Our educational philosophy is built on the concept of nature mentoring. We encourage learners to develop a deep sense of place through understanding their role in the natural world.
We believe that the more we get in touch with the natural rhythms of nature, the more we tune in with our own rhythms. By building trust, modelling positive behaviours, and inspiring deep connection to the land, our aim is to empower young learners to feel confident, aware, empathetic and connected to their community.
We are guided by the learners' passions, and we customize our programming around each unique group of students, based on their interests, needs and desires. We believe strongly in fostering curiosity and we strive to hold space for learners to come to answers at their own pace.
"I remember when my son was about three, in the constant questioning stage. Trying to be a good mother, I dutifully answered every question with some informative explanation.
Then one day in the middle of another train of questions and answers, he suddenly wailed up at me, "Mom, DON'T ANSWER!" and he burst into tears of outrage.
I was stunned, but crouching down to hug his tears away, I realized that he didn't want my answers. All those questions were a plea to come into his world with him, at his level, to join with him in his curiousity."
- Ellen Haas, co-author of Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature
We integrate the 8-shields model of teaching in our work, developed by Jon Young. We plan our programming with the honoring of the 8 directions beginning in the EAST (inspiration), moving through to the Northeast (celebration). Each direction indicates some key ideas and focuses for the day which support whole & integrative program design. See diagram below.
The inspirations for our philosophy are drawn from an array of great teachers, mentors, and elders including:
Many local Yukon First Nations knowledge keepers, trappers and elders
Q: Why don't I understand all these new things my child is talking about after program? A: They're speaking in Forest Language!
Our focus on land learning, mentorship, and sensory awareness informs the types of activities and routines we plan with our groups. There may be some new lingo that your child is using when they come home from program, so we’ve listed some of the key terms you might want to know a little more about:
Art of Questioning Have you ever been so curious about something that you almost couldn’t contain yourself? Imagine if you were enthralled with a new plant you’d never seen before, and then a leader walked by and said, “Oh ya, that’s just a crocus.” Would you still feel that amazing sense of wonder? At Rivers to Ridges, we will ask guiding questions that deepen curiosity and prompt the kids to get closer to the flower, more excited about the bird, more engaged with the insect. If a kid says, “What’s this called?” you can respond in ways that feed into their spirit of discovery. What colours or textures do you see? Where did you find it? Have you looked at it up close? Does it have a smell? What do you think it’s related to? These are just some of the kind of questions we might ask as we discover the world alongside the kids.
Bird Language Have your ever heard a bird and wondered what they’re saying? Bird Language teachings allow us to notice the different calls that birds make for different reasons. If you know the four types of ‘baseline’ calls (adolescent begging calls, courtship calls or songs, companion calls, and territorial calls) that make up a typical forest soundscape, then you’ll notice when their fifth call (an alarm call) is used. Once you start to notice alarm calls, you’ll be ‘in’ on the forest signals letting you know that something of importance is going on. Maybe some chickadees found an owl, or a raven has noticed a fox walking by. If we listen to the birds, it’s more likely that we’ll see the owl and the fox.
Exploratory Play Do you ever just want some free time to explore the forest? We do too. It’s crucial for kids to have time to let their imagination run wild, and that’s why we have exploratory play time almost every day of program. Kids may create their own games, check out guidebooks, sculpt with snow, practice skills for the day, or have an extended Sit Spot. All of it is valuable time spent in nature.
Friction Fires Have you ever tried to make fire by “rubbing two sticks together”? While that’s a pretty simplified description, it is possible (with the right tools and the right form). Your child may practice using a Bow Drill in our programs (a fire kit that include a fire bow, a spindle, a fire board, a hand-hold, and a fire bundle or nest) to try and create a flame using only natural materials and perseverance. We won’t always be sustaining fires by building them up (depending on our location), but, if your child is very dedicated and focused, they may experience the joy of watching their hard-earned ember blossoming into a flame right before their eyes. Staff will always be present when this skill is being practiced.
