A Game of Lost and Found

Empowering Children to conquer more and believe in themselves.

 

It has been cold here the last little while, hovering around -20 for over a week.  It’s hard to get out and get motivated in the winter sometimes, but I strongly believe that it’s more important in the winter and adults have less winter skills.

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The beginning of our hike with Dad in the lead.

Therefore I find way to engage the kids outdoors and teach them skills without them realising it isn’t just a game.  My husband and I wanted to get them out for some fresh air and exercise, and the kids were in the mood to act like zombies, so like the good little mountain parents we occasionally are – we invented a game.  We played this amazing game a couple of weeks ago and it’s sure to be repeated many times even during the summer months. A game of  survival, critical thinking adventure!

We drove up our mountain as far as we could get in 4 feet of snow, then we unloaded the kids and the snowshoes.  Once everyone was strapped in we went for a bit of a hike asking the kids to pay attention to their surroundings as we walked.

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Five and Fearless

Once we’d gone a ways (with a clear snowshoe path leading back to the truck), we asked them to lead the way to the truck but they couldn’t take us on the same route.  They needed to think about it and find a different route that would take us to the same spot.  Cut their own trail. They looked a little surprised, as the forest canopy was 60 feet above them and the ground was covered in snow.  So we stopped and talked a little bit about the surroundings, things they may not have noticed on their own.  We asked them to look at our trail back and think about where the truck was.  Could they point in the direction it was parked?  We asked them to look at the sun and compare it to the position of their body when they faced the direction of the truck.  When facing the truck it was slightly passed their right shoulder.  We were less than 20 minutes from the truck so the sun would move very little before we returned.

We had no compass, so the boys (aged 5 and 7) had to get us back on sheer brain power.  They looked around for a minute, talked about it between themselves and off they went with their dad and I in tow.

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Taking turns leading the way

They chose a pretty route, that followed an active set of coyote tracks over a hillside and into the forest.  The ground was alive with animal activity.  They looked at the tracks and the different sizes, trying to guess how many were in the family.  It hadn’t snowed in several days, so it was possible that this was days worth of activity from the same family members, therefore increasing track numbers.  Their dad tracks for a living so he was teaching them ways to see if they were fresh and to notice size and shape differences.

One time our path started to shift a little north and we had to remind the boys to look at the sun and turn their bodies back to the body/sun position they had started with.  We climbed over boulders and logs, we dipped down below fallen trees and we trudged though snow as deep as the boys.  Just as they were getting a little frustrated and feeling the shadow of defeat our truck appeared over the bank and huge smiles washed over their tiny faces.

It was a day of triumph.

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”.