Outdoor Education

Like many of you, Tony and I are working parents. And sometimes we work from home. While watching the kids. While taking care of the goats. While not getting enough work done. While our kids holler, “M-o-o-m! D-a-a-d!”

Not only is it distracting, but it also means that if you get a call from me you are likely to hear a lively discussion about “whose stick it is” in the background. For the record, it was originally Robin’s stick (6 years). But he put it down. So it became Annie’s stick (4 years). Meanwhile Maxi (1 year) makes off like a bandit with said stick while her two siblings argue.

This is parenthood. I can job-clean-nurse while wearing my child ankle weights. I know that 5 minutes of alone time in the bathroom isn’t guaranteed. Though sometimes I ask, why do Tony and I seem to have a gravitational mass that pulls in our children? Why do they require us to entertain them?

And I have to remind myself, this need not be a constant state. A simple change of venue can do the trick. Go outside! In the house, we parents are often the most interesting object available. The kids ricochet off the walls and into our near-Earth orbit. But outside, children can manage escape velocity.

Of course, there is the “parent addiction” (read: won’t leave you alone) that can afflict all children (at least before their teenage years). Once outdoors, kids may not be ready to see that the walls have vanished. While they work it out, we can get back to work: Sitting on the grass with our laptops, puttering in the garden, or watching the juncos flit through the trees.

And while ignoring little ones indoors is rarely possible, once in nature they invariably wander off to find rocks, mud puddles, bugs, grass, shovels, weeds to eat, dinosaur bones, knives, clouds, and squirrels. Or they may choose to help with your garden puttering.

As with any parenting advice, this is easier blogged than done. Yet sending our kids outside need not stem from our frustration; it can come from our empathy. A life spent indoors doesn’t set children up for success in exploring beyond the limited perspective of their parents (that’s us with our limitedness). Nature provides a far grander and more diverse landscape.

So next time we seek that sense of calm, but our kids aren’t letting us have it, let’s try stepping outside with them (or send them out on their own—that’s how I wrote this blog*). There we shall find a world with fewer boxed-in boundaries, less parental gravity. And enough sticks to for everyone!

See you outside,
Molly Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom

*Picture the mom from Calvin and Hobbes.

Other blogs you might like:  5 Ways to Nature  –  Kids Need Silence  –  Let’s Get Dangerous

Now ends March 8, 2017

Quite a few parents called, concerned they missed the early Summer Camp discount. This happens every year. So what made this time unique? Many felt distracted and caught up with current events. We empathize and want to do something about this. We’re extending the 10% discount through March 8.

We believe Forest Skills foster compassion, self-accountability, and long-term thinking. Values we need in today’s world.

Compassion Through tracking animals, kids discover empathy. They understand how the mouse needs shelter to survive. They also feel that the coyote is hungry, and must feed her pups.

Self-Accountability Wilderness survival teaches kids to own their choices. Nature does not build a fire for you, but the wilderness does provide us with the resources to do so. As they learn to Pay Attention to nature, children cultivate awareness, knowledge, and resiliency.

Long-Term Thinking Through proper harvesting of wild plants, kids learn to think beyond the short-sightedness found in many of our present-day “leaders”. Harvesting willow for baskets can create more abundance in the years that follow. It can also help create better habitat for wildlife, and more resources for generations beyond our lifetime. Thus true long-term thinking also means caring for the community of both the human and more-than-human world.

Of course, extending our discount won’t necessarily save the world (at least by itself). Yet it is one fun opportunity we can put out there among all the news. One message just to let you know, at Trackers Earth we are dedicated to helping parents create an awesome planet for our kids. One of compassion, self-accountability, and a common vision that cares for our future generations.

Sincerely,

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

Register for Portland Summer Camps

Register for Bay Area Summer Camps


News Trackers Earth (Portland)

News Trackers Earth (Bay Area)

  • New day camp locations at the Berkeley Marina (West Berkeley) and Rudgear Park (Walnut Creek) are available. Both sites feature outdoor nature play during pick-up and drop-off.
  • We offer Adventure Travel Expeditions. Locations include the California Coast and Point Reyes National Seashore.
  • Grade 5-12 Our Residential Overnight Camps now bring our Trackers Kids from California and Oregon together! Discover Camp Trackers on the western slopes of Mt. Hood and it’s evergreen forest in beautiful Sandy, Oregon. Pre-registered Airport Transfer service available for all students.

Featured Summer Camps for Saving the World

 

camo-285Wilderness Survival Camps

Nevertheless, we teach young women to persist… with bows and arrows, campfire and wild plants, stealth and wilderness survival. BTW, we also teach young men to be thoughtful through these same skills.

