Cabin Fever

One of our big goals for this school year is to build a shelter deeper in the woods than our existing tent where our students can keep their belongings dry and seek cover on the coldest and wettest of days. It is going to be a school-wide building project with all teachers and students pitching in. Initially we thought we would construct a wigwam, but Drew informed us that the saplings are not in the proper state for bending at this time of year, so he suggested we build a primitive log cabin from mostly dead logs (we have an abundance of dead ash trees that have succumbed to the Emerald Ash Borer) with a field stone chimney. His intention is that we fill the gaps between the logs with mud and debris.

Our students have been busy felling trees, measuring, and notching. Here's what they've accomplished thus far.

Things We Do with Dave

We are more than thrilled to welcome a new teacher to the fold, David Wloch, who comes to us highly recommended by Two Coyotes Wilderness School. Dave's greatest passion is animal tracking, and he has proven himself to be quite adept in this area much to our student's delight. In addition to sharing this passion, he is also looking forward to undertaking some larger scale construction projects this spring and coming fall, including building a fence around the garden and laying raised walkways through the muddiest parts of our property. Here is a peek at some of the activities Dave and the kids have worked on so far...

Making atlatls, or spear-throwers, and practicing their use:

Tracking a raccoon:

Making burn bowls:

Creating elevated trails with locally sourced wood:

No, we didn't actually allow the kids to use the chainsaws themselves ;)

Making Waves

This past spring we received good news from teacher Tim that Common Ground, an environmental education center in New Haven, was going to begin a program similar to ours called NatureYear. Their mostly-outdoor program would be open to pre-schoolers, homeschooling families, and also to public school children whose parents would like their child's traditional education supplemented with an outdoor learning experience. Yes, the New Haven Public School Board approved a measure that would allow its students, with school and parent approval, to take part in Common Ground's NatureYear once a week. The news brought tears to my eyes - holistic outdoor education would finally be available to children outside of our small homeschooling niche. Tim was able to advocate for the program's formation in part because his experience teaching at EWL provided him with demonstrable outcomes that he could share with the folks in New Haven. For example, he explained to them how our kids, after a year in the woods, were able to engage in and contribute to an adult-level discussion about land management with a USDA representative here on our property. Our students know these woods and habitats so well that they could locate various habitats and discuss the benefits and consequences of specific interventions, like tree release or the widespread clearing of invasive species. When I recently came across this photo of NatureYear's tent, which looks strikingly similar to our set-up, it was clear how our little school in the woods is making waves and generating momentum for outdoor education.

Meanwhile, back at EWL we have learned that these wonderful miner's tents really take a beating in the harsh New England winter. Thanks to a number of generous donors and volunteers, this summer we erected a more permanent roof over our tent to replace the shredded fly. Thank you to everyone who contributed, both financially and with sweat equity, for creating such a precious space for learning. Our new digs should be around awhile.

Making and Taking Shelter

The four boys were hard at work this fall building a debris shelter with Drew. It required several weeks and a formidable amount of perseverance, but it has already come in quite handy on rainy days. It's the perfect spot to build a fire, relax, eat lunch, and carve... or draw a treasure map!

Tending to the Land and Our School

Our students frequently tackle serious work with an ever-expanding view of their role on this land. Here are a few examples:

They located a natural spring on the property using a site map and reading the clues of the land (damp earth) then created a cistern of sorts to capture drinking water. They also collected samples of the water to be fully tested for potability.

The USDA came and surveyed our land with the help of the students in the interest of creating a land-management plan. They were impressed by many of the measures we already take - the barberry removal from last fall, ongoing trail clearing, etc. - and included further removal of invasive species in their plan. The school will receive some of the grant money as the children continue to clear more barberry and bittersweet in the upcoming months.

Silas and Brian built a cold-house from reclaimed windows to extend the growing season of our garden.

As winter approached, we loaded up on pellets for the stove in the tent, as they were rationed in our area last year due to the extremely low temperatures. The boys helped clear a storage area under the tent platform and widened the trail so the tractor could deliver the pallets of pellets.