Why choose a Nature School camp?
What is Nature School?
What do kids learn from rain?
Jenna Rudolph, Soaring Eagle Nature School co-founder, tackles these questions and more in this article featured in Lynn Valley Life.
Curious? Check it out!
Why choose a Nature School camp?
What is Nature School?
What do kids learn from rain?
Jenna Rudolph, Soaring Eagle Nature School co-founder, tackles these questions and more in this article featured in Lynn Valley Life.
Curious? Check it out!
At Soaring Eagle Nature School, parents receive a Story Of The Day email to learn about what the kids got up to in the program. Here’s a Story Of The Day from January 2018, featuring the Weekly Forest Program for kids aged 7-12.
Hello Soaring Eagle Families!
We had a great day in the forest, full of adventures and even some snow!!
We started our morning with a great round of Foxtails. This game has been in our repertoire for years and many of the kids have played Foxtails several times, and yet, we love it every time. This time around was particularly special though. Everyone played with 100% effort, honour, and respect. Despite giving it our all, nobody took it too far. We all towed the line of being fully immersed while maintaining an awareness of other people’s bodies and being honourable opponents! It was awesome. Thanks for a great game everyone!
After the game, Stephanie told us an old story from Ireland, the land of her great-grandfather. In this story, we hear the adventures of Fiachra and the Island of the Lonesome Seals. Fiachra can hear the voices of the wee folk and he learns of the mysterious disappearance of the inhabitants of the island. It’s up to Fiachra to set things right and to restore the harmony between the people, the seals, and the wee folk.
After the story, we set off with our small groups for the day’s activities.
We wandered down the trail, enjoying each other’s company and checking out some of the wonders of the forest. We came across some coral mushrooms, that get their name from how similar they look to coral. We learned that coral mushrooms can be used to dye clothing, so we set a goal for ourselves – we will try and gather coral mushrooms on another day to use for dying some cloth. We then discovered some Witches Butter and joked that witches like to put it on their toast… Of course, their toast is actually Turkey Tail mushrooms. After a long wander, we stopped for lunch.
With our bellies full, we set off to find a portal. We decided that we wanted to travel to mythological land, where we would all find a dragon. We found a portal and journeyed through. The land was beautiful and full of mysteries. We realized that if we were going to encounter dragons, we would have to summon them. So, we built a map on the forest floor and made sure that we included all the significant landmarks that surrounded us. With our map made, we each found a spot, our own special spot, to summon our dragon. We sat for 10 mins in silence, calling our dragons from our heart. When the 10 mins were up, we gave our best dragon call, and they all appeared.
Stephanie’s dragon hid a treasure for us somewhere in the forest, so we used the map that we had made to locate the specific area of the treasure. We found the treasure and then decide that we wanted to hide it. We all took turns hiding the treasure, and then using the map to identify where in the forest the treasure was hidden. It was great fun.
We eventually said goodbye to our spot and wandered back down the trail. Luckily, our dragons came with us. 🙂
Tom’s group started our day with a challenge. While the group raced to find plants that Tom didn’t know, Tom tried his best to see what plant life he could find that would be a mystery to the boys in the group. Funny enough a couple of the plants were mysteries to all of us and we made plans get out our field guides to do some sleuthing later in the day.
Arriving at a familiar spot we noticed that a few of us were feeling the cold and decided to break into a game of warrior stalk to warm ourselves up. The young scouts showed their skill this day and prevailed despite Tom’s best efforts.
After a lunch break we explored the nearby area, looking for other interesting plants. We realised that some plants we are confident identifying in the spring and summer, become more difficult to identify in the winter without their foliage. We found an interesting plant and after a few clues we figured out it was a Red Elderberry, we’re used to the distinctive berries and the shape and smell of the leaves, but few of us had taken notice of the distinctive bark.
