Cheep! Cheep! Is that Spring I hear?

Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks

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Veronica – Barnevelder

Nothing says springtime like an incubator buzzing.  It’s always hard for me to wait and time my hatching just right.  It gets so cold here that I don’t like hatching before it warms up, but I need to balance that with being a rather inpatient gal.  I’m a lucky girl however, with a VERY good husband for he has allowed me to designate an entire room in my house to chickens.  I have a “chick room” designed simply for incubating, hatching and brooding chicks.  It’s fantastic in the early months of spring when it’s just a little too chilly to let those babies outside.  Who doesn’t love having chicks in the house anyway?

My Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks:

1. Handle Your Chicks Regularly. 12797998_254433651570763_393543114_n(1)

This makes your chicken life SO much easier.  The babies that I’ve hand raised are so much easier to deal with as adults, than adult chickens I have purchased.  If you ever need to handle or doctor your chickens, you’ll want them as calm as possible around you. (Make sure your hands are washed, so that you aren’t introducing germs, parasites or any potential diseases to your new babes.  This is especially the case if you have a flock of chickens, or are handling any other birds.)

 

2. Feed Age/Stage Appropriate Feed. 

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Using bribery to increase handling by children – Especially important with young roosters.

If you are raising chicks for the first time this is essential and you need to do some research.  The growth stages of chicks is fast and you don’t have a lot of time to remedy mistakes.  Protein, vitamin and trace mineral level needs very at every age stage and the results of using accurate levels will make a huge difference to your chicks.  They will be larger, stronger, healthier and produce less waste.  Read a couple of non-biased studies and you’ll see the difference.  Quality feed is well worth the small additional cost.

 

3. Invest in a Good Brooder.  

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Marbles in the water dish prevent drowning

You can buy awesome kits or complete brooders for raising your chicks, or you can make one and get the same results – your choice.  We built ours and the kids still love adding new things to keep the chicks happy and entertained.  You can see some great ideas for brooders and coop ideas here. Your chicks need a warm, safe place to grow.  They need ample fresh water, food and a clean space to move and grow.  The temperature should be around 90F for the first week, and should be reduced by around 5 degrees each following week, until the chicks have their all of their feathers.  If your chicks are huddled up to or under your heat source it’s not warm enough, however, if they are all as far away from your heat source as possible it’s too warm.

Note: The chicks have moved the shavings away from the paper they are standing on, and you DO NOT want your chicks standing on plain newspaper – Bullet 4 will cover this.

chicken splint4. Keep them on a textured surface. 

This is a factor that most new chick owners are unaware of.  Chicks need to be kept off of anything slippery: newspaper, vinyl, linoleum, hardwood etc… Although handy and generally easy to clean those little feet have nothing to grip onto and some pretty serious developmental issues can follow.  Splayed leg for instance, where one or both of their legs slides to the side (looking similar to a break), makes the chick unable to walk.  Typically this results in the chick getting culled or you playing chicken doctor like me and finding a way to make the worlds smallest splint.  Let me tell you this was one of the most time consuming and frustrating jobs of my life.

I tend to have multiple surfaces in my brooder, typically shavings on one side and a folded towel on the other.  My brooder is large with a lot of room to exercise and we add stimuli to keep them thinking and prevent boredom.  I elevate the water, to prevent getting shavings inside.

5. Introduce to the Flock Early 

When, where and how you introduce chicks to the rest of your flock depends on several factors.  What is the season and temperature outside, for you need to make sure your chicks are fully feathered and old enough to withstand and temperature changes without a hen to keep them warm.  How large is your flock and how sensitive your flocks pecking order is also plays a huge role, as your chicks safety is your number one concern.  Also, it’s never a good idea to just throw your babies in the coop.  When I am introducing chicks I set up a metal crate inside the coop and the chicks live in the crate for several days but separated for their safety.  I find this gives them a good opportunity to watch and learn.  They see how the older chickens interact with each other, and they get a feel for the pecking order without having to be apart of it.  It also gives my hens an opportunity to watch the chicks and get comfortable with them.  When i’m ready to release, I do it at night with the lights out.  Typically, when the chickens wake up no one is the wiser, however, I do leave the crate in the coop with a small barrier door (chicks fit under but chickens don’t), so that if needed the chicks have a safe place to run and hide.  My goal is to have my chicks out and learning from the masters early.

