10 Days in the Yukon

A peek at our journey to the North

Every year we design our homeschooling curriculum loosely around a trip for the following year.  I find it helps me stay focused and it feeds the boys interest throughout the year.  I choose research topics and units based on hands-on experiences we can do on our trip.  In order to avoid boring ourselves, we choose places that neither my husband or I have been.

For many years the Yukon had called.  Through anecdotal tales and literary glory, others experiences of the vast expanse had created a desperate ache inside my gut.  Once we decided that our home school trip would take us farther North than any of us had ever been our excitement began to boil. Luckily, we had quite a few books on the Yukon, but we lucked out at some second hand stores and added to the pile.  We jam packed as much as humanly possible into ten days.  We drove between ten and fourteen hours a day for the first week, in order to see as much as we could, and honestly we could have stayed another three months and been busy.

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Wading through the creek at the end of the hot springs.

On our second night we stayed at the Hot Springs in Liard, BC.  It was an easy and beautiful ten minute saunter into the forest, with an odd and invigorating smell, somewhat like sulfur.  It was cold but the ground was warm, which created this steaming mud and fauna unlike anything I’ve ever seen.   The long plank path lead straight through a remarkable meadow swamp.  Moss, lichen, and fat bulbous leaved plants pushed through the shallow warmth of the grass and swamp like pools.  When we reached the end of the path, we found their stunning pool.  The cool end of the pool lead into a tiny little stream, barely two feet deep.  We paddled through on our tummies – down and through and around.  It wasn’t very far, but it seemed a million miles away as the other guests disappeared into the forest behind us and everything was silent.  The plants above us and all around morphed into a jungle, and we instantly felt like we’d changed continents.  Ferns hung over head, clinging to soggy logs and slick stones.  It was truly remarkable.

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Liard, BC Hot Springs 2018
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Dawson City 2018

Wandering around Dawson City with two kids in tow one one of my favourite days.  It felt as if we had stumbled back in time.  Other than a few fresh coats of paint on various buildings, it was easy to see that upgrades had never been a priority, which was a wonderful surprise.  It was hot, which we found odd complaining about since we live in a bloody desert but it was surprising.   The streets were dirt and the sidewalks were made of planks, which made the dust settle and stick to our sweat for the long haul.  It was icky and the kids were tired.  We were so thirty and the map of the town is made up of landmarks and historical points of interest, so unfortunately GET DRINKS HERE wasn’t marked.

Nevertheless,  what an incredible place.  The sagging churches, dilapidated billboards and old broken buildings were amazing.  A town supported almost entirely by the tourist industry and yet, since the gold rush it had clearly never made enough money to make it truly take off.   The Dawson City Museum was incredible – a true highlight for a couple of gold rush crazy kiddos.   We stumbled into a little gold shop along the river and they had this incredible display of gold taken from all the different mines.  We wandered and wandered, and around every corner was “wow!”

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Justin and Rhett walking the streets of Dawson City 2018

We got incredible lucky and had a friend with family that owned a gold claim just outside of town and we were invited to stop by the mine and see how a real gold mine worked.  The boys found a little bit of gold, got to try out the equipment and then we had a Lynx casually wander by while we were panning.  It was a fantastic day.

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Home of Robert Service – Dawson City

The hardest part about driving so hard and for so many days is we were ALWAYS tired.  It truly was an exhausting trip.  By day 7 we had one boy wanting to camp everywhere and experience more, and the other wanting to pull 20 hr days and get home ASAP.  Nevertheless, with limited time off every year and wanting to get as much done as possible, rarely are our vacations truly a vacation.  Although this is just a smidgen of what we did on our trip, I hope it inspires you to go and check it out.  We’re going to go again!

 

Our Favourite Everyday Curriculum: Exploring Nature With Children

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We spend an incredible amount of time outdoors, so it’s no surprise that I continually try to find ways to incorporate our adventure and exploration into our everyday school work. For the last year and a half, we have guided our home study around a fantastic curriculum called Exploring Nature With Children.  It gives children the opportunity to fall in love and connect with nature through a variety of mediums.    There are works of art work to look up, a themed poem and suggested reading supplements that you can add in order to explore the topics even further.  It’s perfect when teaching a variety of ages because everything can be simplified or expanded as needed.

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One of my favourite attributes of the Exploring Nature curriculum is the additional readings.  These you can find your own, however having a list of titles and authors allows for an easy lesson when you’re having a rough week and could use a little extra support.  Who doesn’t have one of those now and then, right?

Once a month we go to the library and take out the supplemental readings for the following few weeks.  Most of the artwork we look up online, but occasionally we take out a book for further study.

We each started a Nature Journal which we keep in our adventure packs.  We use this journal to document and draw different things that we learn about and examine each week.  As a family that spends a lot of time in the bush, I found the nature journal was a light and compact way to continue learning on the go.

Last year, while hiking the mountain with fellow homeschool friends we started a nature journal game.  The kids varied in age from 5 to 12, so we needed to find something flexible.  We separated (in a meadow, where we could still control safety) and found something to draw.  Afterwards we came back together, lay our sketches out and worked as a group to try and find the plants that others had done, using only the sketch as a hint.  Then we discussed the plants we couldn’t identify, looked them up and labelled them all.  When I look back through the last year of doodles, sketches and paintings that we’ve done in our books, those pages always make me smile.

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First fish caught solo and cooking for dinner.

NJ - Crabapples

I find this a very flexible curriculum, one that I can morph easily and change expectations based on age and ability of learner.  Sometimes the journal entries take over and become the kids favourite part, other times they find a strong connection within the examination of the subject or the themed  poem.  No matter which part they connect with in any given week, it’s never dull and the boys always look forward to it.

Although we used this last year, I find we don’t learn enough in a single week of study that doing it again the following year is repetitive.  Change it up, add more depth, a new set of eyes and get the family outside – that’s all it’s really about after all.

If this sounds like something you’d like to try, pop over to Lynn’s site http://www.raisinglittleshoots.com and download it from there.  There is also a great Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/exploringnaturewithchildren with some of her stunning journal entries, a great community of like-minded adults and other Charlotte Mason style ideas to add to your week of study.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

 

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.  It’s easy to sit inside and cuddle up with a book or binge watch Netflix and our modern day luxuries don’t force us outside like they did decades ago.  As a result, children and adults alike have far less winter skills that we used to – so we’ve decided to change that as a family.

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The beginning of our hike with Dad in the lead.

We 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 and adventure!

We drove up our mountain as far as we could get in 4 feet of snow, then proceeded to unloaded the kids and the snowshoes.  Once everyone was strapped in we went for a bit of a hike asking the kids to pay CLOSE 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 an alternate route that would take us to the same spot – cut their own trail, if you will. They looked slightly forlorn, as the forest canopy rose 60 feet above them and a deep quilt of snow covered the ground.

We talked about the surroundings, the details, the things they may not have noticed on their own.  We asked them to study the trail we had left in the snow 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 while they faced the direction they intended to walk.  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 didn’t give them the 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, made a plan and off they went with 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.  My husband tracks for a living so he was teaching them different ways to analyse them and to tell how fresh or old they were.

At one point our path started to shift a little north and we had to remind the boys to notice 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 creep up our truck appeared over the bank. Huge smiles of pride and success washed over their tiny faces.

It was a day of triumph.

 

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