With the sleet starting to come down we got active to stay warm by playing a game of wolf and deer. We started with a lone wolf stalking the deer who were sometimes hiding and sometimes running away. Today we added a new twist, Tom would show a sample of from a nearby tree, maybe a few needles, a cone or bark and any of the deer would go to whichever tree they thought it was. Any of the deer at the correct tree were in a safe zone, but the wolf could pick off any of the deer who had incorrectly identified the safe zone tree.
We heard the other groups nearby and walked back to our meeting point with hopes the sleet would turn into a proper snowfall.
Peter’s group started by talking about Jon Young, who founded the Eight Shields teaching model we use, and famously caught a snapping turtle in the story we tell at the start of the year. Peter shared ideas from a talk by Jon about the nature of connection – to each other, or to the natural world. Jon made the case that at its core it is the same feeling we feel when petting a dog we love: warm, cozy and easy. We decided to see what happened if we approached the day as though every plant, animal and fungus of the forest was a cute little dog we wanted to know.
We started with Sword Ferns! The classic, we all know them. After a few minutes of connection, we pulled out Pojar and MacKinnon, the classic plant field guide of the Pacific Northwest. We checked the drawings, physical description and ecology to make sure our assumption was right.
Next, we moved on to a harder friend. We started with a few minutes of puppy-dog friendship forming, before moving into botany-geeking. Broadly triangular, light green and beat-up by the season, we could tell from the pictures it was either a Bracken Fern or a Spiny Wood Fern. A deeper examination lead us to understand that the tight leaflets near the base matched better with Spiny Wood, and digging into the details we saw that the scales at the stalk base and the lack of a thick, vertical stalk made it certainly a Spiny Wood. Sweet! One more forest friend. Walking through the forest with our new eyes we saw them everywhere.
We spent a little time trading, then had a relaxed lunch. We hung out after lunch a did a little carving, before wrapping the bases of our carved tools with raffia handles.
As we wandered amazed by the softly falling snow, we played a few games of camouflage, before having a super beautiful Sit Spot – connecting further with the plants around us, and each building a story about our experience and for once not sharing it – keeping it completely for ourselves.
Thank you all for a great day in the woods! We look forward to seeing you very soon!
Stephanie, Peter, and Tom
At Soaring Eagle Nature School, parents receive a Story Of The Day email to learn about what the kids got up to in the program. Here’s a Story Of The Day from the very first session of a Monthly Program for 6-12 year-olds.
At Soaring Eagle Nature School, parents receive a Story Of The Day email to learn about what the kids got up to in the program. Here’s a Story Of The Day from a Young Sprouts program instructed by Jenna and Cara this month:
Hello SENS Families!
Yesterday we were met with grey clouds and pending rain, and into the forest we went!
We started out playing Wolves and Ravens. The Ravens tried to steal food from the Wolves, who had just gotten a fresh kill. When the Ravens were caught by the Wolves, the Animal Rescuers came and saved them. We learned that the Ravens have to be persistent and try and grab food from the Wolves as often as they can.
We shared our gratitudes for the day and then during snack, Cara told a wonderful story about a Weaver bird named Baya. They are the only bird that know how to tie a half hitch! Its the first knot they do to start the building of their nest. The story was about Baya, who grew up in a community of weaver birds, and rather than go to the daily lessons on knot tying and nest building, he napped, or explored instead. When it was time for him to start building his nest and think about a mate, he slacked off and didn’t worry. He told everyone he could build his nest in an hour! When he finally decided to try, he couldn’t pick the right kind of grass. Then he got his wing tied up in his knot, and then his foot! Finally, he realized he would need help, and that he should have listened to his elders. He was lucky, and was visited by an elder bird, who helped him learn how to tie the half hitch, and start his nest.
After, it was time for some Ninja training. We warmed our bodies and practiced our stealth by following each other as a group, over the hill and back down, and then back over and around.
