Wednesday, September 18, 2019

From Jordana, Trackers Storyteller

Summer is nearly upon us, which means we’re all planning, preparing, and scheduling in order to squeeze the maximum amount of fun into time away from school. And while planning all the activities for kids means they are likely to have a blast, we recognize that this requires work from parents. So, we at Trackers want to reemphasize that the Trackers Village isn’t just for kids, it’s for you too. Our community of dedicated, compassionate educators are here to steward the next generation of thoughtful, connected individuals. And, we’ll do it together. How is the Trackers Village here for you?

Many Options for Engagement One weekend a month? One week in the summer? After school? You and your kids are busy, so join us whenever you can, during the summer, school breaks, and throughout the year. Flexible Pick Up and Drop Off – Trackers now has seven drop-off locations for summer programs, flexible early hours, and affordable after-care.

Resources & Connections Did your kid come home raving about a new skill? Are you now on the hunt for fishing holes in your area? Our staff is a wealth of information, tips, and tricks for helping your family get outside and expand on all our Trackers skills. From gear recommendations to trip ideas and everything in between, we’d love to connect you further to Portland’s awesome array of outdoor enthusiasts.

Community Events Throughout the year, Trackers offers community events, open to the public, to engage with Trackers skills. Adult Classes – Wilderness adventures aren’t just for kids. Trackers offers adult programs and classes including blacksmithing, wilderness survival, homesteading & folk crafts, instructor training, and so much more.

Most importantly, we want you to know that we are a part of your community, a part of the extended Village that is here to raise our children. Bringing your kids to Trackers is so much more than just another summer camp; it’s an investment in your children and in our community of support.

Even as we’re supposed to be more connected, our world can feel more isolated. A former surgeon general once called it a public health crises.

With our on-the-go schedules, it’s often challenging for kids to make friends. The world doesn’t always allow our children to free range together. We’re told they can’t roam parks and school offers less play and more work.

Yet children need free play to hone lifelong skills of resilience, resolving conflicts, and, most importantly, making friends. At our camps, we focus on creating an extended community of support, developing “friending skills” through shared adventures.

Everything is about connection. It needs to go beyond just learning outdoor skills. We understand that kids join Trackers—and parents send them—to discover or reconnect with friends. They also come to build a relationship with the wilderness.

We work to reclaim that connection to nature with very unique teaching methods. The modern outdoor education movement is fantastic, but when it’s only geared towards a sport or academic, we reduce ourselves to tourists of the wilderness.

Sure, our camps teach survival, fishing, archery, kayaking, and rock climbing; yet those adventures are only vehicles through which they get to know the more-than-human world. Trackers campers are always “tracking” in the forest, and this helps kids feel a part of nature, not just a visitor.

This is a core value for us: the more you track or learn about an animal, plant, or person, the more you care about them. Empathy is at the root of building community. I learned this with my own children: Robin (8 years), Annie (5 years), and Maxine (3 years).

With the right training from the Trackers Community, my three kids free range and never feel lost or alone in the forest. They know the local elk herd whose trails they easily follow, even across hard to track ground. They have personal names for individual trees, birds, or wildflowers.

This is an essential feeling of familiarity, of extended family. Our purpose is to help all children discover their own innate sense of belonging in the natural world. And with that same connected empathy, learn to create greater friendships in the human one.

All the best,
Tony Deis

Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

An extended community is crucial to raising children. As a parent, I’ve experienced the need for support from family, neighbors, and educators. Our children grow by learning from many different mentors. Tony and I started Trackers Earth in 2004 with a common purpose:

Greater connection to community, nature, our heritage, and future.

It is our community of teachers that makes Trackers special. Many camp programs only hire instructors for summer, which limits who can teach for them. Yet, along with a fantastic seasonal staff, we work to create an educational network that employs more and more teachers throughout the year. As a result, our Village of educators brings experience and responsibility to the journey of helping to raise our children.

A Village thrives through reciprocity: getting support and giving support. Since our founding, so many parents and students have supported us, spreading the word and growing Trackers into one of the largest outdoor programs in Oregon and beyond. In turn, our teachers and I promise to work every day to fulfill that community promise towards greater connection for all generations and the future.

Thank you and see you in the forest,

Molly
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom

I was 14 years old and reading Walden. About three-quarters of the way through the book, I said to my parents:

This high school thing isn’t working for me, I need to do something different. I’m going to explore the wilderness.

They offered no argument and zero debate. Instead, they went about helping me figure out how to make it happen. My mother and father saw that I was suffering during my Freshman year. I found prescriptive education stifling, evidenced by my (possibly pretentious) interest in 19th-century transcendentalism. The strict compartmentalization of conventional classrooms felt painful. Moreover, I was consistently bullied and struggled socially.

But in nature, there was no edict limiting what I could explore and who I could learn from. There were no fluorescent lights pushing my face into a desk. And no one to tease me when I didn’t know the latest band or wasn’t a star Sportsball player.

Eventually, I discovered Forest Craft. My goal: learn the skills that bring me closer to the Wild. My family couldn’t afford to send me to a class across the country or buy books on the subject. Yet what they lacked in financial resources they more than made up for in love and encouragement.

Because Forest Craft is both so deep and so broad, it can be a challenge to learn without teachers. There were no outdoor homeschool programs that I knew of. This was long before bushcraft videos on YouTube. All I had was my bike and a library card.

That process of self-education often proved more profound than answers from a ready-made curriculum. Eventually, I helped assemble a growing community of like-minded folks who shared an appreciation for the natural world. Some also left high school with the same vision. We made primitive shelters, surviving the elements with no modern gear. We foraged through seasons of wild foods. We tracked the local bears, getting to know them like they were part of our own village. Together we learned challenging and epic lessons from the wilderness.

