Archive for the ‘Highlights’ Category


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Photo credit: Colin Cooke

Photo credit: Colin Cooke

Photo credit: Colin Cooke

Witch Hazel blossoms, harvested by the Jr. Naturalists

The start of the leaf changing

Barberry with fruits

White Willow Tree

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Autumn is underway. The students at Whole Earth Homeschool have been busy harvesting new skills and creating new memories and stories of their own.

The very first day was no exception. Even after a full day, sometimes nature has her own plans to present. A recently deceased groundhog was found on our driveway, and the tribal minds of the  advanced Wilderness Skills group wasted no debate: swiftly and respectfully they took the animal into their own hands. Greg and Broch carefully explained every detail of the process and the anatomy as they dressed the animal and gave the organs back to mother earth. The fur, meat, and bones were reserved for use.

Groundhod skinning

Each student was enamored. They asked thoughtful questions, examined each step with intense focus and curiosity. The knowledge and talent of our new instructors was deftly demonstrated.

Skills day one fall09 001

Trail to otter bridge

The Pioneers and Scouts seem to embody the old saying “work hard, play hard”. Both the groups work up laughter and sweat first thing in the morning with high octane games. After that the Pioneers head straight into their goal propelled construction project; the first ever Great Hollow primitive TreeHouse . I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

For the Scouts, the order of survival and the village tasks occupy much of their day.  They have worked on fire building, camouflage, wild tea, and lots of nature activities. Patrick and Jen always return with great stories and big smiles from their Scouts!

These are two groups that really fulfill the ingredients for a rich childhood.


Which sometimes requires extra shoes and a tireless good spirit,

Week 2 Scouts

as well as strategy. She looks innocent, doesn’t she? Little do the coyotes know that there is a quiet second deer hiding below, making them immune to being tagged. Deer can be tricksters too.


On the other side of Great Hollow, the Wilderness Challenge group rises to each occasion. This semester they are working hard at building character; physically, mentally, and emotionally. Anyone who witnesses their departure on Thursday mornings knows what I mean; you can’t help but be moved by the pack of them tearing into the woods like a thundering herd of Elk! It is breathtaking. And that’s only the morning. An hour later they’ve added a layer of muscle from their conditioning and are pumped for the day’s adventures.


So far, the ropes courses have been a hot pursuit. One of the most significant challenges they have tackled is Emily’s favorite:  the Giant’s Ladder. This initiative requires an incredible amount of willpower, teamwork, and overcoming of one’s perceived limitations. It provides fertile ground for self discovery and growth… in ways difficult to explain. Perhaps you will see into the photograph and imagine yourself in their position.

Yup I can

GL teamwork

Turning the wheel of energy, we come to the last day of our week. Sweet Fridays. This day is dedicated to absorbing nature on its deeper levels. To understanding the subtleties of song and cloud and wind and soil. To hearing the leaves tickle branches as they fall, and smelling the air as the hours pass. Fridays are dedicated passionately to honing relationship with Nature.



Mist watching with JNats


Bloodroot cuttings

In plant class we are working on a very practical level, with our focus on conservation. Components of this endeavor are three-fold: Conservation of land integrity and biodiversity, Bioregional and traditional alternatives for herbal medicines which replace overuse of endangered plants, and Place-based knowledge. The latter being the founding root of the former two components.

Our classes thus far have reflected this. The first day we studied and planted Goldenseal roots. The second day we studied Elder and made wise Elderberry Elixir to keep everyone healthy this season. The third day we took root cuttings to help propagate our existing Bloodroot, and the students scouted the proper habitat for their transplant. Very well done. The fourth day we assimilated what we have learned about these plants and their  accompanying lessons by creating our own folklore stories. This was an especially challenging and rewarding class – all the stories were fantastic, and if read to a sibling or younger friend, would indeed pass along the intended wisdom in clever and enchanting ways.

And of course our MicroScouts! Oh the fun and play these kids have. Every time I pass them they say something to make me laugh or smile. This group is seriously busy…. exploring the trails, finding bugs, drawing pictures, carving in the mud, baking, and picking lots and lots ….. and lots…. of goldenrod flowers. (This was at least their fourth bushel.)

Gh flower girls2

Happy October!

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Haunted Hollow Horror Hike



At the intersection of Route 37 & Haviland Hollow Rd.

New Fairfield, CT





6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
First tour begins Last tour begins


$5 (under 18)$7 (adults)

Operating Rain or Moonshine

Dress Appropriately for the Outdoors

(Wear sturdy shoes & bundle up!)

All proceeds go toward our mission of building strong kids, strong families, strong communities through programming at Great Hollow Wilderness School & the Regional YMCA of Western CT.

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Spring was remarkable. Busy, indeed, hence the lack of blog posts. But hey – that’s what can happen when you are busy outside!

We did manage to capture a few gems on camera, and so with fall soon to arrive, I will take advantage of this moment in August to reflect on the wonders had in Spring.

Our advanced Skills course sharpened thier aim with Archery, and I must say they got quite good! I am sorry to report I don’t have photos of that class (they are elusive!) but if any parents have good photos I will happily post them!