Once we were warm, we started making some beads out of dead Red Elderberry that we had harvested along the trail. First, you push the inner pith out from the centre, and then use a rock to scrape off the bark. Then, using sandpaper you clean the outside and smooth it out and also the inside. we all made several beads and then got some string to use for making a necklace or bracelet. Cara showed us all how to tie a half hitch, just like the Weaver Bird. We all made them for gifts for people we love.
We ate out lunch to warm up our bodies and then headed off. At another spot, we played Warrior Stalk, where we had only a few seconds to run towards Cara before we hide to hide again. Getting closer and closer, we could eventually tag her and then make it back to our starting spot, with only 7-10 second intervals. It was hard, but we are all getting better and better at hiding and sneaking!
Then it was time to head back, so we re-traced our footsteps, with our beads in our pockets and found all of you.
Thanks for a wonderful day!
Jenna and Cara
Roundhouse Radio hosts Jenna and Stephanie from Soaring Eagle Nature School. Learn about the beginnings of the school, philosophy of mentorship, glow-in-the-dark mushrooms and more!
At Soaring Eagle Nature School, parents receive a Story Of The Day email to learn about what the kids got up to in the program. Here’s a Story Of The Day from a Monthly Program instructed by Peter and Scott this fall:
So stoked to get together with this group in this awesome park! We wait all month for the chance to come out here.
After welcoming, games, a peek at our nature museum and some knife safety, we romped off into Watershed Park looking for the perfect place to play Raven Spy. Raven Spy involves hiding and sneaking up on a drowsy ‘Raven’. Upon finding what we thought was an excellent spot, Scott began introducing the game when all of a sudden a wasp stung him on the side of the face! He bravely organized us away from the spot and to a safer location, and we played 3 exciting rounds.
Following the game, we gathered for our morning circle – speaking our names and sharing gratitude for the day, the trees, our families, and our breakfasts. We finished our morning routine with a snack, while Peter told a wonderful story about Jon Young, a mentor and source of inspiration for our work at Soaring Eagle.
After lunch and snack, we decided to stick together as two groups and two instructors to explore for the rest of the day. We walked to a ravine five minutes away. Peter took this opportunity to speak about safety with the children. The children had an opportunity to share their common sense and also to learn about what we end as instructors hold in our understanding of what it takes to enjoy a day of playing in the forest altogether.
We followed an exciting path down the ravine, through the low deciduous forest, and up on a beautiful bushwhack to a perfect lunchtime grove. After lunch, we dished out nature challenges leading to nature names! Each member of our clan now has a special name to carry for the year – a source of inspiration as we walk, and an opportunity for research.
We finished the day with our Start-of-the-Year Ceremony. We collected sticks and made a circle to represent the space of our year together. We then each chose a Douglas Fir cone to represent ourselves in that circle. We went off for a five-minute Sit Spot, and each found one beautiful object to give as a gift to the forest. Placed in our circle, these represented the thanks we hold to the living forest for holding us.
Sit Spots will be important in our time together. Sit Spots give time and space for reflection and introspection, allow us to nurture our presence, and are the best (and only!) time to see many forest birds and mammals.
From here we walked back to the entrance to the park and met up with the parents. Can’t wait for next month!
Peter & Scott
We often get some very exceptional and devoted kids that come to our nature based programs. They come to our program during the day and afterwards go off to swimming lessons, piano practice, cartoon drawing class and cello practice. Some of our students show their talent to the world by busking. Jacob is such a devoted Soaring Eagle Nature school student, that he decided to donate half of the money he made while busking with his cello to our scholarship fund.
Thank you, Jacob! Your donation has already helped kids come to summer camp this summer!
When I was first learning about medicinal plants I was drawn to it because it was a more natural way to deal with health. I wasn’t really sure just how effective medicinal plants could be because I had never really had the need.
I just noticed that when I felt a cold coming on and I took some Echinacea, the cold tended to go away quite quickly or not start at all.
Then I went through a period of time where I started having stomach cramps and I would vomit and then I’d be fine for a little while, but then it would come back again. After a few days of this pattern I was getting to the point where it seemed like I needed to go a doctor because I didn’t seem to be getting any better.
