Chapter 14: Discover a Wise Sage

A naturalist explains tree ring dating to my daughter. We estimated the tree was 95 years old!

A naturalist explains tree ring dating to my daughter. We estimated the tree was 95 years old!

9:53 AM. It is windy and chilly. Snow-capped mountains appear in the distance. We’re geared up in coats, hats, and backpacks, and walking along a mountain trail with a naturalist. He selects a tree limb to use as a walking stick for the hike and explains the benefits of using walking sticks for locomotion, balance, and distribution of physical effort. We move along the trail like a group being guided through a museum, but in this museum you can touch and feel the things you see. Shortly we come to a stump alongside the trail. My daughter watches as the naturalist counts the rings and then proclaims the tree is older than she is, older than I am, and older than he is—estimated at 95 years old!

We continue on the hike. My daughter performs rock ballet. She gets dizzy and falls off the trail! She puts herself back together and bows. We trail run. We collect and smell sage. We collect quartz specimens. We look at beetle tracks on trees. During snack time there’s a brief demonstration of how to sight using a compass. While we have been on this hike in the past, the added element of a naturalist provides a layer of depth to our environment and the flora and fauna that reside here. It becomes at once more magical and more concrete.

Imagine having the good fortune to discover a wise sage or elder that could guide you into nature. The stories of children who are accepted and made parts of tribes where they run barefoot across the wilds conjure visions of great and gentle knowledge and wisdom being transferred to a lucky individual. While there isn’t exactly a surplus of wise sages waiting around to be discovered, you can very easily introduce educational and skill-building aspects to your family nature club.

How to Add Education and Skill Building to Your Events

Adding education and skill building to your events will vary a great deal depending on where you are located and kind of group you organize. There are a great number of options, whether your group is a private independent group, a public but independent group, a non-profit organization, or a group as part of a larger organization. In some cases, you can organize educational and skill building that is fee-based, and in other cases you can accomplish this freely.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Public naturalist programs often exist on your city, county, state, and federal lands. Search the websites of these organizations to determine if they have programs offered for groups like yours. Frequently, you can work with these organizations to set up a special event for your group, or join an existing one.

Private programs are offered by a vast number of organizations working with children. In some cases, these may designed as paid programs that are not well suited for a family nature club. But often these organizations are flexible and open to setting up something unique for your group, and sometimes for nominal fees. Contact them to find out what kind of events could be designed, whether at their property or elsewhere. Organizations tend to develop their programs based on feedback from customers, so you should find an eagerness to collaborate on designing a custom program, if even as a way for that organization to better understand what customers want. As mentioned, there may be some flexibility with the price as well if it is understood that parents will be with their children, as that makes it easier for the program operator. When you contact them, explain your goals, introduce your group, and be up front about what kind of fees might be acceptable for the program you want to run.

Volunteer programs provide amazing opportunities for immersion that is otherwise difficult to obtain. Farms are a good example of this, where you can set up an event or find a farm with an existing volunteer day that you can join. Other existing volunteer programs can be found within public lands, such as forest projects for the county or animal habitat restoration (or animal counting!) at larger environments like those found at national parks. In these instances, you may find you can create an event that combines some volunteering, some education, and some play.

Jason’s Picks

Now in my second year of organizing my family nature club, I am just starting to introduce educational and skill-building events, and I’m going slowly! I’m working on all three types of events, including working with the city naturalist program and talking to private program operators for primitive skill-building events, and have made a plan to take our group to a nearby farm this summer where we’ll spend some time doing farm work and then have the rest of the time to explore the fields, play with the chickens, and muck about in the pond. I’m working hard to balance out these kinds of events with my other events so that we continue to spend a lot of unstructured time in nature and not add too much more learning on top of school.

What You’ve Learned

In this chapter, you’ve learned how to add educational and skill-building events to your family nature club by partnering up with other people and organizations.

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