Our Wednesday group (ages 6-11) created a village of their own at the Oak Camp, setting up services like a tool-making shop (“Flash Tools”), an herbal apothecary/tea shop, and a bakery. Just Food Farm has dozens of crab apple trees, so picking and preparing crab apples every which way became a weekly interest. We tried roasting crab apples over the fire, making crab apple sauce, and drying them out in the sun. Preparing crab apples was an opportunity for our “bakers” to practice safe tool use as they chopped the apples in half or used the apple peeler-corer-slicer. The children discovered early on that our camp was littered (in a good way!) with thousands of acorns, so they decided to use them as a kind of currency in their village, which got them counting, adding, subtracting and multiplying! Eventually we gave most of the acorns back to the animals of the forest. Each week we spent some time exploring away from camp – visiting the deep squishy clays of Green’s Creek; finding wild edibles and medicinals like red clover and elecampane root; and meeting animals like a bobolink, green frog, and red-bellied snake. Sometimes our explores led to tree climbing and rope swinging, slope sliding and shelter building, after which the children returned to camp excited to share their stories. Our village time led to a variety of creative projects of the children’s design, such as building small tables with hammer, nail, and saw; making maps; and weaving sticks to make a fence for the cooking area. As the weather cooled, we enjoyed the heat of the campfire, singing songs, and playing active run-around games like Camouflage.
Our Friday group spent many classes setting up a “survivors’ camp”, imagining they were lost in the woods with only a few tools/resources at their disposal. They found an amazing refuge in a thicket of spruce saplings, where they set up beds with a layer of pine duff, and made little trails between their different quarters. A lot of skill-building happened here as the children practiced using pocket saws, tying knots, and seeing how a bow-drill is used to make fire. They also became enthralled with all the possible uses for milkweed pods- some made herb pouches with them, and we made little paintings on the inside of others. Also excited by the fall apple harvest, we spent time picking apples, and one day came across some bear scat full of apples!
Our Saturday group similarly took full advantage of the season’s gifts. They made milkweed pillows and stuffed animals out of the fluffy milkweed silk, and they brought my mittens back to life by stuffing milkweed seed insulation into its holes. They even came up with a song to honour the milkweed that may be catchy enough to be an Earth Path hit single some day…
In addition to all the projects, explorations, and free play that the children did, they did a lot of growing. Nature is the container in which we deepen our empathy and social skills, learn to take care of the natural world and each other, and practice expressing ourselves in a kind, clear and constructive way. It is a place where we learn to be patient, observant and receptive, understanding of people’s differences, and proactive in solving problems. And nature is the basket full of simple gifts that we can appreciate everyday.
As we wind up the year, here’s a fun stat for Earth Path 2016: through the programs, kids spent a total of 3,836 face-to-face hours in nature- way to go friends! Thank you children and families for a wonderful year!
Special thanks to Shabana B Photography for your photo contributions.
And many thanks to all our partners in 2016:
– Just Food – our host at the Just Food Farm in Ottawa
– Eco Echo – our host at Minnes Farm in Wakefield
– Ottawa Field Naturalists Club and The Wild Garden – our partners for the Spring Ephemerals field walk
– Nature Connections – fellow nature mentors and partner in summer camp delivery