Opening & Closing Circle + Story of the Day You want to feel confident in what is going on for the day, heard when you share something significant that was part of your ‘story’ for the day, and sent off feeling great about returning the next day. That’s why we open and close with group circles, and also allow participants to share their experiences in different ways throughout our programs. Story of the Day allows participants to integrate their learning in different ways, and to share their insights and discoveries with the group so that we can all deepen our understanding and curiosity.
Forest Names & Medallions Like many people, maybe you have a plant or animal (or fungus, place, natural phenomenon, etc.) that you feel connected to in some way. In our longer programs, you’ll be encouraged to think deeply about what in the natural world you connect with and why. When you’re ready, you’ll announce your Forest Name to the group and design a medallion (round piece of wood that will hang around your neck each day) to show off your Name to the group. (So if your child sees us outside of program and calls out, “Hi Yarrow! Hi Rabbit!” and we say “Hey Penguin!” or “Hey Tree Master!”, you’ll know why).
Sensory Awareness (Owl Eyes, Deer Ears) Sensory awareness is the ability to receive finely tuned input from each of our five senses (and a whole range of others!). If you spend a lot of time in a city environment, your senses have probably been dulled down as certain survival-based pressures are removed. It’s not true for everyone, but it may be true for you. Using animals as our guides, we will encourage you to develop your senses, and challenge and test your awareness through activities like Owl Eyes (a group of challenges that use our peripheral vision) and Deer Ears (games and activities that test our sense of hearing, often by using blindfolds to dampen our, typically, dominant sense of sight).
Sit Spots Imagine being able to find a spot in the forest (within eyesight of the leaders) that feels like your own special place. Every day you get to go there to sit quietly for some time (5, 10, 20+ minutes) and watch the environment around you change and move. You might be listening for bird calls, drawing a special plant in your nature journal, or simply sitting and letting your awareness open up when other distractions are removed. When you’re called back to the group, you get to share something amazing you noticed while you were visiting your spot. Doing this over and over again allows you to get to know one place really well, and to process everything that’s happened that day. It also allows quiet time to let the birds and animals get used to your presence. We could go on, but that’s a Sit Spot in a nutshell!
Stalking & Silent “Fox” Walking Can you walk silently in the woods? Most of us think we can, but it’s seldom true. Try sneaking up on someone in the woods to see for yourself. Fox Walking is the name given to the practice of walking in silence through the forest, and it’s an enjoyable challenge. Walking silently allows you to see more undisturbed wildlife and to be hyper aware of the land you’re walking on. There are lots of game we use to practice this skill, and now you’ll know what your kid means when they say they were practicing their Fox Walk.
Wildcrafting/Medicinal & Edible Plants Imagine knowing which plants make medicine or which ones are edible. Maybe you know lots already (some of our kids certainly do), but it seems that there’s always more to know. In certain programs and in certain seasons, there are different plants available to work with as materials (for weaving or other crafts), as medicine (like salves or teas), and as food (like berries or leaves). We follow a careful routine of having kids prove their ability to identify plants before ever consuming them, and we encourage in-depth curiosity about the special properties of many plants.
Why does understanding these routines matter? When the families are able to connect with the child about their experiences on the land, the child is able to share more fully. Hopefully this information allows you to better understand some of the terminology they may be coming home with. Keep the conversation going at home, and watch your youngster flourish (they may even teach you a thing or two)!
“There was a time when you journeyed on foot over hundreds of miles, walking fast and often traveling at night, traveling nightlong and napping in the acacia shade during the day, and stories were told to you as you went.
In your travels with an older person you were given a map you could memorize full of lore and song, and also practical information. Off by yourself you could sing those songs to bring yourself back. And you could maybe travel to a place that you’d never been, steering only by songs you had learned.”
- Gary Snyder, “Good, Wild, Sacred,” in The Practice of the Wild