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.

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

 

Adventure Packs For Kids

Packs for kids on the move

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”.