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Sprout (the worlds kindest rooster) leading some girls out for a morning stroll.

 

Let Them Be Wild

Learning how to let go, even just a little bit.

As a fairly neurotic parent, I find great difficulty letting go of the reins and allowing my children to venture and learn solo.   Nevertheless, I believe at the core of my soul that letting them loose and controlling less is ultimately going to create, in my case, better men.  It is impossible to grow and learn and develop when we’re stifled.  Take a candle for instance, with a little room to breathe it burns but it will not grow, give it even less space and it will suffocate completely.  let me be wild I find that children living under helicopter parents are similar.  They don’t have the opportunity to learn anything; they’re spoon fed information and there is almost no engagement whatsoever.  How many times do you see parents answering the questions they just asked, or asking leading questions to “help” them find the answer?  It’s like we assume our kids are adorable little morons.  Personally I fight hard not be that parent, so if this sounds familiar don’t fret just keeping trucking.  At least if we’re trying it means we care, and that is more than our kids could ever ask for.  When in doubt help less.

When we moved to this mountain top all my boys wanted to do was run.  They wanted to kick off their shoes and get lost in the woods.  We did lots of hiking and foraging and collecting leaves and flowers and seeds that we found on our journeys, but they really wanted to test their skills solo.  Now we’re on 6 acres of land that backs onto endless miles of crown land (or government land depending on where you’re drinking your coffee at the moment).  We can walk out of our back gate and literally go forever, it’s fantastic.  At 4 and 6 years old however, I wasn’t about to let my kids run rampant in the forest.  As a true-to-form helicopter parent from the suburbs I wanted to see them, hear them, tell them to be careful stepping over that log and to watch out for the stinging nettles.  Nevertheless, I dug down deep and mustered a solution that allowed them to be “free” and me to be able to hover – I strapped our dogs tracking collars to their backpacks.  I could stand on the deck, or do the dishes and watch every single step they took, the direction they were looking and the meters from my handheld.  It was brilliant.  We had a strict rule that they needed to stay on the path that we’d made and take a dog, which didn’t allow them nearly as much distance as they felt (and it kept them within hearing range), but it allowed them out of the gate and into the wild ALONE.  They walked this path, with their Adventure Packs and all the survival skills they’d been taught about 100 times this past year.

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There is nothing my kids love more than hitting the trails and bringing things home to examine and wonder about.  Our rock collections are ridiculous and I always seem to have seeds and feathers and bones scattered on every flat surface in my house.  They search for treasures and creatures, they track different animals and compare their features. They practice physics and the laws of motion, they experiment with biology and study taxonomy.  They learn patience and care and measuring and monitoring.  They are better students because they are wild, because we let them loose.  We learn so much about the world around us, that often I go in with a plan or a lesson in mind and when we emerge from the bush the list of things we learned is only outdone by the list of things I need to look up because I didn’t go in prepared with the answers.

It’s hard some days to find a balance, or even to find my footing.  It takes a lot of motivation (for me) to get out, and some serious effort to foster their focus without controlling the learning.  I try and take a jump in/step back approach.  When I see a learning opportunity, I highlight it or point it out, ask a question that requires some critical thought and then step right back out of the situation while the wheels turn.  I keep a notebook for questions that they ask so that I can look up the answers when we get home.  Nothing is more humbling that home or forest schooling to remind you of how little you actually know about the world.

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So take this bit of encouragement from a mom that tries and fails regularly, because it’s still working.  Despite my failures, I can see that it’s working because I am watching my boys become everything I’d ever hoped they would become: strong, independent, intelligent, brave, kind and self reliant.

Get outside, follow their lead and learn whatever they’re in the mood for.  Find the strength inside to get outside, even on the days you want to binge watch the latest trash TV or become a FB zombie.  Let them go, let them run ahead without you.  You’ll catch up and they’ll have stories of adventure when you get there.

 

 

 

“… But can’t you hear the Wild? – it’s calling you.  Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us; Let us journey to a lonely land I know.  There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us, and the Wild is calling, calling… let us go.” – The Call of The Wild, By: Robert Service

 

So You Think You Want a Coonhound?

Dixie - The one that started it all

If anyone reading this has had a hound I think it’s fair to say you understand the love-hate relationship.  They can be fantastic!  Loving, gentle, phenomenal hunting dogs and a go-go-go temperament when you want them to be, but turn a switch and they can play dead for 23 hours beside you on the couch.  However, they remind me of the nursery story The Little Girl with the Curl, “when she was good she was very very good, but when she was bad she was horrid!” That pretty much sums them up.