Conventional education failed to provide me with healthy social connections, wilder freedom, and deeper roots. My journey may have started out inspired by Thoreau’s solitary rantings by Walden Pond, but with the support of my big Italian Family, we evolved into a village. And, at some point along the way, we started to call it Trackers. Twenty-eight years later, I feel privileged to be part of that community with our staff and the families we serve.

I know there is a better way for children to grow and learn than the prescriptive education forced upon us. My own children learn through their connection to nature and the freedom it brings. Their “home school days” are often spent wandering the forest, sometimes without an adult. They talk about plants and animals in those woods like they are old friends. And they’re surrounded by more than just teachers, they have mentors who I consider their extended family.

That’s the goal of all our year-round programs, from our Homeschool Outdoor Program to our Weekend Apprenticeships: Give every kid a connection that goes beyond school. Help them find a vision that empowers many generations beyond their own adventures in learning.
See you in the woods,

Tony
Trackers Earth, Founder

Dress your kids for success to have fun this winter! Keeping kids comfortable outdoors in all weather helps them appreciate nature and stay active. We put together a handy video and infographic on how to layer to stay warm and dry in cold weather.

Watch the Video

In this video, the Trackers Gear Fairy teaches parents and kids about essential winter clothing.

Read the Infographic

Use this infographic to double check all your layers!

Disclaimer: This blog is from a mom who happens to know her individual kids very well. It does not necessarily reflect exactly how we teach at Trackers Camps.


By Molly Deis, Trackers Founder & Mom

Remember when Calvin, from the Calvin & Hobbes comic, bellowed at his mother to watch TV, ran amok around the house, or, as Spaceman Spiff, blew something up? After which, Calvin’s mom promptly tossed him outside.

When my own kids start to lose it, I do the same thing. Minus the actual tossing.

Love or hate it, most of us have used the classic “time out” when our kids get challenging. However, being sent to your room can be a strange mix of punishment and reward: there are toys, but also four walls (like a classroom… or a prison).

On the other hand, Time-Outside is different. The blue sky doesn’t respond to tantrums. The trees are unmoved by screams. The bugs could care less about your bad mood. There is no audience. All that remains is an outlet for self-creativity in the form of sticks, grass and mud.

There are many pathways to challenging behavior. Maybe the child is bored. Maybe they’re too reliant on us parents for their perceived needs. Maybe they’re bouncing off the walls as a plea for freedom. Or maybe they just choose to be selfish that day. These are all human problems that Nature could care less about.

When you go back far enough, we all had hunter-gatherer ancestors who raised their kids in a world not defined by four walls. Instead, a child’s playroom stretched to the horizon, filled with rivers, meadows, and forest. Children are supposed to start out as selfish with other humans in the family. A child who vocalizes her needs is employing a survival strategy that ensures the tribe feeds and cares for her. Some researchers even suggest crying could be a natural mechanism that helps stave off the birth of additional siblings—additional competition for resources (a phenomenon I’m sure many parents will vouch for).

Parental proximity amplifies this selfish instinct. Research shows that children cry more when they know a parent is around. As vexing as this can be, it demonstrates a healthy and instinctive dependence on essential caregivers. But nature also provides a balance for this. Survival skills for the wilderness helps pull children into autonomy and competent adulthood.

In the hunter-gatherer world, no matter how hard you cry the fish won’t jump onto your hook, the deer won’t walk into your arrow, and the cattail root won’t leap out of the mud and into your basket.

Nature does not reward behavior with the same attention as a parent. While we’re genetically coded to tolerate (to some degree) the pleadings of our own offspring, the rest of nature have no such ties. Birds don’t ask, “Are you okay?” when you’re throwing a fit. Nor do they say, “You’re bad.” They might see you as a threat, watching you and alarming from the trees until you calm down.

Any child attentive to wildlife soon recognizes the importance of attuned senses, stillness, and blending in (camouflage). Thus, by sparking even the most basic interest in Nature, parents can help these “animals teachers” transform their child from human dependent to wilder diplomat.

So, even though nature doesn’t give a fig, it’s incredibly engaging. From the worst tantrum, it rarely takes more than 20 minutes for my kids to calm down once they get outside. Usually far shorter, especially if I’m not right there to be their foil.

The improvement is swift and impressive as four-year-old Annie quickly forgets she needed to watch Wild Kratts. Instead, she embarks on a creature-power-adventure with the actual squirrels in her own yard. The bonus? I have some much-needed peace and quiet to get some work done, like writing this blog! (Though I do peek my head out every so often to confirm she and her brother are still alive.)

In reading this, hopefully you don’t think I’m a callous mother, abandoning her children’s emotional plights to a world of spiders, moles and squirrels. My goal is freedom for my children. Freedom from the stuff in their room. Freedom from me telling them what is right or wrong. Mostly importantly, freedom to discover their own resilience.

Time-Outside works so well, sometimes I give myself one. When I realize I’m not handling parenting as well as I should, I head outdoors to keep the goats company and watch the barn swallows feed their own begging chicks. However, time out in nature shouldn’t be limited to parenting challenges. There are countless reasons to head into the unspoiled, rural or urban wilderness. Go watch the stars. Garden in the dirt. Play in the sprinkler!

When the weather is warm, children should stay outside as much as possible during daylight hours—maybe beyond. Set up a blanket for picnic lunches. Hang a hammock. Suggest they build a stick fort if they crave the “indoors”. The more you keep them outside, the less you’ll see that selfish front kids put up for us as parents. The more you’re outside with them, the happier everyone will be.

So if you do come to my house this summer, please take the driveway slowly. Beware the feral children roaming amok with a certain stuffed tiger named after a comic sitting in their currently empty room.