Learn more >>

 


foam-arrow-285Secret Agent Camps

Sign up for Secret Agent Camp and your kids can help to stop an evil megalomaniac from taking over the country and destroying the world.

Learn more >>

 


rovers-285Rovers Forest Camp

Age 4 – Grade K Walls? Where we’re going, we don’t need walls. Outdoor skills for our younger campers: wilderness survival, wild plants & more. Age 4 – Grade K now in all SE, NE & W locations.

Learn more >>

Stand tall. The wild teaches us this. There are moments when we are cold and wet, when we desperately need fire or shelter. When we feel miserable. Instead of curling up, fearing that we lack those things, we must stand tall with the trees. Finding fire from the cedar and shelter from the oak leaves. Crafting both with our resilience.

It’s a lesson I often forget, and I’m grateful to nature which teaches it to me again and again. Yet when my kids were born, standing tall became a greater challenge. I no longer feared just for myself, I hoped and feared for them. All parents have times when we are afraid. In those moments we cannot curl up and disappear through fear. We must stand tall and be role models for resilience.

In my 24 years of teaching, I’ve seen how children naturally seek fire and shelter when they’re in the wilderness. This innate resilience is born of their enthusiasm to survive and thrive with the wild.

It is okay for our children to see us vulnerable. In fact, they should see us sad and even afraid. It lets our kids know these feelings are healthy and that we trust them. It is critical, however, that they witness our resilience through these feelings. Build that fire. Make that shelter. Stand up.

With our children’s inspiration and Nature reminding us, together we will remember how to stand tall through all the challenges we face.

Animal tracking is an incredible way to explore Nature with kids. While glimpsing a coyote or deer might be rare, their tracks are not. You just have to learn how and where to look.

When you find a track with your kids, have everyone take care not to step on any other prints that might be in line with it. Encourage kids to get down close by getting on your own knees to examine it.

Bring your faces close to the print. Tracks have a couple of key features that help you identify “who” the animal is.

Track Features:

striped-skunk_4Count the toes The number of toes in a track helps you narrow it down. For example, deer or elk hooves show two toes, while weasels like mink and marten show five toes.

Check for claws Look for the presence or absence of claws. People often overlook tiny claw marks, so look carefully. For example, dog tracks show claws and cat tracks don’t (they keep them sheathed).

Look at pad shape Pad shape also helps you key the track out. For example, cats have a distinct m-shaped pad that is all one piece, while squirrels have a pad that is made up of many parts.

Compare size Once you figure out it’s some kind of cat, the size of the track will help you identify if it’s Fluffy the house cat or the local cougar that ate Fluffy (hey, cougars gotta eat).

There are other track features you can learn about, such as symmetry, webbing, hair on the foot, gait, and negative space, which will give you more clues to identify the animal.

Tools & Teachers

Bring a notebook for drawing and writing details down, along with a small pocket tape measure. Many excellent field guides offer average measurements for tracks. We recommend Mammal Tracks and Sign by Mark Elbroch. You can also find many great resources online.

Where to Track

When you first start tracking, it’s best to begin with clear prints. Look for ground (substrate) where the foot can leave behind as much detail as possible. Good ground to search for tracks are sandy or silty floodplains, beaches near forests, or snow-covered ground in winter.

5 Fingers of Tracking

Identification is just the start. At Trackers we teach the 5 Fingers of Tracking. These are series of questions kids ask to learn more about the animal they are tracking.

Thumb Who is this animal?
Index How was this animal moving?
Middle When was this track made?
Ring Why was this animal here (food, shelter, etc.)?
Pinky Where is this animal now?

Stay tuned for more blogs how to share animal tracking with kids. Plus, our new upcoming kids book, Animal Tracking.

 

Summer provides plenty of time for kids and families to get outside. Yet the school year often finds our kids indoors, walking down halls and learning in classrooms. Their focus changes from the much wider and diverse world of Nature, to a representation of the world on computer screens, in books and from a teacher’s curriculum. At most, they might find themselves taking a spherical object from one scoring place to another scoring place—occasionally in a grassy field. So how can we parents help our kids connect with Nature and their wilder selves? Here are…

5 Ways to Connect to Nature

#1 Pitch a Tent
Every kid loves sleeping in the backyard. It’s adventure with healthy safety nets. If it looks like a clear night, pitch a tent (or better yet, go tentless) to camp through the night. If the weather (or memories of Zombie Campgets too intense, they can come inside. Over time your children will begin to test themselves in more challenging weather. Who knows, someday you might be able to free up their room for your collection of Whedonverse memorabilia. Your backyard doesn’t have to be big—kids can even sleep on the back porch.