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Scarlet

I have spent more nights chasing hound dogs up the mountain and making “friends” with neighbours bringing my dogs home than I can count.  Here’s the thing though, hound dogs were never my thing – they were my husbands dream.  He’d grown up with the fantasy of having a couple of loyal hounds as hunting buddies.  That mans-best-friend vision that was likely instilled in him as a child watching Where the Red Fern Grows.  At last his dreams came true about 6 years ago when we found someone living in an apartment in downtown Vancouver with a 6 month old redbone coonhound that was simply “too much” for them.

Now I’m not sure what’s wrong with some of you city folk (and I’m from the suburbs), but DO YOUR RESEARCH before you buy a bloody hound dog!  We now have 4 hounds and most of them were dogs we took from people living in the city that couldn’t handle them once they passed the cute stage.  The last darling we got (and I’m NEVER looking for more dogs) was a 14 month old Bluetick hound that the owners had to get rid of because he wouldn’t stop barking.

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Cinco – Finally a home where he fits

His yard was a 10 x 10 and he lived largely locked up – no wonder he was vocal.  We contacted the owners and he had bounced to 3 different homes in 5 days because no one could handle such a boisterous and loud dog.  Here he is chilling out on the couch after 8 hours of running and playing on our property.  Now he’s darling and I love him to death, but it takes a special kind of place for a dog who jumps fences, takes off into the mountains, barks A LOT and needs more than a walk around the block as exercise.  He’s like having another child.

We struggled with our first hound Dixie when we lived in the city because it was SO HARD to keep her home.  She was a master sneak.  If anyone left a door ajar or a gate not quite latched she was G-O-N-E.  I felt like the worst dog owner on the planet, and I certainly ranked up there.  I had little kids and people coming in and out all day long.  Even with gates on the decks and on the yards, accidents happened biweekly at least.  Finally we got to move to the mountains, where life fits us all a little better.  But with the move, strangely enough came… more hounds.  I wonder if deep down that was part of the appeal for my husband to move to a sky line?

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Old Blue and our boys

So now we have 4 hounds a Redbone named Dixie and 3 Blueticks Scarlet, Cinco and Blue.  Now when we moved here our property wasn’t fenced, so we dropped a small fortune into fencing it for dogs.  Field and Farm wire fencing around the entire perimeter and rail fencing within the property for livestock.  It was a monster job and it took forever!  Now that’s it’s done, we still have escapees on a regular basis because if the chase is good enough all three Blue ticks jump (let me reiterate how painful and expensive the fencing was).  We had bears regularly throughout the summer come down and hop our fence to eat the horse hay – I don’t know if that made them brave or stupid but did it drive the dogs insane!  It felt like almost daily I was going outside to absolute silence, knowing full well that I was packing kids into the truck and heading up the logging roads to look for dogs, it was enough to drive you X%#$ing bonkers!  Yet here I am with the stay-home hounds Scarlet and Blue outside lounging in their heated custom dog houses, Dixie the chronic sneak sleeping on my bed and Cinco nursing his icy run-away wounds by my feet.

Like I said before, it’s a love-hate relationship and a TON of work monitoring them.  They need to MOVE and they are born to follow that nose.  Think long and hard about this one….

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Scarlet – 13 months

 

 

 

Fire Makers

Hazards vs. Skills: Fires with children

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This is a funny story, kind of, now that it’s in the past I guess I think it’s funny.  Here’s a little back story first. This summer was awesome. Dear friends of ours fell in love with the area when we moved here and on our 1-year mountain anniversary they moved their family of 5 into our guest cabin while they shopped the area for a home of their own. Our kids are all around the same age and they decided to homeschool for a while until they had their new life here sorted. We woke up to a full class of eager adventure-hungry homeschool kids every morning. My girlfriend and I were awfully busy keeping these little minds busy this summer, but we had a blast and the kids all learned a lot.

Now this last summer was one of the driest summers on record for much of British Columbia. It was a scorcher in most places but the worst part was that we barely had a drop of rain past May. The fires around the province were fierce and they were everywhere. Travel had to be planned around highway closures and it seemed that everyone was on standby and watching for smoke. Our house was no different. Perched atop this mountain gave us a unique vantage point and the opportunity to watch water bombers while keep an eye peeled for smoke on the neighbouring hills.

