Archive for the ‘Whole Earth Homeschool’ Category


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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Due to popular demand…. we have added an extended late fall session! This is so exciting… the first time we have been able to offer this option. So for you die hards out there… sign up fast! These will run for the first three weeks of December.  

An important note you should be aware of is that the Pioneers will CAP at 12 students. We are nearly full. 

The session includes three of our programs: 

Wilderness Skills: Tuesdays 

Pioneers: Thursdays

Jr. Naturalists: Fridays  

All classes, 9 am to 3pm 

The registration form is here

or also found on the registration page of this blog.

If you are returning – you do not have to fill out another waiver and med form.

Happy Hollowing!

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One of the nice side effects of working with a bow drill, is that it creates the most lovely incense. The little pocket where the drill creates friction smoulders the wood just so, dropping a small coal below and releasing the fragrant smoke above. Ethan has been perfecting his coal carrying techniques, which you see in the photo, so that the students can learn as well. In the meantime, the five car smells like a welcome sanctuary. 

practice practice practice…….

And what are these two buff Pioneers up to? Well, it’s not an injured rock. It’s a clever way of transporting the building materials needed for the structure. I have to say, the teamwork was impeccable! If effort were anything less than 100%, I don’t think they could have accomplished as much as they did. 

What better way to introduce both geothermal and radiant heat, than to build a stone firepit? 

Whendi was voted mvp for hauling in some of the most massive rocks. Everyone enjoyed the success of the stones at the end of the day. Next week they will begin building the wooden frame. 

On the other side of Great Hollow, the Wilderness Challenge group was having their own summit. This was so exciting to watch! Each carefully placed foot, then hand, and another steady push towards the top. Each instructor had their own personal way of cheering and supporting each climber as they leaned into their harness at ground level.

Everyone made it to the top of both sides. Not easy!

Did I mention the morning was cold? The scouts decided to come inside for a couple games, to reclaim their warmth before heading back outside. The scouts’ day was filled with fun and games, including bat and moth, a Jungle Book poetry hike, the dragon game, and a tastey encounter with the ‘root beer’ tree.

Lucky for us we have a beautiful yoga room to use when we need to warm up.

By the end of a discovery filled day, they had completed a beautiful and festive wreath to adorn our place. 

Friday’s early morning brought beautiful frost, highlighting some of the vibrant fall foliage.

But the day warmed up, enough for some extraordinary bird sits (scarecrow replaced by kid!) And they all had a chance to be a first hand bird feeder. The stories are still swirling around about the various different birds, the chimpunks crawling up legs, and the blue jay stare-down. We should be in for more this week if the weather lets up.

A journey to collect pomacious fruits was a colorful endeavor. The rose hips are sweet and ripe, and the apples are still crispy. Did you know that apples, roses, cherries, and peaches are all in the same plant family?


Some delicious vitamin C syrup was made by the Jr Naturalists, a timely project during cold season!

The microscouts had a different idea of how to use the round fruits :). As a three dimensional element of their lanscape portrait, of course! This apple became quite the masterpeice. Each student took a mental photograph while on their hike, and brought the image back to paint. It was a day of great artistic appreciation and expression, each one unique and beautiful in it’s own right!

I was also informed that painting is often more effective than the spoken word. Perhaps facial expressions are too?

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I don’t blame this Monarch for sticking around for fall in New England. The leaves are turning magnificent colors, making the forest tapestry turn from the ‘wall of green’ into a four dimensional masterpiece vibrant enough to make Van Gogh drool. The falling leaves are swinging faster and faster down the wind paths, racing each other or outwitting the grab of a child.

We learned recently that plants don’t absorb every color of the rainbow, leaving behind the light color they already possess and drinking up the one/s they lack. An interesting parallel to the change of the leaves; taking their own turn creating rainbows; as if to thank the light of the summer. The magic of this isn’t lost on the Jr. Naturalists.

As we enter into the fall, we also feel the stark relationship between gathering and letting go. As the wheat is harvested, we gain a bag of grain, but the plant is sacrificed. And so it goes, in nature, the great cycles of life. Nature reveals this with shameless precision and choice, never as gratuitous or wasteful. Thursday the Pioneers witnessed this phenomenon in the woods, real time, start to finish.

It was quite the experience.

After being humbled by nature’s cyclical display, we trekked up the hill to the cabin, where Ethan had prepared several fires. These were to be made into primitive ovens and stoves.

Underground Oven

Underground Oven



Eggs on a Rock

Coal Muffins

Coal Muffins

Clay Oven

Clay Oven

 The scouts had a challenging day of teamwork and goal setting……


The Wilderness Challenge took on the Great Swamp:

(Evergreens always have the last word in the fall.)

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Tuesday’s Wilderness Skills escaped my camera lens, but looking back at Ethan’s staff journal entry, I see a pretty full day indeed….. “Blindfold string walk, sensory awareness excercise, tracking lesson including a cedar waxwing kill sight and a bobcat track, cedar tree and birch tree identification and uses, bowdrill work, river walk, cattail cordage and tinder, successful primitive fire building….”

Thursday was off to a bright start with an interview from Brian Koonz, of the Danbury News Times. Many of you have seen the great front page from yesterday. I was so excited I talked an elderly man’s ear off at the 7-11 when I went in to buy copies. Luckily he was joyfully all ears and excited for us in return. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can veiw it online. Thanks Brian!

Thursday continues with wilderness fun as the Scouts headed out on adventures. They did everything from discover bugs, read and enact Lao animal folk tales, explore some wild plants such as mugwort and spicebush, and try their teamwork on the whale watch initiative. They also worked on their fire building skills and spent some time making entries in their field journals. Something tells me that a lot more magic and lessons occurred than I can capture here in a paragraph.





On the other side of the land on Thursdays, two more groups run their course. This week, the Pioneers experimented with plant dyes. They harvested plants with pigments, such as poke berries, barberry, black walnut hulls, and even scooped up ash from the fire for a grey color. The raw wool was hand washed in the stream, then dunked in the chosen plant decoction and hung to dry. Lunch and story time were not to be missed….this week two chapters were read!

Soon into their journal entries, they also discovered that their paper was worth dying too…. hence the exploration of parchment and old time colored paper.

At the Amphitheatre, the Wilderness Challenge executed a rope initiative,

 Created maps for the opposite team and tried to follow them,

…..and carried a wounded teammate all the way back in a handmade litter. Not to mention they also fit in a river walk, leapfrog hikes, and physical conditioning. Amazing!

Friday was no exception to the magic that’s conjured at great Hollow. The Micro Scouts played games, measured the river water again, and employed spectacular teamwork while making an enormous leaf pile with the Jr. Naturalists. At the end of the day, the immersion into their journals was so deep…. they even lost track of time!

The Jr. Naturalists explored bird behavior displayed by the Robin, and habits of the notorious red squirrel who gave them a front row performance. In herbal hour, after they were prompted to forage for certain plants by a riddle, we discussed the importance of accurate plant descriptions and some different ways that foods and liquids were preserved before there was refrigeration. One of the ways used was the process of lacto-fermentation, so we brewed up the plants foraged and started some jars of herbal ‘sodas’ using whey and organic sugar.  Next week we’ll find out which ones worked the best: Grapes, Birch, cherry twigs, pine needles, or apples!

Until then…….

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