Thursday, September 19, 2019

Get to know our new Forest School Principal, Ian Abraham!

Ian Abraham comes to us most recently as the Youth Programs Manager at Portland Audubon, overseeing and developing programs for tens of thousands of youth. We’re so excited to have him join us, and wanted to share that enthusiasm with you as the school year gets started. Read on to learn more about Ian’s background, experience, and philosophy. And go here to learn more about learning at Trackers Forest School

Ian, why Trackers?

IA: I was fortunate enough to be a part of some of the earlier discussions that have now become known as Trackers Earth. While the ideals and philosophies back then were new, I have had the pleasure of watching the organization, program, and work grow into a movement that is connecting thousands of youth and adults to the natural world and themselves.

What are you most excited for in joining the Trackers Earth Forest School team?

IA: I have made it my life’s work to facilitate a nature connection for adults and youth alike. Over the past 13 years, I have spent my career as an Environmental Educator, Camp Director, and finally the Youth Programs Manager with Portland Audubon. I have also spent the last three years co-mentoring teen boys on a weekly basis with a focus on mindfulness and socialization skills. I have wholeheartedly mentored dozens of teens and educators throughout my time at Audubon and beyond. This path has allowed me to form relationships with youth and nature in a holistic and whole systems learning environment wherein nature is the ultimate teacher, providing an experiential learning environment like no other.

My personal values and mission align so well with those of the Forest School. It is rare that one has an opportunity to have such succinct alignment with personal values and organizational values. This chance to work with children, parents, and teachers within a community steeped in nature is what I am most excited for.

What’s your education philosophy? Or give me some central tenets.

IA: The strictly formal education that I received as a child was founded in human to human relationships and, as much as I appreciated that, it was always missing something. I believe that education is based in relationships between people, and the more than human world, wherein nature is the ultimate teacher.

Education should be a hands-on, experiential practice wherein children gain a working understanding of subjects, knowledge, and skills while developing lifelong critical thinking skills and core competencies. Academic learning is supported through earth-based skills through story, music, art, song, providing a whole systems environment for all learners… visual, oral, or/and kinesthetic.

How is the format and curriculum of Forest School uniquely posed to be beneficial to real learning?

IA: Unlike other forms of environmental education that are a one-off program, Forest School is an apex opportunity, allowing students and teachers to walk together in relationship with the natural world, all the while learning math and reading and writing in courageous and competent ways. I’ve never been a part of a program with this kind of consistency — full-day learning, five days a week, nine months of the year. With this amount of student-contact time, I’m excited to watch their progression throughout the year. Their progressions—teachers and students alike—are based in our ability, as a school, to give primacy to relationships, and create meaningful, honest, long-term mentoring that centers the student’s experience.

Trackers Forest School provides a unique opportunity to blend academics with hands-on learning. Full-time school for grades K-8, and a micro high school that meets three days a week. Ian’s background in administering and planning interdisciplinary curriculum makes him well-suited to lead Trackers Forest School into the next academic year and beyond. Come to our next Open House to meet Ian and learn more about the Forest School educational environment.

It’s time to get dangerous. Teaching kids knife and woodcarving skills is aiding in their development and exploration, an essential part of growing up. So If you’re interested in getting your kids a knife and getting them started on this fun and empowering activity, we’ve got a few recommendations for you.

Why Carving is Appropriate for Kids

A knife is a tool, not a toy. And we all need to learn to use tools. After all, not everything will be made by Fisher Price with safety scissors. Kids will eventually encounter sharp objects, and instead of seeing it with fear, we can teach them to greet the knife as a tool that can be useful. 

Plus, wood carving is a great way to enhance kids’ manual dexterity. It teaches fine motor skills, and asks them to gain control over their extremities. It encourages hand-eye coordination. And, it’s a full body activity that requires constant focus and attention.

Finally, introducing your child to a knife does so much to demystify the fear of scary things. The more we can use “dangerous” tools like fire and knives responsibly, the more we can empower kids to be in control and remove the sense of dread. Kids get excited about doing “adult” tasks. They want to feel responsible, like we trust them. And we can trust them, if we give them tasks that have a perceived high risk and actual low risk.

