Saturday, October 3, 2009

Nature Adventure Day

The whole family has just returned from Rockwoods Reservation, having just had one of the best days of fall.  The Dept. of Conservation was hosting on open house of sorts highlighting all the activities available in the park.  

Fritz and I started the morning with a class on compasses.  The gentleman volunteer who taught us should be a homeschooler-- he was so good with the kids.  He had several activities to teach us how to use a compass and why it was necessary to have a reference in the woods.  The kids started by kicking soccer balls in an open field, then they were blindfolded and directed to "find their balls."  (The parents were walking nearby to keep anyone from hazards).    He certainly had all the kids interest at that point.  Next he used a giant compass mock-up to teach us how to get out bearings.

The soccer balls were kicked again and this time the kids used their compasses to get a bearing before being blindfolded.  They couldn't look out in the field, only down at their compass but by keeping the red arrow "in the barn" they all managed to reach their balls.

The next activity involved dropping a silver marker on the ground.  Then the kids set their compasses to 120 degrees and marched out 25 paces.  They dropped a marker and set off on a new heading of 240 degrees for 25 paces.  After dropping their final marker, the set their compasses for a heading of 360 degrees and marched again.  You may have figured out by now that the directions were leading the kids in the path of an equilateral triangle.  If all the computing and measuring was accurate, they should end up where they dropped their first marker.  Fritz finished less than 18 inches from his starting point!!  

Next we headed to a field with scattered trees to follow a regular orienteering course.  Each family was given what sounded like a Chinese proverb. 

 At the starting point were tags with the first words of the proverb, a course setting, and a distance to travel.  All the  tags were on trees so as long as we got our bearings right we didn't have to worry so much about the distance.  Fritz liked this activity so well we had to repeat it 4 times with other proverbs. By then it was time to move on to our next class -- Dutch Oven Cooking.

This was not our first class with the Dutch Ovens, so we were prepared to try one of the harder dishes, but Fritz had made friends with another homeschooled boy assigned to cornbread so we joined them.  All in all we had a three course meal with cornbread, the best chicken enchiladas I've ever had, and brownies for dessert.   There's nothing like hot food on a cold afternoon--although charcoal doesn't quite provide the ambiance of a campfire.

After our assigned classes there were plenty of tents to explore with walk-up activities.  We could identify stuffed birds, snakes, and small mammals for our region, cook biscuits on a stick (which they topped with strawberry preserves), and taste wild foods: hickory nut cookies, black walnut cookies, persimmon pudding, honey, blackberry jam, even mushrooms.  Okay, there was a lot of free food to be had. Can you blame me for being excited?

Finally we heard a lot of noise coming from a nearby shelter.  The kids were making critter keepers.  Someone went to a lot of trouble to cut up wood, screening, and plexiglass and predrill holes for nailing.

Then the kids could decorate with rubber stamps of plants and insects.  Fritz built this by himself (I did have to operate the staple gun to attach the screening, but he helped hold it taut).

There were other classes like a hike to a quarry or exporing a cave (we did this last Spring, see here)  It was such a wonderful day but also bittersweet.  We just learned that due to budget cuts, Rockwoods Reservation will not have staffing to host events like this after next year.  We take classes here every month and often meet other homeschoolers here.  I hope there will be a way to keep these classes and events coming.


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