend.  We watched a slideshow of all the animals in the archipelago, and learned what lives on neighboring islands.

That is where we are at so far with the Archipelago game.  Soon we will be traveling to the islands and using our skills to set up a homestead so that we can enjoy the wild foods, the fresh water, shelter ourselves from the elements, and interact with neighbors, human and animal, with the best of both the imaginative world and the real world.  From what I have observed, this game has created a sense of group unity amoung our 16 diverse children while celebrating their unique qualities.  Their abilities to work together and share ideas while remaining individuals has created a beautiful atmosphere of positive energy in all the exciting activities we have taken on to complement the focused paper work of the Archipelago.

Goldstream Gem

Goldstream Provincial Park on Vancouver Island is nestled at the end of the narrow inlet of Finlayson Arm, encompassing a beautiful estuary that connects the mouth of the river from it’s journey through thick moss, dripping ferns, giant black cottonwoods, and old growth cedar trees.  The river hosts the spawning grounds for thousands of chum, coho, and chinook salmon each year, which also attracts bald eagles and supports a complex and diverse web of wild life that extends deep into the forest itself.  Three to four years previously, these same salmon were born here before traveling to the sea to grow and mature. Their return to spawn and die in their ancestral spawning beds is fascinating and the Freeman King Visitor Centre features special programs to help visitors appreciate this miraculous event.  The 388 hectare park also includes hiking trails that explore the valley floor to the ridges of Mt. Finlayson, with waterfalls along the way, an abandoned gold mine from the gold rush of the mid 19th century, and incredible views.

I have been visiting Goldstream and it’s rushing, cool waters ever since I was a child.  It was a common place for our family to stop, as it is only 17 km from Victoria and lies directly alongside the highway that takes traffic further north up Vancouver Island. Picnicking amoung the vibrant orange of the fall maple leaves mixed with the bright green of the carpeting moss lumbering over the solidity of the ancient cedar trees, or in the cool shade on a summers day, is a familiar memory.  Goldstream has become an annual visit now for our Spring Leaves home schooling group.  Each year we have visited at different times to take in the various appearances of the flora and fauna that cycle in seasonal changes, accentuated by the returning of the salmon.  The programs and park interpreters that have guided our own diverse group of children and adults have been enthusiastic, fun, informative, engaging, and respectful.  We have learned about the salmon’s cycle of life and how they have influenced the culture of the First People’s of this coastline, and watched their red bodies make the journey against the flow of the river, knowing that they will die and then become nourishment for a cascade of life.  This year we signed up for an afternoon of learning about the owls that live their lives within the park and in the southern BC areas.  We learned of the amazing adaptions that owls have developed to make their way through the night, like the silencing effect of their ruffled feather edges and lopsided ears so as to hear sounds from above and below. We also learned how to properly hoot like our local owls, and we meandered along the river looking for potential tree cavities that owls might nest in.  We also noticed all sorts of other things as we looked and observed, like woodpeckers and mushrooms and the beginnings of spring at the tips of the bare brambles.  We had a blue sky that sparkled with sun and rain together, glittering the moss in the branches of the old trees and sending us a rainbow or two.

What we also noticed was flagged markers sticking out of the river bed at intervals.  These turned out to be places for biologists to test for the residue of an oil spill that put 42,000 litres of gasoline into the river last April, 2011.  The spill happened when a Columbia Fuels truck smashed into a rock face beside the highway and rolled, damaging the tanks it was pulling and sending it’s cargo into the nearby park.  Gasoline is more toxic to wildlife than other types of oil- the only positive is that being lighter, it evaporates quickly and breaks up. Crude oil is more persistent and difficult to cleanse from the environment.  However, gasoline travels and kills quickly in water, and most of the newly emerging fry from last winter’s spawn were suffocated instantly.  Just hours before the crash, Goldstream hatchery volunteers and Tsawout First Nations members had released 8,000 coho salmon into the river. Earlier last week the hatchery had released an additional 20,000 salmon.  Thankfully, the numbers of salmon returning six months later to their ancestral homes was encouraging.  The negative effects of this contamination may be more significant in four years from now, when the 2011 hatchlings would have been returning. Of course, contamination beyond the immediate visuals available to us humans is difficult to determine, and expands into those smaller, and often highly dependent upon, micro-organisms.  I am grateful to all those who have been working to help clean, restore, and maintain this beautiful and integral habitat of Vancouver Island rain forest.  I encourage everyone to take the time to drink in the sanctuary of Goldstream, nestled amidst the growing developments of houses and highways.

The Nature House receives NO government funding!!! We Need Your Help!

     RLC Park Services, your Park Facility Operator, believes in the importance of environmental education.

 The Nature House needs park naturalists available to offer nature Programming and operate the Nature House.

Fundraising efforts and partnerships have helped us to this point. BUT…

  • No government support means we need the public to help us in the future.
  • Help us to continue offering low cost programming for school children, and free summer programs for everyone.
  • We thank each and every visitor who considers making a donation or purchases an item from our bookstore. Each one of you is helping to make a future for the Goldstream Nature House.

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