So How Do We Do That?

First, we need to lay some ground rules for parents. Here are the things you should keep in mind as you get your kid started on wood carving:

  1. Supervise kids at all times. This can taper off as you notice them becoming more adept at handling and using the knife, but it’s super important to keep a vigilant eye. 
  2. Grip the knife and piece of wood with a fist, wrapping your thumb around the rest of your fingers. Think of holding ice cream cones—thumb tucked back and away so the blade never crosses any fingers. After all, no one likes thumbs in their ice cream. No thumb dies!
  3. Carve away! Seriously, away from yourself, and never in your lap. Remember that the blade is moving in one direction and remove all things in its path, including your body parts. This means yours, too, as the parent helping.

Choose Your Tool

There are so many kinds of knives out there that it begs the question of where to start. For young ones, we recommend a smaller blade with a handle that fits comfortably in their hand. We like to get kids started with the Mora 120, but any sharp and sturdy knife will do. And yes, I mean sharp. More accidents happen with a dull knife than a sharp one, as a dull knife requires more force to make a cut. A sharp knife will allow for more fluid motion as it moves through the wood. 

And Now We Carve

To get started, use only forward cuts. That means any cut moving away from your body. There are many other techniques that you can learn and grow into, but forward cuts are all you need for whittling, and allow kids to complete many projects from start to finish. 

How to Make a Cut:

  1. Pay attention to what you’re cutting. Watch the blade at all times to be aware of where it’s going. 
  2. Protect the inner and outer blood circle. That means you take care of your body (the inner circle) and other bodies in your path (the outer circle). Don’t let the blade pierce the inner or the outer blood circles. 
  3. Let the knife do the work. Take a shallow angle and don’t try to muscle through cuts. Rather, rely on the sharpness of your tool to find the correct path through the wood. When you reach a tough spot, like a knot, make smaller cuts to chip away. The less force you exert, the more control you have.

Giving a knife to your child can feel like a big step. But encouraging your kid to use tools—and teaching them to use tools properly—will instill a sense of empowerment and respect. These basics should be enough to get your child starting on a whittling project, but for more information, check out the Trackers Earth Guide to Knives and Wood Carving. So grab a knife. Get carving. 

From Jordana, Trackers Storyteller

Gearing up for an adventure can be hard. Where did you leave those snowshoes from last year? Have you pumped up your bike tires since last summer? Moreover, where is that bike pump? Are there enough warm socks and snacks in the car for a rainy hike?

Getting ready takes some preparation. But instead of turning an early morning into a hectic moment of child- and partner- and pet- and thing-wrangling, set yourself up for success by harnessing the power of mise en place. This French phrase is used in professional kitchens around the world to cultivate a state of readiness. But out of the kitchen, these principles can help us set the stage for adventures, and make it easy (and fun!) to get going.

Make a packing list for longer trips that you save in your phone or computer. That way you know exactly what you need to gather.

Keep extra clothes such as base layers, socks, towels, and gloves in the car. Being warm and dry can be the difference between a great and miserable day.

As the weather turns brighter and the sun comes out, be sure to have sunscreen on hand at all times. I like to put a small tube in each of my adventure bags so I’m never without.

Build a snack-pack for the pantry. Replenish it with granola bars, jerky, and your family’s favorites after you get back from an adventure so it’s ready to go for the next trip. Store it in a mouse-proof container!

Water bottles. Truly, it seems like there are never enough. But keeping bottle in the car or in your pack means that you will be more hydrated for your day, leading to overall health and happiness.

At Trackers, we know it’s important to model real enthusiasm for getting outside. We want to inspire children to engage with their surroundings, to play and explore freely, and to feel confident that they are prepared for whatever nature throws at them. Plus, kids really like to be (mostly) helpful in planning and packing gear. We hope that by encouraging a little mindful preparation, you’ll be ready to take advantage of all summer has to offer.

