Walk with Wonder

Mountain School at Home

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

As North Cascades Institute Mountain School instructors, we’ve made a few adaptations to our typical curriculum during this time of school closures and shelter-in-place guidelines.

“Walking with Wonder” is one of a number of free programs we’re offering meant to inspire students of all ages to continue to learn about the natural world and discover new connections to the outdoors from home.

Soaking in sunshine or trotting in the rain can bring immense amounts of joy that are long-lasting. By directing your energy and attention on your walks you can add a little extra oomph and make each walk unique—even if it’s the same path each time.

For the first lesson, meet a tree: Do you think you’d be able to identify a tree you’ve only met while blindfolded? During this activity, pick a central starting location where your partner will blindfold you. You will then be led to a tree and must use your senses to get to know the tree. Think: what are the shapes and textures of this tree that make it unique?

Once you feel that you could identify your tree without a blindfold, your partner will guide you back to the starting location. From there, take off your blindfold and go find your tree. Your partner will let you know if you are correct or give you helpful hints if you need them. Then, swap roles.

Questions you could think about concerning this lesson include why you think finding your tree was easy or difficult, figuring out what senses were the most helpful, and how you could get to know your tree better. Also, is your tree old or young? What might it have experienced during its lifetime? What historical events might it have been alive for?

If you are feeling inspired you can attempt to identify your tree with a field guide or computer once you are back indoors.

Next, take an animal walk: Choose an animal to embody during your excursion. Visualize yourself as this animal as you walk, crawl or climb. You can use this time to move through space as your animal might or think about how your animal would survive in this space.

Questions to think about include: Would your animal live in this habitat? What about this space could make it ideal for your animal to live here? What might make it difficult for your animal to live in this space?

What are three adaptations (characteristics that help an animal’s survival) you could give your animal to better survive in this space? Think of basic needs like food, water, shelter, space. What sort of food might your animal be able to find here?

Feel free to add more of your own questions to enhance your hike. You could even dress up like this animal if you are excited to get more into character.

Take a rainbow walk: Think about a rainbow and all of the colors within it—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (ROYGBIV). Use your walk as a mission to find as many objects of each color as you can. You can look for objects in each different color one at a time or look for all at once. Try to find as many items with these colors as possible.

Questions to ponder: What role does color play for plants and animals in nature? Can you find an object that holds more than one color? More than one shade of the same color? Can you find something that is camouflaged in its surroundings?

If you are not able to go for a walk, you can try this same activity while looking out your window or by looking for both natural items and human-made items outdoors or in your home.

Find downloadable lessons, activity templates, videos and more at http://www.ncascades.org/ms-at-home

Thirty Years and Counting

North Cascades Institute was excited to offer Mountain School at their Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake this spring. More excited than usual because 2020 is the 30th anniversary of this much-loved three-day, two-night residential environmental education program for local fifth-grade students.

More than 1,230 students were signed up to attend from 24 schools throughout Whatcom and Skagit counties. But after weeks of staff trainings, food purchasing and getting the ELC ready, Mountain School was abruptly cancelled after just two weeks when schools closed and stay-at-home guidelines commenced. The campus was closed, all programs were canceled through June, and NCI was forced to furlough half its staff.

Teaching people of all ages about the natural world is at the heart of NCI’s work, and when it became clear students weren’t going to be able to come to them, they pivoted and looked for ways to go to them, and the “Mountain School at Home” project was born. For the past several weeks, the Institute has been sharing learning activities from their talented instructors on their website and blog. So far, they’ve posted lessons including how to start a “sit spot” practice and a tree bud journal, nature art and writing, tuning into the seasons with phenology, creative ways to “walk with wonder” in the natural world (see story), and wild-harvesting and baking lessons.

“We hope these will inspire students of all ages to continue to learn about the natural world and discover new connections to the outdoors from home,” explained Codi Hamblin, school programs manager. “We won’t let these challenges prevent us from fulfilling our mission.”

Facing significant revenue losses, the Institute is hosting an online fundraiser, “Give Big for Youth.” Donations from people who are able to give will go to help local students of all ages continue to learn about the natural world and discover new connections to the outdoors—even from home—and ensure the next 30 years of Mountain School.

To donate, go to http://www.ncascades.org/support/campaign-for-youth

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