But I had a book on medicinal plants and I looked up stomach issues. And one of the main things I noticed on that page was that dandelion is really good for stomach issues.
So I said what the heck, I’ve had dandelion before, I know it can’t hurt me. Maybe there’s a chance it’ll make me feel better.
So I went outside and picked some dandelion. I only ate a few leaves but over the next few hours my stomach felt a lot better.
I was quite impressed and actually surprised by how quickly it made a difference. I kept eating dandelion everyday and the stomach problems never came back again.
I don’t know for sure that it was the dandelion that made the difference for me but it was nice to be feeling healthy again. I still like to eat dandelion whenever I can because it tastes good and It’s good medicine.
Step one for learning medicinal plants and their uses: know the preparations
When you’re studying medicinal plants and their uses one of the things you learn is that there’s lots of different ways to prepare medicinal plants that serve different functions.
Depending on how you prepare a plant for use, you’ll get different aspects of the medicine.
Here are some of the major ways to prepare plants
A tincture is a concentrated alcohol-based liquid form of a plant medicine. By soaking plant material in drinking alcohol we can extract a variety of compounds into a simple liquid form that provides it’s benefits at doses of only a few drops.
Always check the ratio of herb to alcohol with a reliable source before making a tincture.
Everyone is familiar with this preparation where the herb is steeped in hot water.
This extracts a different subset of plant components and thus can have a different effect on your body than taking a tincture. .
A salve is an extraction of plant components into a form that can be applied to the skin.
Often it involves mixing a hot water preparation of the plant with something like beeswax. When the mixture cools, it hardens into natural body butter.
Often medicinal plants can also be used as a nutritious food. One of the best examples of this is dandelion.
You don’t have to be sick to eat a dandelion. It’s one of the most nutritious plants on the planet and it will keep you healthy if you eat it as part of your diet.
You can also extract plant compounds into oils like olive oil. It’s a bit of a variation of salves so you have some options for how to create topical treatments.
These are probably the easiest, safest and usually the most effective ways to prepare and use medicinal plants.
As you learn more about the different plants that you work with, you’ll get to learn how each plant affects you differently depending on how it is prepared
If you learn to use plants this way, you’ll be able to do basic medicinal applications of plants.
Step two of learning medicinal plants and their uses: Developing your repertoire
One of my mentors who taught me a lot about plants once told me that the really good herbalists work with the problems they encounter by using only a handful of different plants that they know really well.
They learn all the different ways to prepare them and develop a keen awareness of how each plant impacts the body.
So when you go out to start learning this and you’re trying to decide which plants to work with, one of the things that will give you the most success is to look for simple plants that are common, and have a lot of different uses.
Dandelion is one of my selected few plants. The more I use it the more uses I discover so my experience of dandelion keeps getting deeper and deeper.
Plus it’s extremely common.
It would be pointless to have amazing knowledge of an extremely rare plant because every time you needed it, you would have to make a big trip out of it.
By choosing just a few of the most common and widely applicable plants to focus on. You learn a lot more quickly, you learn a lot more deeply, and the skill becomes much more practical for your everyday life.
Pay attention to how different plants or preparations affect your body.
All plants have different qualities that are described differently in different cultures, but have a general consistency from place to place.
For example, it’s very common for people to experience the medicine from spices like pepper or cinnamon as having a warm quality.
Likewise a common experience of peppermint is that it feels cool.
This informs your decisions about what plants to use because the different qualities of plants relate to the various imbalances of sickness.
When someone has a fever, you’re not going to give him or her a “hot” medicine like cinnamon. We’d be more likely to give something like peppermint because it encourages the body to sweat but it also has a cooling affect that will help the fever.
Another good quality of plants to pay attention for is the relative level of wetness vs. dryness or astringency. You’ll notice that some plants leave your mouth feeling dry.