#2 Build a Yort (that’s a Yard-Fort)
Start by learning all the ways to set up a rain tarp, which also teaches useful knots. You can also move onto more complex structures such as a debris shelter (which they learn about at Trackers). Finally, if you’re really inspired, you can do something like this guy. 

#3 Make a Creature Map
Help your kids understand, your family is not the only one living in and around your home. From spiders to squirrels, many creatures share your territory. One of the best places to start this exploration process is with birds. Figuring out where that song sparrow lives takes it from being “a little brown bird”, to a being a familiar individual living alongside you. Try to identify each bird in and around your backyard. See if you can map out the current limits of its movements—a territory that might change with the seasons. Do the same with spiders both inside and outside the house. The goal is for your child to go into the backyard and ask, “What’s Bob the Robin up to today? Has he changed where he’s feeding?”

#4 Plant a Wilder Garden
Some of us have gardens, some don’t. But the easiest way to start one is by growing “weeds”. Many wild plants are super hardy and mighty tasty. Letting the dandelions grow offers edible greens, roots and flowers. A patch of stinging nettle will provide many a tasty stir fry as well as fiber for rope. Just remember, don’t spray pesticides or herbicides.

#5 Hoard Sticks + Knives
Don’t toss that yard debris! In fact, ask your neighbors for their “junky sticks”. Then give them to your kids. They need plenty of wood and limbs to saw and carve while making all manner of projects: Spoons, spirals and more. Tell them whittling is only allowed outside, while hanging out with Bob the Robin. You can even give them this how-to book that teaches carving to kids.

Bonus Make a Campfire
You will need something to do with all those wood shavings and extra sticks. Some areas allow campfire pits (BBQ areas) in the backyard. There are burn bans for seasons, counties, neighborhoods and more. Respect them. Ask your local fire department. Then go about roasting marshmallows, singing songs, and telling ghost stories (because you already binge watched Stranger Things).

Do It Better

We hope you enjoyed some clever alternatives  to orb-based recreational outdoor time*. Of course, since Nature is so epically diverse, the possibilities are only limited by our own imaginations and how much we choose to connect to and respect the wild.

*I took my 5 year old son to his first soccer game the other day.

Stories from each week of Summer Camp:

“The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master.” - Darth Vadar to Obi Wan Kenobi

Kids can teach parents. They go out into the world and discover skills to bring home. We smile when parents tell us how campers share their newfound knowledge with their families. It empowers them to feel Truly Helpful. Children have an innate desire to contribute to the well-being of their community. We can cultivate this through camp.

Wilderness Survival Camps
The various camps Owen has done are quite different but none are like Trackers. He loves the adventure and outdoor skills learned. At home, he teaches us how to make fire and carve wood. We appreciate the enthusiasm of the counselors and his excitement for each day. - Jake, Parents

Mary loved both of the counselors in her group and left excited about her new-found fire making skills. We are going camping this weekend and just need to bring one match, maybe two. - Kathleen, Parent

Wizards Academy Camps
Every day has been an adventure for her. She’s learning skills that excite and challenge her. She is teaching me that I need to say “be careful less” and giving me another model for letting her challenge herself safely. - Leila, Parent

Spy Camps
Zoey had such a wonderful experience today. We heard her excited stories about the portal, the river and her hike and her cool adventures. She is teaching us how to hand crochet, the secret handshake and we love her excitement. Thank you for her wonderful day. - Mary, Parent

Farm & Wild Craft Camps
Sam is having a great time. He was using his homemade salve on the way home and telling all it’s uses. - Karen, Parent

It is always difficult to find a camp that excites all 3 of my kids but Trackers delivers! My kids come home full of stories, new experiences, knowledge and enthusiasm. My daughter and I walked the dog in the open space this week and she let me know the tree we were passing was a black oak (a fact she learned at Trackers). I get the feeling you combine real learning about nature and survival with games and stories that spark imagination and excitement. Thanks! - Naomi, Parent

 

Check Which Camps Are Available

Stories from each week of Summer Camp:

Many of the skills we teach are inspiring: wilderness survival, farm life, blacksmithing and fishing. We recognize these fantastic possibilities bring kids to our camps. When you get into it, these skills can sometimes turn out to be more difficult than first imagined. Yet our instructors collaborate with kids to step-up. And that’s where the true magic happens. Discovering the power of resilience and gaining confidence in their capability to learn teaches kids to explore and live a great life.