Pioneers Thursday May 7, 09 106

Above are the Pioneers, hamming it up in front of what is now a complete animal pen structure, (to accompany the log cabin) hand built from the ground up with Ash logs and a LOT of teamwork and elbow grease!

The swing of things

This group was so intensely proud of the work they accomplished as well as the new stories, games, and good times had by everyone.

Pioneers Thursday May 7, 09 087

And as you can see, sometimes a good time means mucking in the water hole as it is being dug.

Bird Olympics

The Jr. Naturalists sharpened many skills. Here you see them identifying birds in the woods. Many of them don’t even require a field guide any more; they know them by color, shape, size, flight habits or song.

Nest maybe yellow warbler


These young Naturalists also took the leap into gardening… creating a flourishing greenhouse, fertile compost, and doing the groundwork of transplanting all the seedlings into the garden beds when big enough. There may even be a good harvest to return to this fall….. if the animals didn’t get to it first!

Climber in the greenhouse

Ethan holding garter snake

The Explorers were a curious bunch! They touched and learned every creepy crawly they could; big, small, and even microscopic. We studied soil composition, hiked uncharted Great Hollow territory, identified minerals, created a natural sun dial, and learned about maps. The Explorers also logged the process of a decomposing deer carcass, which was a fascinating project which impressed upon us the art of questioning quite beautifully.

Explorers wk 6 Topo Map

Explorers wk 6 and Andy's 039

Grass project

GH week 5 spring 09 009

The Micro Scouts were delightful as always! Laughter, creativity, sharing, and curiosity drive these wonderful nature kids to discoveries that often surprise and teach the instructors.


The games reached new heights this spring … realizing so many complexities of role playing, advantages and handicaps, and predator/prey dynamics which not only kept everyone in good cardiovascular shape, but revealed the endless webs that nature weaves.

McKenzie with Jacob staff

The Wilderness Challenge crew did so many exciting things, both in the spring as well as this past summer. Everything from scaling the wall, making Jacob staffs, verbal mapping, built rafts, did lots of swimming, physical training, and team initiatives. These kids just continue to impress us all with their razor sharp minds and drive for success!

WC Raft project 2

Pioneers week 2 spring 09 021 The Scouts got their fill, too, of story time, fire skills, and of crafting a giant, beautiful burned bowl. They learned edible flowers, hiked high into the outcrops and were especially tolerant of the rain.

Sacred coal

And so… with lots learned and lots more to learn, we turn the wheel of the year and invite in the wonders and bounty of fall…. for all of our natural delight!

Owen's Web

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Planting the Seeds of Knowledge

Planting the Seeds of Knowledge

Here is a sneak peak at a wonderful homespun addition to our Friday learning bank. I’m calling it a learning bank instead of a curriculum as it feels more abundant and ready than ‘curriculum’. I always have my eyes peeled as I go along my daily tasks, mining for gems to add to our bank, and this one was a strike of gold.

Written and hand-illustrated by fellow home-schooling, homesteading mother, Kristine Brown (aka Tansy) these monthly morsels are chock-full of fun and wisdom. Replete with facts, lore, projects, puzzles, recipes, and seasonal relevance, she has created the perfect activity booklet for kids (and grown ups!) who love plants and herbal healing. Our Jr. Naturalists will be using portions as a seamless supplement to botany/herb class.

Herbal roots is available (a new one each month) through Tansy’s etsy shop, LunaFarm Creations, and she updates us regularly through hr wonderful homestead blog, Dancing in a field of Tansy. Her formal website is Luna Herb Co. Feel free to order one for yourself or give as a gift to a friend!

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native-harvests-with-barrie-1-0071 Ahhh yes. In between snowfalls and cancelled programs, we have the Gem of January. Our Thursday brought in the brave nature souls for Barrie’s Native Harvests. It felt so good to get out of the house to learn with the kids, but somehow still allow the real rhythm of winter to reign. We trekked out into the white yard, and followed some of the littlest tracks…..

native-harvests-with-barrie-1-0031We followed these around the yard, into the stone wall, and back out again, only to fint much bigger tracks. Which led up to the apple tree. Once we were at the apple tree, Barrie talked all about how much the apple tree provides, even in the winter. All the terminal buds were eaten off by deer, and little holes at the base provided warmth and more nutrition for little critters. 

The green-blue scaly stuff along the trunk was an interesting discussion on lichens, as Barrie explained to us how they form and what important roles they play in both the history of plant evolution as well as our present day habitat. Fascinating.



We had the chance to explore some of the winter weeds with their intricate seed patterns. This bean-like plant is actually a milkweed – Dogbane specifically. It has the signature fluff inside the pods, and the stalk makes an exceptionally tough fiber for cordage. This exploration also led us along  more tracks; coyote and bobcat, with some variations on paw size leaving us to wonder if there were a couple of generations.

Inside we created our own journals and taped in our plant specimens with some written details. They all came out so unique and beautiful! And to top it all off, we made delicious snow cream. Yum!

See you tomorrow!


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