So, what is a mountain child anyway? We live in the mountains, surely that’s enough. I had to ask myself something similar a while back. I thought about what it was I wanted my children to take away from our experience here. Childhood is limited after all. We don’t have nearly as much time as we think we do to secure those lessons, those understandings. So what was it? What was the grand idea I wanted them to take away from all of this? And I don’t mean the only thing I wanted them to learn, I mean the advantage I wanted them to have from living here. I wanted to raise men that got their values, their foundation and their work ethics from living above the skyline.
The first thing I wanted to teach them was survival. My kids have long been adventurers, they’ve got “Survival Packs”, they hike, fish, hunt, and play like any wild children do. But here’s the thing, the reality – we live in the bloody mountains! As amazing as that is, it comes with some danger and those risks need to be prepared for. We live with cougars, bears, bobcats, Lynx, Coyotes and Wolves. This preparedness is not something you can learn in a book, its knowledge you gain through experience, time, and learning from other people’s mistakes. So to prepare them in a fun way, we play survival games: What do you do if? How do you build the best fort if you NEED to sleep in it? If you’re lost in the bush, and you’re seven years old… how DO you survive? How do you make a snow fort, that’s safe and effective? Stay Visible, Stay Loud! I’m pretty confident in my boys outback skills. I’m not saying they’d slay a mountain lion, but I think if they were lost they would have a strong foundation to fall back on.
Since moving up here, I have become surrounded by an amazing group of smart, nature savvy women who are as passionate about raising their kids and doing it in the mountains as I am. We learn a lot from each other. Last year, with a lot of guidance from a fellow mountain momma we started to forage for food and medicine. The boys learned how to make poultices to stop bleeding, about plants that help bites and stings and we even made a huge batch of Natures Polysporin that we now use exclusively for both ourselves and our animals. They don’t know a lot yet, but they’ve got a good arsenal and they can distinguish between some pretty similar look-alike plants.
After survival, I wanted our boys to have an excellent grasp of the plants and animals that surrounded us. We’ve spent countless hours learning about tracks, and scat and markings on trees. At the beginning of this school year I decided to purchase the Exploring Nature with Children curriculum. This curriculum gives us a theme within nature to study and follow each week, and in addition gives us an example of art and poetry that coincides with the week’s theme. Both the children and I have enjoyed this curriculum immensely. There are plenty of extension activities to expand it and it moves along nicely with The Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Botsford Comstock. We write about and illustrate what we see and learn about in our Nature Journals: we document the weather changes, the leaves of different trees and how to differentiate them, the way that nature changes throughout the seasons and any little critter we come across. It’s a way to blend science, art, writing and math all in one place – and the kids never know its “school”.
The boys started hunting with their dad this year, and we spent a lot of time learning what ethical hunting looked like, what your responsibilities as a hunter are and also how to process what you’ve harvested. We processed enough meat this year to feed our family and a friend’s family for a year. The kids were involved every step of the way – after all, if you’re going to eat it, you’d better know where it came from and what goes into getting it to your plate.
So I guess when someone asks me why I’m raising my kids in the mountains, I have pretty good answers now. They’re prepared, they’re outdoors and active, they’re aware of the nature that surrounds them and the responsibility we have to protect it. They’re awesome kids that lead a phenomenal life.