Plantain is an excellent common plant that has that astringent quality and if you make a poultice with the leaves it will actually suck the stinger from a bee right out of your skin.
Pay attention for these qualities when you use different plants and even with the foods you eat in your day-to-day life. Really be present and develop your awareness by asking yourself some good questions.
Is it hot or cold?
Is it wet or dry?
Where do you feel the effects in your body?
Some plants will seem to affect your head while other will be down in your body more. It’s all good awareness that will inform your use of medicinal plants.
A lot of time people get into medicinal plants because they want to know how to heal their problems in a more natural way.
And while you definitely can learn to do that, sometimes the best way to look at using medicinal plants and their uses is to consider that the real benefit of medicinal plants is in how they can keep you from getting sick in the first place.
By learning to pay attention to your body and how the environment is impacting you, you’ll learn to recognize the advanced signs that you be getting ill and you’ll know which preparations to take that can just give your immune system that little boost.
A lot of times the underlying problem is that people aren’t getting enough nutrition in their food. When you start to think about all your food as being medicine, it’ll impact every choice you make in such a way that moves you towards greater health and wellness.
Bird language is the ability to read into the communication network of wild animals.
Whenever an animal moves out in nature, the birds are watching and they will give off calls that let other animals know what is happening.
Its a lot like those motion detectors people put outside their homes for security.
The motion detector has sensitive equipment that detects the movement of people moving in close to your house.
When the sensor catches movement it switches on a light which lets everyone who is paying attention know that something is moving in that spot.
When you practice the language of the birds, you’ll learn to detect the signs that animals are moving in forest around you.
When you stretch your awareness with bird language, you’ll start to notice patterns in bird behavior that let you know when certain events are happening in the landscape.
If an animal is moving in the forest, It’s like dropping a stone into a still pond. Rings of water emanate in waves from the center of the disturbance.
By observing closely for how the waves of activity are expressed by different birds. you can track how these concentric rings move through the landscape via bird vocalizations.
All you have to do is find the center from which the activity emanates in order to find the animal that is causing the alarm.
With enough listening and observation, you can learn to read the concentric rings that tell you exactly where an animal is and what kind of animal it is.
Bird Language with Tully
After I had been studying the language of the birds for a while and I had started to pick up on certain vocalizations that the birds make when there are animals nearby. I wanted to test my skills as a hunter.
I was living at a house in the country and one of my housemates had a cat named Tully.
I noticed that when Tully was outside the birds acted differently than when he was inside. Their behavior changed incrementally depending on how close by he was.
I would practice using bird language as the traditional hunters would have by trying to sneak up on Tully without him noticing.
Sometimes I was successful and got quite close before I heard his characteristic “meow!” that would let me know I had been caught.
An Ancient Skill
The language of the birds is very subtle. It’s a kind of awareness that was traditionally quite deeply ingrained in the culture of nature-based people.
People who have a deep awareness of nature and knowledge of place usually didn’t get this ability from consciously trying to learn it. It’s the result of an unconsciously ingrained awareness.
There are ways to cultivate this awareness more intentionally if you don’t have a culture surrounding you that already has this skill.
The most important factor that determines how well you get this skill comes down to the amount of sit spot time you have.
The quality of your awareness in one place that you visit regularly to connect with nature and make observations eventually turns into the ability to perceive the concentric rings on the landscape.
It’s a fascinating process.
Let’s learn about the lives of birds!
Bird behavior is one of the one of the most fascinating subjects in bird studies. It takes the act of bird watching to the next level because we’re not just trying to identify a species of bird. We’re also focusing on what is going on in the life of that bird.
Birds have so much more to them than just their name and when we really take the time to watch and get to know them in a high quality way, the world of birds opens up to show us unique individuals living their lives, raising families and struggling to survive.
Learning to watch for what is going on in the lives of birds teaches us so much about nature and its one of most exciting ways to connect with the natural world.