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One day in August we had our own close call when smoke billowed from the cigarette-fire on the other side of the mountain and it started racing for the peak. We were lucky, but were also prepared.  I had just finished having a brewed-by-friend coffee at the guest cabin and was walking back to my house when the black smoke started thundering into the sky from over the peak. Luckily, both she and I are “preppers”.  We’ve got stocked emergency kits, we know where all our documents are and we’re passing those neurotic (albeit helpful) qualities down to our children.  The kids had their just-in-case bags packed and ready like the good little preppers they are. So when that smoke started climbing we had 5 kids, 4 adults, 4 horses, 6 dogs, 6 cats, a rabbit and a hamster packed and ready in 30 minutes.  Now I should add that we also had a cow and 70 chickens at this time that we were going to turn loose as we drove out the driveway.  We’re not saints, we’re realists and it wasn’t actually possible to take it all.  It’s possible that I may have thrown Big Momma (my favourite chicken) on my lap as we sped away, but I guess we’ll never know.  We waited for the evacuation but luckily it never came.  In two trucks and two trailers we had food, water, fuel and emergency supplies to keep us all alive for a week at least.  It was a feat and a half but we did it and we were immensely proud of ourselves.

So how do two neurotic planners with emergency savvy kids get caught with their pants down in fire season?  Well… they have kids obviously.  In the middle of a heat wave, surrounded by tinder and passing water bombers you never expect to hear, “The boys are trying to start a fire under the bushes!” Back to reality and off our high horse these two mountain mommas were tossed.  I don’t think either of us have ever ran so fast. Again, we were lucky and the kids didn’t have all the skills to start a fire yet.  It became the lesson of the season that’s for sure.  They were so embarrassed, we almost didn’t need to get mad.  You know that mental lapse we all have at some point in our lives, that moment where curiosity seems to trump common sense and we fear that maybe we’re not actually very smart?  Come on, I know you’ve felt that way too.  Well this was the case for our boys, and even for us in some ways.  Luckily when the dads came home from work it was a funny story rather than an evacuation notice.

So I bet you thought this was going to be a post about being prepared for fires and how to drill in to your kids the dangers of fire and how to prevent them.  That’s part of it really and without the back story you may think me a fool, but this is actually about teaching your kids how to make a fire.  This will be age appropriate of course, but you’re the parent and only you know your children. I now hurl the responsibility and discretion up to you whether your kids are ready for this.

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Now in each of my boys’ Adventure Packs they carry a couple of homemade lightweight   and some waterproof matches.  My eldest now has a flint stick and striker that he got with a leatherman, but he doesn’t know how to use it yet.

Learning how to make a fire is essential to survival, you need to keep warm and it’s helpful to eat – although you can live for a long time without it and a granola bar or a protein bar will tide you over.  We started by making homemade fire starters one day as a homeschooling project.  We took lint from the dryer and melted and poured wax on top.  The wax helps slow down the burn of the lint so that you have a longer light time for the tinder you use to start the fire.  I quick gust of flame is often not enough to get the fire going, especially when you’re using cold or wet tinder and kindling.  We stored our prepared fire starters in tiny tins that I had left over from tea samples.  They were light and waterproof – perfect.  I suggest using what you have laying around, even if it’s just a ziplock bag.  Keywords being – LIGHT and WATERPROOF.  We made three each so the boys could have two in their pack and use one to test.  Below are some pictures of the boys making their magic.

 

Once our fire starters were complete we took them out into the snow to see whether the boys could make a fire on their own.  They dug a deep hole in the snow about 2′ in diameter, they scraped the bottom of the hole bare so that their fire would be on as little snow as possible.  They went to the surrounding trees (and into our wood shed) and got tiny sticks (think needle sized and up), pine needles, lots of moss and then some larger sticks.  They put their fire starter down first and surrounded it with moss, gently resting the tiny sticks above the mass.  Now we make a lot of fires at our home as our house is exclusively wood heat, so the concept of needing the fire to breathe and general fire building is not new to them.  The idea of building it in the cold, with snow that turns to water when melted and keeping it out of the wind were all new challenges that they had to solve.  With a little encouragement and a sitting on cold knees while they SLOWLY fed the fire, it worked!  Success using only one fire starter, but it did need a lot of patience.