What about you? Do you have any great tips and tricks for packing up and heading out? We’d love to hear your ideas for adventure planning.

From Jordana, Trackers Storyteller

Summer is nearly upon us, which means we’re all planning, preparing, and scheduling in order to squeeze the maximum amount of fun into time away from school. And while planning all the activities for kids means they are likely to have a blast, we recognize that this requires work from parents. So, we at Trackers want to reemphasize that the Trackers Village isn’t just for kids, it’s for you too. Our community of dedicated, compassionate educators are here to steward the next generation of thoughtful, connected individuals. And, we’ll do it together. How is the Trackers Village here for you?

Many Options for Engagement One weekend a month? One week in the summer? After school? You and your kids are busy, so join us whenever you can, during the summer, school breaks, and throughout the year. Flexible Pick Up and Drop Off – Trackers now has seven drop-off locations for summer programs, flexible early hours, and affordable after-care.

Resources & Connections Did your kid come home raving about a new skill? Are you now on the hunt for fishing holes in your area? Our staff is a wealth of information, tips, and tricks for helping your family get outside and expand on all our Trackers skills. From gear recommendations to trip ideas and everything in between, we’d love to connect you further to Portland’s awesome array of outdoor enthusiasts.

Community Events Throughout the year, Trackers offers community events, open to the public, to engage with Trackers skills. Adult Classes – Wilderness adventures aren’t just for kids. Trackers offers adult programs and classes including blacksmithing, wilderness survival, homesteading & folk crafts, instructor training, and so much more.

Most importantly, we want you to know that we are a part of your community, a part of the extended Village that is here to raise our children. Bringing your kids to Trackers is so much more than just another summer camp; it’s an investment in your children and in our community of support.

2019 Apprenticeships for Youth & Teens – Ready to Register

Apprenticeships are our year-round mentoring programs. They take place 1 weekend-a-month from September to May. Trackers staff and I truly appreciate this incredible opportunity to go beyond summer, helping kids develop greater connection to community and nature. We offer options for ages 4 to 17. This year brings a couple of new features

New Programs Along with familiar favorites such as Wilders Farm Craft, we also offer new programs exploring subjects such as Ninja Martial Arts & Forest Parkour and Photography. Also, Outdoor Leadership for Hiking, Boating & Climbing now has a single day option for all ages along with the popular overnight session. See below for a list of all programs…

More Space Quickly growing into one of our most popular programs, Apprenticeships had a waitlist of over 250 students last year. Because of this interest, we have expanded our capacity for each weekend. While we cannot guarantee there will not be another waitlist, we want to share this experience with more children, teens, and their families.

New Facilities We are excited to open our new Arts & Crafts Annex—only 5 blocks from our HQ. This newly remodeled learning studio features a dedicated classroom for Ceramics and Woodworking, along with one of the largest Blacksmithing Shops on the west coast. Plus, as Blacksmithing gets its own location, our indoor Archery range will expand.

Why Apprentice?

Finally, I want to talk about how our Apprenticeship programs can help support the families we serve by reflecting on my experiences with my own children in the program.

Friend Connections I have seen kids in Apprenticeships become part of a team and much more. My own kids have discovered lasting friendships through sharing these adventures. Many Apprentices return year after year.

Skills & Nature Connection Each Apprenticeship offers its own set of skills, but they also are an immersion that connects kids to natural world. As kids explore the outdoors and traditional crafts, they learn life lessons of resilience, thoughtfulness, and mutual respect.

Leadership & Mentoring Our long term goal is to cultivate leadership skills for community and stewardship. Our most experienced educators mentor students to take ownership of their own learning.

Remember to register soon if you plan on joining us. As always, feel free to email me with any questions about how we can best care for and support your family—replying to this email goes directly to me! We can also meet in person at our Portland Camp Fair this Saturday on April 20, 2019.

See you in the woods,

Molly Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom

 

Find your Apprenticeship!

Even as we’re supposed to be more connected, our world can feel more isolated. A former surgeon general once called it a public health crises.