Farm & Wild Craft Camps
Maya was thrilled she got to milk a goat today. She said, “It’s much harder than it looks to get the milk to come out.” She’s really enjoyed every day of camp, her leader (Skye) is fantastic, and she’s learning a lot & making new friends! -Marci, Parent

Blacksmithing Camps
The instructors for, Apprenticeship of the Blade, have an enormous amount of skill and knowledge about how to forge blades and they understand how to communicate it to their students. It was refreshing to find a camp that offered such wonderful instructors. Often, teenagers share very little information, not so with this class, our teenager would share his completed pieces and the knowledge that went into it. So, thank you, it is so great to hear him speak with enthusiasm instead of sarcasm. -Karen, Parent

Wilderness Survival Camps
Sebastian is normally a kiddo who doesn’t like to get dirty or wet. You can imagine my delight when I came to pick him and he was covered in charcoal “camouflage” after spending a good portion of his day out in the rain and had a blast! All he talks about is all the cool things he does including shooting “real arrows like the big kids.” Thanks for making it a super fun week for him. It’s worth the drive -Kimberly, Parent

Zombie Camps
Claire has really loved this camp. I went in to wake her yesterday and she was sobbing in her sleep. I was worried and held her while she woke up to tell me she was having a dream that she couldn’t go to zombie camp that day. Good job guys! -Robin, Parent

 

Check Which Camps Are Available

Support the Outdoor School for All campaign!

There is a place called “Outdoor School”.

Look around the land of Oregon. We Oregonians value a life connected to the outdoors. Our connection—perhaps even our obsession—with all things green blooms from a culture where diverse “schools of outdoor education” have thrived for nearly half a century.

Many a 6th grade Oregonian has taken a bus down country gravel roads, through enchanted forests, to wild havens where they shared meals in longhouse dining halls, studied along the banks of the Sandy River and tracked down the trails of blacktail deer. They spent a week learning about plants, animals, water and earth.

There was a time when nearly every 6th grader in Multnomah, Washington and other Oregon counties attended Outdoor School. They spent 6 days in cabins in the “wilderness”, living and learning with peers, guided by larger-than-life teachers with names like Digger, Sorrel and Shade. One life-changing week spent walking the trails of Pacific Northwest forests. One week not stuck inside four walls. Not sitting in sterile rows. Time outside with the spiders, leaves, dirt, rain, sun and life.

There’s data to prove it but more importantly, the joy it cultivates for nature connects our community. Ask anyone who’s been there: an impression was made. Something was left behind. Oregon is a more interesting place because of Outdoor School.

Even our founder, Tony Deis, started teaching at Outdoor School. Many of our summer camp staff work at Trackers in the summer and Outdoor School in the fall and spring. Trackers Earth and our families owe a lot to this Oregon institution and tradition. Please help it continue for all our kids.

In recent years, funding for this magical experience has been in under attack. As conventional school funding dropped, so did Outdoor School funding. A full week of Outdoor School was cut to a few days, or even just one. No more overnights with stars and crickets. And not every kid in Portland gets the opportunity to discover their own week of incredible adventure.

It is a crisis that has snuck up on us. Few parents are aware of the cuts, or of how Outdoor School makes our lives better by weaving a web of connections between our community and nature. Without Outdoor School, the Pacific Northwest may well lose what is most valued about our community. We may lose what makes us us.

We could start by simply refunding the old program. But the Outdoor School for All campaign goes beyond just returning to the past. It seeks to forge a better future. It doesn’t stop at Outdoor School for a single school district, but proposes to remake education, fundamentally weaving it into the outdoors and nature. Outdoor School for All seeks to provide a whole week of outdoor education to every child across Oregon. A quintessential Oregon experience for every Oregonian.

And we can do it with no tax increases. The proposed measure redirects a small portion of lottery funds to provide Outdoor School for every child in every area of our state.

Trackers Earth strongly supports this cause. We ask you to join us by learning more and signing the petition.

LEARN MORE  SIGN PETITION

For our part, we’re donating 15% of all May sales of our new outdoor education book, Trackers Earth Guide to Knives & Wood Carving, to the Outdoor School for All campaign!

Outdoor School is the awesome secret all Oregonians can share. It helps define who we are as a state and as a people. It’s the mettle and the heart of our green blood. Outdoor School needs to do more than live on, it needs to grow. Join us in raising our voices to help make this happen. To support Outdoor School for All.