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Snow Fire Success

 

Adventure Packs For Kids

Packs for kids on the move

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There is a big difference between a Survival Kit and an Adventure Pack. A Survival Kit is needed when preparing for a disaster where kids need to be fully prepared for the unexpected. They are generally loaded with supplies for a multitude of scenarios. That being said, with the amount of things needed to survive it is often unrealistic to expect a child to be able to pack it. It’s remarkable how quickly weight adds up and as parents we need to be realistic in their abilities.

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Loaded and adventure ready!

An Adventure Pack on the other hand, is packed the same way every single day and your child carries it with them when they venture outdoors. Now the unexpected can still happen, and for that they have the pack. These packs are designed to keep my kids alive for 48 hours: keep them dry, warm, hydrated, fed, and safe until help arrives. These packs are my children’s most prized possession. They always know where they are, and even my five year old knows how to restock it.

Now Doug from Outdoor Survival TV has a fantastic tag line that we now use regularly. Below is a short video of what he puts in his kits.

Stay Put – Stay Warm – Get Bright – Get Noisy

We made Adventure Packs when we moved here, and with personal experience they’ve modified slightly. Here is a list of 15 Essentials:

Make sure you are using a size-appropriate Backpack with good support and that fits well.  Check out our outdoor or mountain supply stores, or take a look at the link above.

  1. Glow Sticks – We purchase these at dollar stores, you can buy in big packages and throw a few in each pack.
  2. Small Head Lamp – Now there are budget friendly headlamps, but generally they’re terrible. Not bright and the batteries die quickly. Invest in s decent
  3. Extra Batteries – again quality here is key. Also, wrap in a bandana to keep batteries warm (which will increase battery life) and your child can use the bandana as trail marker if needed
  4. Heat Parka/Poncho – These are cheap and light. Try and find something in a reflective material or brightly coloured.
  5. Light Weight Rope – essential for making a shelter, and many other “what-if’s”
  6. Heat Packs – Also known as hand/foot warmers depending on where you live. We buy these in bulk and always have a few in each pack.
  7. Snacks – High energy and comfort. Protein bars, granola, even some candy. This is where many people blend distraction and comfort. Would a pack of lifesavers distract long enough to calm down your child a little bit while they wait for help?
  8. Water Bottle – Teach water conservation and make it a smaller one, remember your child has to carry it.
  9. First Aid Kit – You can make your own or purchase one. Throwing it in the pack isn’t enough, make sure you teach your kids how to bandage, treat a burn, and disinfect.
  10. Bear Bell – Highly debated and personal choice. My boys wear one on their packs, but some people believe it’s as much of a dinner bell as it is a deterrent.
  11. Whistle/Compass Combo – A whistle is ESSENTIAL!! Imagine being 100ft from your child in the woods and still not being able to hear them. Also, teach your children to use a compass from an early age. A vital skill and you don’t want to be trying to rely on google maps.
  12. Fire Starter/Waterproof Matches/Flint and Striker – You’re the judge here. My kids keep homemade fire-starter in their packs and this year they added flint sticks and waterproof matches.
  13. Swiss army knife/Leatherman – I find this a complete necessity and my kids adore using theirs. Whether they’re trying to set up camp, entertain themselves by whittling wood or using it for preparing food (even gathering food).
  14. Para chord Survival Bracelet – This is something new to our kits, but it’s lightweight, useful and the combos can alleviate some of the weight by combining items.
  15. Nature Journal – With pens and pencils (optional, we use this as part of our homeschooling). This is great for documenting but if they’re stuck and alone it can also be a good distraction and time killer.
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Adventure never takes a day off.

Now keep in mind that this is about getting your kids out into nature and improving their critical thinking and confidence skills. For me, this doesn’t mean dropping them off in the woods and going home for a quiet coffee. Our children are allowed to venture off the property onto crown land, but it is season dependant and within limits set out as a family. These packs come on all of our family adventures too and this is where they learn the skills – we learn together.

Do you have any ideas to add? We’re always changing our arsenal as we go, and I’d love to hear how you do it where you are!

 

 

If you’re looking for ideas for Adventure Pack staples, take a peek at the links below:

 

What Makes a Mountain Child?

By a learn-as-you-go mountain mommy

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.

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Frozen River Play

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.

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Physics experiments in the creek.

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”.

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Learning how to be self sustaining

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.

 

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When in doubt, say “yes”.