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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When ten weeks arrives at it’s finish, we see the realization of many things that we have worked for. 

hanna-fires1Pictures can’t really describe it. The joy and accomplishment felt by all was palpable during each of the graduation afternoons. It was a memorable celebration of being present,


giving and receiving acknowledgement,


of heart to hearts……


with more learning and discovery…..


and all the right imprints for the future……


Graduation Gratitude to the incredible students of Fall 2008. You have taught us as much, if not more, than we have taught you. The memories and stories and skills will live on…. building stronger in your own hands and weaving seamlessly into the next generation. Don’t forget…. one day you’ll be the ancestor. 



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tylers-cordageThe rain trickled in and out throughout the week, inviting indoor activities. The stalks that have been drying in the rafters throughout the year were brought down for lessons on fiber and cordage. The rhythmical twist of the reverse wrap is hypnotic, a beneficial side effect for those long winter days. stalks-in-rafters


cordage-varietyleft to right: Nettle, Cattail root, Milkweed, jute, raffia. Nettle proved to be a solid fiber; one loop of nettle cordage joining a rope to a beam held upwards of 100 pounds of weight. Resistant to insects and rot, Nettle fiber can last hundreds of years. Cattail is surprisingly silky, I could easily covet a good pair of cattail long johns! Milkweed is also quite strong, and with the variegation’s of color it makes visually interesting cordage. Jute and raffia serve their purpose as training fiber.

Check out this link for an interesting read on Nettle fiber and some history. Personally, I prefer to eat the leaves as delicious high nutrient food, and dry them for winter infusions for extra energy. But now I know what to do with all the leftover stalks! 

Not to mention it lends itself to deepening friendships…..


Evolving mentorship…………


And self satisfaction………..

kaiAs you can see, both the Tuesday Skills and Thursday Pioneers got their hands on the fibers. I hear the lodge is coming along as well, pictures of that to come this week. They have been working hard on their Goldenrod thatched roof!

The Challenge group was sent out on a quest for depth this week, with two initiatives that brought their minds and emotions forward. “Crossover”, an exercise in diversity and self awareness, was skillfully facilitated by Emily, as we all discovered new aspects of each other and ourselves. 


We rolled right into another fun initiative on the whale watch…..

whale-watch…….where nonverbal communication and sensory awareness are at their peak. The plank must be kept in equal balance as they travel cooperatively around it. In a moment of sheer magic silence, the great blue heron pushed it’s way through the misty air but feet away from the group; a lavish reward for their unified and peaceful efforts. While three of them lunged a pointing finger to alert the others of the visit, not a sound was made as we witnessed the heron weave it’s path above the water line. 


Lunch covered eating of course, but also some important first aid knowledge on choking and preparing a splint.

The whale watch lead perfectly into putting it’s physics to work. The lever and fulcrum mechanism was translated into moving a large log for use in their rainy day warming fire. Which they needed since the afternoon was spent in resolute stewardship! 

wc-week-9-005This bridge really needed help. Thank You!

….and over at the log cabin, the scouts gathered their things for the returning hike. 

scoutsTheir day included a fun filled series of games including bust-a-move, dear and coyote, and one of my personal favorites adapted from a group dance training process called flocking. This is a really fun sequential movement game which switches leadership in verbal, then nonverbal ways. It gets the kids thinking kinesthetically and on the fly, in a way that fosters self and group awareness simultaneously. 

Kinesthetic learning was carried over into story-time this week, with a pencil creating a ‘story line’ while Joe read another witty tale from the Lao book. The lows, highs, tensions and successes of the story were captured in the abstract art of the Scout’s illustrations. Noteworthy was their capacity to retell the story simply from the memory cues of the wavy lines they drew while listening!

The afternoon was topped off with some wild tea of goldenrod leaves and pine needles and some good mellow journal time.

Friday morning’s show and tell for the Jr. Naturalists consisted of a frozen dead baby pig. Although surely educational, I missed the photo op on that one :). It was a great introduction to the lessons of the day, however, inviting conversation about ethical use of hunted animals, and primitive containers. Following was a fascinating study on Goldenrod galls, which were collected in numbers and then placed in a gall garden to set until spring, when we get to watch them hatch. Galls are a fascinating element to nature’s ingenious and cyclical patterns.


Plant class took a new angle this week, in order to sharpen observational skills and invite in some art concepts. We took to the field for an exercise in visual perception of depth and varying levels of detail and shape. Specifically we focused on landscape silhouettes, which will serve in the future as an important way to identify different trees. We made a sketch of the silhouette shapes we saw and noted the type of habitat. To engage the idea of contrast, we then overlapped onto our sketches a series of leaf rubbings. The details were beautiful and rewarding to watch emerge from under the waving pencil motions. 




The afternoon activity was a fun craft of cleaning and preparing gourds for rattles. Connection to the earlier discussion of primitive containers was made. The painting of the gourds included a layer of history, referencing old ways of storytelling through cave paintings and symbolic prints on objects. Each gourd was to become their own personal story of Great Hollow, told through color, shape, and symbol.

matthewLate Friday I spent a few minutes with the Micro Scouts, who were quick to give me a delightful run for my money. They articulated the similarities noticed between lamb’s ears and the large leaf of a mullein plant. Above you can see the animated punctuation.

zoeA celebrated moment spontaneously after stringing hand painted beads onto twine. 

tuckerAnd authentic, primal expression. 