With our on-the-go schedules, it’s often challenging for kids to make friends. The world doesn’t always allow our children to free range together. We’re told they can’t roam parks and school offers less play and more work.

Yet children need free play to hone lifelong skills of resilience, resolving conflicts, and, most importantly, making friends. At our camps, we focus on creating an extended community of support, developing “friending skills” through shared adventures.

Everything is about connection. It needs to go beyond just learning outdoor skills. We understand that kids join Trackers—and parents send them—to discover or reconnect with friends. They also come to build a relationship with the wilderness.

We work to reclaim that connection to nature with very unique teaching methods. The modern outdoor education movement is fantastic, but when it’s only geared towards a sport or academic, we reduce ourselves to tourists of the wilderness.

Sure, our camps teach survival, fishing, archery, kayaking, and rock climbing; yet those adventures are only vehicles through which they get to know the more-than-human world. Trackers campers are always “tracking” in the forest, and this helps kids feel a part of nature, not just a visitor.

This is a core value for us: the more you track or learn about an animal, plant, or person, the more you care about them. Empathy is at the root of building community. I learned this with my own children: Robin (8 years), Annie (5 years), and Maxine (3 years).

With the right training from the Trackers Community, my three kids free range and never feel lost or alone in the forest. They know the local elk herd whose trails they easily follow, even across hard to track ground. They have personal names for individual trees, birds, or wildflowers.

This is an essential feeling of familiarity, of extended family. Our purpose is to help all children discover their own innate sense of belonging in the natural world. And with that same connected empathy, learn to create greater friendships in the human one.

All the best,
Tony Deis

Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

An extended community is crucial to raising children. As a parent, I’ve experienced the need for support from family, neighbors, and educators. Our children grow by learning from many different mentors. Tony and I started Trackers Earth in 2004 with a common purpose:

Greater connection to community, nature, our heritage, and future.

It is our community of teachers that makes Trackers special. Many camp programs only hire instructors for summer, which limits who can teach for them. Yet, along with a fantastic seasonal staff, we work to create an educational network that employs more and more teachers throughout the year. As a result, our Village of educators brings experience and responsibility to the journey of helping to raise our children.

A Village thrives through reciprocity: getting support and giving support. Since our founding, so many parents and students have supported us, spreading the word and growing Trackers into one of the largest outdoor programs in Oregon and beyond. In turn, our teachers and I promise to work every day to fulfill that community promise towards greater connection for all generations and the future.

Thank you and see you in the forest,

Molly
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom

1721

From Molly Deis, Founder

As I walk through our SE Portland headquarters, our little village is once again decked out with towering noble firs, awash with the sound of caroling kids and the aroma of waffles on the griddle. The festive energy of Winter Break Camps always causes me to reflect on our past and look forward to the future. The New Year approaches and with it a fresh focus for everyone here at Trackers; connection. We have long held this value as a touchstone of our core purpose…

Greater connection to community, nature, our heritage, and future.

While this is not a new aspect of who we are, we plan to take a fresh look at the experiences we create to steward even greater connection with family and nature. Amidst technology and a sometimes hectic lifestyle, it can be tough to slow down, even here at Trackers. Nevertheless, we must do so if we are to be ambassadors for that world which needs to exist. One of the great joys of our work is seeing all our children, including my own, connect with the natural world, and each other, right before my eyes.

Connection is ultimately why we want our kids to know the nourishment of wild plants, the tracks of animals, and the songs of birds; because it affords them the too rare opportunity to expand kinship with nature. Winter holidays have long been about these kinds of meaningful and storied connections. As our families and communities celebrate, let’s all remember the fundamental ways we can reach out to one another and expand the depth of our connections in this wilder world.
 

From the Trackers Family to your….
Happy Holidays!

Molly Deis
Trackers Founder & Mom
Wilders Guild

Trackers Earth summer camps are like nothing else in the known universe. Explore all our 2019 summer camp themes: Wilderness Survival, Farming, Fishing, Archery, Wizards, Ninjas, Secret Agents, Blacksmithing, Rock Climbing, Biking & more!