A note from Maman on the Trail:
Meet Ellie, a human of the outdoors. Ellie lives in the San Joaquin Valley in California and gets outdoors with her husband and their 4-year old son. Here is her story…
On her time outdoors…
My son, whom I call “Squishy”, and I, along with my husband, live in the San Joaquin Valley in California. We are smack dab in the center of everything. It is the heart of America’s agriculture, some even call it the bread basket of the world. We live within driving distance to the ocean, and our backyard view is of one of the most beautiful mountain ranges you can find. We sit at the base of Yosemite, in one direction, and Kings Canon and the Sequoias in the other. I grew up clambering over the giant granite boulders that are iconic in the Western Sierra Nevadas.
I try to spend a couple hours outside in nature everyday. My son and I are members of an outdoors homeschool co-op that we call “Adventure School”, and we meet up every Friday. We go on kid-friendly (0-5 years) hikes 2-4 times a month and do a serious camping trip twice a month. Squishy is 4-years old and we homeschool in a modified forest school approach. My son inspires me to get outdoors. He was born to be barefoot in the woods. His second word was “outside” and he is at his happiest covered in mud.
The main reason I started my blog is to encourage every parent to take their kids outside. You do not have to have all the fancy equipment, or know all the best trails. “Last Child in the Woods”* had a profound impact on how I am approaching our homeschool journey. My son has some sensory issues, and being out in nature brings us both back to center. I joke that I can always tell when Squishy has been inside four walls too long.
On her defining moment as a mom…
This is the story I share on the “about” page on my blog, it sums up our story pretty well…
Did you ever have a day that defined how you would interact with the world? Who you would ultimately be as a parent? Squishy couldn’t have been more that seven months old, and I had lost him. It wasn’t the first time. Since he learned to crawl, the little stinker was constantly escaping. But this day was different, he was just gone, nowhere in the house. Frantically and in tears I ran out to the backyard. Every imaginable, catastrophic image running through my mind as I stepped onto the porch. There in the middle of a huge mud puddle sat my baby, happy as could be. His two loyal subjects (our Australian Shepherds Lollypop and Taffy) patiently standing watch. The ringing in my ears levelled off to a slow hum as my heart struggled to stay in my chest. That is when I heard it. The magical baby laughter of sheer delight. “Outside!” he was squealing, “Outside!” Mud was goopily dripping from between his clinched fists. That was my moment. The moment everything I thought I would be as a mom shifted.
On attending “Adventure School” …
Our outdoor school, or as Squishy likes to call it “Adventure School”, is a very loosely organised homeschool co-op. I say loosely organised, because it is a lot more like a meet-up than a class. We let the children take the lead in their learning here, and just guide them with our knowledge. We meet up at generally the same place every week, but do take “field trips” on occasion. For most of Fall 2015 through to Spring 2016 we met up at a small nature preserve. It was a great spot, pretty much unused by anyone else, but the occasional fisherman. There were so many native plants and animals to study (and eat). Squishy is really big into foraging. There was a huge crop of stinging nettle, and the kids all respected it and kept their distance. It provided the teachable moments to explore nettle and its benefits, as well as the medicinal qualities of the field of plantain growing near by. There were native fig trees, wild blackberry vines, mulberry trees, and so much more. Every week we would get to see the changes the seasons brought to our little world. We had to find a new location at the beginning of the summer though, because the tick population had just exploded. Kind of the perfect storm for them. Really wet winter, with an early heat that spring. When we were bringing home 1 or 2 ticks every week, despite using intense repellent methods; it wasn’t safe for the children. So we moved over to a hidden river access along the San Joaquin.
The kids have been asking to learn about subjects more in depth lately, so we have been setting up a monthly theme to our days. One month we learned about spiders and their webs. We basically introduce a song or poem when we first meet up, and share a couple facts. Like, for instance, the different types of webs or body parts of a spider. Sometimes we plan a craft, sometimes not, and the children are free to join in, or do their own thing. We provide a lot of loose parts, so that the kids can explore the knowledge and make their own discoveries. This past fall, we focussed on making shelters, so we had sheets and tarps, ropes, para cord, and clamps.
Squishy has come by most of his knowledge organically. We were able to watch the life cycle of frogs in their habitat, and catch a few to bring home. Squishy also caught a crawdad and he lives with us now, too. He has learned so many life skills since we started going to Adventure School. He also gets to work on his gross motor skills each week as he perfects his tree-, rock- and mountain-climbing skills.
On always being ready for an adventure…
I have my adventure gear bag packed with the essentials at all times, because I always forget something. It’s nothing fancy, just a cheap day pack from Walmart, but it gets the job done. Inside I always keep a few items in case we have a need to leave on adventure in the spur of the moment (that happens a lot). Most of what I keep in it can be found in this post. I have the basics: water, First Aid kit, whistle, flint, knife, bug spray and a compass. I also have a few other items that we seem to always need. I keep a some bug catching containers, a magnifying glass, a small fishing net, some para cord, fruit snacks, a small garden shovel, and Squishy’s slingshot in there too. You know, the essentials.
A little Q & A…
Q: What is your go-to adventure snack?
A: Salami, humus and yogurt-covered almonds.
Q: What piece of gear do you never leave the house without?
A: My adventure gear bag, packed with the essentials.
Q: What is your favourite nature quote, and who said it first?
A: “Dream. Discover. Explore.” ~ Mark Twain
Q: What one piece of advice would you share with someone who is wary of or new to the outdoors?
A: Start small, and don’t go with any Pinterest-perfect expectations.
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