What could be better at that age?

See you all at graduation!

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It’s cold in the mornings. The light beams down, brighter but only bright enough to melt the frost. When the Tuesday students roll in, they are layered strategically in wool and polar fleece, smiling behind the cloud of warm breath. The first thing they do is start a coal; a practice in the most vital of primitive necessities, and a challenging one at that. 

Once the cold of the winter sets in, a tribe must be stocked with enough food to sustain them for almost six months. Green food is scarce and hard to store. Hunting takes on it’s most important time, when large animals and many small game can be cured at once for a stock of protein, fat, and mineral rich foods. 

Of the many gifts rendered from a hunt, bones are one way to ensure next autumn’s hunt. Besides dishware, costume and tools, spears and hunting gear can be carved while spending the days snowed in. 

As the temperature dropped throughout Tuesday, fingers deftly rolled small bones along a file, carving sharp tips and barbed ends, with extended shafts long enough to plunge into a shallow river. The bone was wrapped to its handle with sinew. After crafting a good spear, the only thing left would be to outsmart the weather and the animals. 

Thursday my camera and I were glued to the office, working on important sequences of numbers and tallies for the upcoming year. Lucky for me, I get all the juice at the end of the day when we have our staff meeting. It was reported to be a truly ‘epic’ game in the morning, where the Pioneers and the Scouts, together, went up against alien jungle instructors (in yellow rain ponchos), guarding the precious ‘food’. The fire was lit and they had until the last coal to win back their food. 

As the third week of this game, (tied score of 1-1) the intricacy, wit, and strategy employed was off the charts. It could have represented an entire year of social, tribal and governmental dynamics in an effort to maintain both needs as well as peace. Negotiations were attempted. Peace offers were tried, distractions and tall tales were exercised. Raw bravery was ignited in some of the more timid students, and incredible sacrificial plays were made by some of the seemingly boastful members. Meeting needs won out in the end, as the Pioneers and Scouts realized that there were precious goods to be traded, utilizing each individuals strength toward achieving their goal. Now, since this saga may be crafted into the full story, I wouldn’t want to give away all the details…. so you’ll just have to hang onto your hat, but I can attest to the many more layers of adventure and heroism than I elude to.

The Scouts had a great day. After the riveting game above, they did some new things like the hula hoop magic trick, dragon tag, and started on some cool storytelling exercises. they practiced leaping over their favorite ditch, made a collective talking bowl out of clay, and read the Miraculous Adventure of Turtle and Swan: a hilarious zen-like fable with a satirical twist! 

Meanwhile, the wilderness challenge had another day of team initiatives and physical challenge. Each member was bound to a partner’s leg for the day. Dare I guess it wasn’t a walk in the park? I’m not sure which is harder to learn; the physical science behind a duet fulcrum, Or the mental science of a personality fulcrum? I suppose it’s all individual. Maybe that’s the problem. Ohhh the thought of surrendering autonomy for something potentially greater than the Self…… that’s a tough one! But this group is a class act, coming out strong and resiliant, both physically and mentally fit. Not to mention they have an amazing set of mentors to guide them.

I guess you could call this lunchtime bonding? 

Friday morning the Jr. Naturalists began with an enriching show and tell, followed by an in depth study on bird nests. The design, material used, and location are all indicators of whose nest it could be. Some are stuffed with hair, with leaves, or with a variety of stuff. Some are packed solid with mud, and some are woven like a professional basket.

After crunching numbers long on Thursday, I was a ready participant in the day. I’ve been meaning to capture the bird sit, and I finally had the chance. See the scarecrow? It’s been sitting there a few weeks now, training the birds to come and feed from that spot. What’s not so easy to tell, is that the scarecrow is actually Campbell. Sitting very still, watching each winged visitor swoop in for seed from her hat or glove.

Slowly but surely, each Jr. Naturalists has had the chance to be the scarecrow. They are even advancing to the point where multiples can sit without donning the costume, and the birds still come.

During Herbal Hour, one of the highlights was getting to hike up to a special place where one of my favorite herbs grows wild. With a rich history of healing, wintergreen is a treasure to show and to gather. We collected a small amount to prepare into an oil for a project.

Lunchtime was fun as always. We listened to a story about a woman who hand feeds wild birds; a perfect fit for the day. 

After that, we chased fish up stream. Going farther up the trail than we have yet, we were lost in the magic of the forest and the spell of the glinting waters. The loamy fall aroma is intoxicating. The aliveness in the air a libation for the spirit. We followed the fish shadows as they slinked along the cavernous banks in hiding. One lucky fish got to be the center of attention for the afternoon, identified later by the kids as a brook trout.

On our top speed hike back (racing against the clock – we lost) we crossed a beautifully designed bird’s nest, bringing the day full circle.

Now, my post wouldn’t be complete without reaching the cute quota. Since I was playing hooky with the J-Nats, I’ll give you one I didn’t post last week, and tell you that they had another adventurous day, with stories, games, running, clay creativity, and nature awareness exercises.

OK – two! I promise I will get more of the Scouts and Microscouts this week.

Happy November!

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