Making good observations about birds is something that everyone is capable of. We don’t often exercise the skill of observation in the modern world but with a little bit of practice you’ll be amazed by what you can detect in the subtlety of bird behavior.
It’s incredible to realize just how much is going on around us all the time without us even noticing.
Watching and Listening
On the most basic level, there are only two simple steps to observing birds. All you have to do is practice these two steps over and over again.
Step one: Watch
Step two: Listen
That’s all there is to it!
If all you did was take 5 minutes everyday to sit outside watching and listening to the birds, in a few months time you would be noticing so much more than you are right now.
Of course, if you have some ideas for what to look for it can definitely speed up your learning process so I’ve made a basic guide to bird behavior below.
The best part of those two basic steps however is that you always have something to fall back on. The birds are really going to be your best teachers and if you pay close attention, they will teach you everything you need to be a master bird observer.
So with watching and listening established, let’s look at some other points to speed up your learning journey and put you on the fast track to become a super perceptive bird nerd.
Behaviors to watch for…
Here are some of the basic bird behaviors to look for. Sometimes the actions of birds are very obvious but sometimes they can be quite subtle. Just keep getting out there and eventually you’ll get it.
It’s helpful to have binoculars as you’re starting out because you can see the birds much more closely.
Watch for birds on the lawn hunting for worms, or gleaning tasty insects off the branches of a tree. This is one of the first behaviors you’ll be able to pick up on because it’s so common.
Can you figure out what they’re eating?
Especially in spring time birds will set up territories and defend them from other birds. You’ll notice a lot of aggression between males as they fight with each other near the boundaries of their space.
It makes an awful racket and is quite easy to detect but can also be confused with alarm behavior. If you see two members of the same species fighting, you’re probably seeing a territorial squabble.
Another behavior that is linked to territory is song. When the birds start singing in spring, keep your eyes out for territorial behavior.
There’s a lot of rich behavior to observe as the birds prepare to raise families. A lot of birds have rituals or displays that they give around courtship. It’s your first indicator that the birds are getting ready to start a family.
Courtship displays are pretty cool and can be quite subtle until you train your eyes to pay attention for it. Some birds will feed each other. Some will dance together and others will bob their heads back and forth rhythmically.
In early spring, most of the birds you see will be getting ready to build a nest. That means there are a lot of nests on the landscape.
It’s pretty amazing how good birds are at hiding their nests. Watch for birds flying back and forth with nest material in their mouths, then later with food in their mouths as the nestlings hatch.
There are distinct behavioral changes at each stage as the nestlings get larger, leave the nest to start flocking.
It can be a lot of fun and very informative to track how populations of birds migrate.
Some birds are incredibly consistent with when they decide to migrate. Really good watchers of bird behavior can sometimes predict right to the exact day when a particular species is likely to be coming through on their migration course.
As you watch bird behavior, you’ll notice that there’s an even subtler layer beyond the specific actions that the birds are taking.
By making close observations year after year, you’ll start to notice differences in general bird activity that is linked to varying weather conditions, insect populations and other factors.
You’ll never get bored trying to figure out which factors are influencing bird behavior to be different from year to year.
This level of awareness with the birds will inform all your observations in nature and you’ll discover a whole new way of understanding how the birds are teaching you about the landscape.
Bird language is the communication system of birds as it applies to detecting the movements of predators in the landscape.
Some behaviors that occur around predators are quite obvious once you know what to look for.
The mobbing that occurs around an owl is a fairly simple bird language behavior that you can learn to detect.
But there are also deeper layers to bird language beyond the specific behaviors that you can learn to detect by understanding bird activity within the context of predator interactions.
With a deep knowledge of bird language, it becomes possible to follow the hidden movements of cats, hawks and other animals with incredible accuracy.
Keep Learning and Observing
Bird behavior is a fascinating practice that will never become stale but get more and more interesting the more you learn and the more you realize how much there is to learn.
It’s a great way to deepen your relationship to the birds and anybody can do it.