Celebrating winter solstice

Winter solstice is here, the longest night of the year. Time to look back on the past year, to be grateful for all the good and the challenging experiences and time to celebrate! We met around the fire to share stories and food, as well as love and joy. Moon and stars were dancing while Mother Earth slept, covered in a white blanket. The bird people sent their greetings – wild geese flying south at midnight, a robin watching our breakfast.

Good bye, 2021! CT

EWM Pre-Christmas Camp

Before Christmas European Wilderness Mentors in their third and last year of training are following their own aspirations at our spot on Hermannswerder in Potsdam. This is what we are doing presently: Burning bowls, carving Christmas trees, making nettle string, throwing ancient hunting sticks, making fire with bow drills and pump drills, manufacturing foldable saws (see May 2021 blog), reading animal tracks, playing animal form games not only to keep warm, telling stories, cooking for the whole pack over the open fire and most of all enjoying each other´s presence. AP

Step by step instruction how to carve a Xmas tree

European Wilderness Mentors on Summer Friluftsliv Tour in Sweden

In August course instructors as well as future European Wilderness Mentors went on a Friluftsliv summer experience to Sweden. As in the years before we were hosted for three weeks by Sjöviks Folkhögskola in Folkärna. The mobility was funded by Erasmus+ programme. Swedish Friluftsliv mentors in training were taking us up north for a canoe trip on Dalälven river, a crafts week at the cabin camp Nysätersvallen as well as a 5 day hike in Vedungsfjället Nature Reserve. This hands on learning experience provided us with numerous skills for a simple and comfortable life outside. Paddling techniques, manoeuvering, capsize training, splitting wood, making fire, carving, fishing, food planning, navigating, building camp, open fire cooking are only some examples. Some of the participants changed visibly during the stay in close contact with their group and the elements. That trip has given us lots of impulses for our work at childcare and youthwork settings in our region as well as for a Coyote Camp in November (see blog entry before). AP

Coyote camp for youngsters

Early November European Wilderness Mentors of BSH der Hoffbauer gGmbH organised a wilderness camp for their own children or younger siblings. A mixed age group of kids (4-12 years) spent a day and a night outside in the area of Seddiner See south of Potsdam. The camp was set up on a meadow embedded in forests. After a check in to tune in to the place the children could choose from different activities where they could acquire creative skills (making dreamcatchers or braiding bracelets) as well as basic wilderness skills (orienteering, fire making, wood chopping, knots, building bow and arrow). The kids were really into it and the mentors could observe child passion and flow moments. After cooking over the open fire it was time for a treasure hunt. The youngest kid proudly carried the map and the older ones were using compasses to find the way. A shaman and a hedge witch were giving clues by telling a story about the treasure of Pico di Bello a long gone robber who broke with his family and turned into a naturalist. When the box was found at last by the youngsters it provided useful things for the naturalist: a selection of mini field guides, dried mosses, an ancient quill for writing which was tried out later and Pico´s wisdom messages written on autumn leaves. When dusk came in it was time for a night hike. The pack followed a wolf track and walked in silence to be able to see animals. Thermal imaging helped to spot deer in the distance. Not only the children meant to see a wolf sitting nearby the scene watching the deer. AP   

Bees and trees and pandemic stipulations

I must admit, I´m fed up with pandemic stipulations. Period. At home we are less affected and can work our way around them. But at work in an urban kindergarten with a rather blank outdoor area and without the opportunity to bring the children to places with more nature … my, it´s a real challenge!

Believe it or not – wilderness pedagogics can still help, even in settings where you have to squint very hard to find an ounce of wilderness. I find myself adapting and using wilderness games or mentoring tools increasingly often and with good success.

Some weeks ago, we were learning about bees. We would see the combs, craft bees from pinecones, dry leaves and felting wool, taste honey and sing some bee songs.

But the most fun we had with an animal forms game. I arranged some folded paper flowers across the room, each with a tiny cup and some water inside. A bigger cup was declared as the honeycomb and placed in the hive (a low shelf in the corner). The children received small pipettes and magically transformed into bees. They were so eager to collect all the nectar with their pipettes and to bring it home to the hive!

Another great game is called tree tag. The catcher dubs a kind of tree (birch, oak, maple…) as the safe haven, counts to a suitable number to give the others a head start and everybody tries to reach a safe tree while the catcher tries to catch them.

 As we have only 5 very small fruit trees in our outdoor playground, we had to adapt the rules. Last week we were dealing with the topic of colours, so we used colours for the haven. But the game should work as well with other topics (like for instance different shapes, different materials, something to climb on, something to use with your hand), too.

At the very least the children have a great game of tag with the bonus of some focused attention to different aspects of their surroundings.

In my case the children were soon running all over the place and spotting even the tiniest flecks of safe colours. And they could adhere to the rules easily, which is a real bonus and a sign for a true natural game.

So, let´s bring wilderness games inside!

The wild creatures we are at heart will love it. CT

Foldable saw out of greenwood

Some years ago I made my own Bo Weslien style model of a foldable outdoor saw at Sjövik Folkhögskola. Having no machines at hand back home for high precision wood engineering I was thinking of making a copy of it out of green wood and traditional tools: a froe for splitting a small log to get both handles; axe, shavehorse and drawknife for shaping the handles, carving knife for making the peg, tenon cutter for cutting both tenons at the end of the cross brace that goes into both handles.

Tools from front to back: Japanese saw, froe, carving knife, drawknife, axe, tenon cutter

Freshly cut maple wood was at hand. The two slots for taking up the sawblade I did with a Japanese saw. The exact position of the holes for the sawblade are given on the packing. Holes need to be only slighthly smaller than the fullthread screws to avoid splitting! Before screwing them in, fix the sawblade with a bolt or a nail opposite where the screw goes in, otherwise it might not meet the exact position in the slot which can result in splitting the handle. While screwing the handle part with the slot needs to be clamped to avoid splitting. Two more holes to take up the Paracord and the sawblade can be tightened. Sawing with it is light work and great fun.

Sjövik´s Model (in the back) and first non-foldable greenwood version in the front
Carving the peg with an axe

A good project with children or youths. Once you have gone through the tricky bits it might only take about 3 hours to make such a saw out of greenwood.

Making it foldable…

meant a bit of measuring and calculating for a shorter crossbar. I shaved a log of Robinia wood one side to take up the tenons. I also shaved the tips of the crossbar for which I used a log of maple. Then I cut the tenons and did the slots for the blade. To protect the blade when folding the saw I needed to cut a slot all along the back of the handle (last picture). I used a Japanese whaleback saw for that. Handles could have been a tad longer and I should have sticked to the position of the holes as in my first try. Next time.

All in all it is quite compact now but it feels a bit heavy for taking it on tour. I might get rid of some of the material by shaving the crossbar and handles. But in that case it would loose some of its rustic charme.

Animal Forms for pre-schoolers – Bird family

Let the children team up as bird parents or eggs/chicks. Help the “bird parents” build a makeshift nest from twigs, grass, or pillows, whatever you have available. Then place the “eggs” into the nest, have the children kneel there and make themselves very small.

Instruct the bird parents to warm the eggs with their wings (arms) and to include all the eggs (stroke over their backs). Tell them to listen very carefully, maybe the chicks inside the eggs will start chirping at some point. Time to hatch!

Newly hatched chicks must stretch their bodies after all this time cramped up in an eggshell. And now it´s feeding time for busy bird parents! The chicks are chirping and demanding food. You could provide some peanuts, raisins, or the like, but children can play make-believe even without those helpers.

After some feeding rounds you should encourage the chicks to try their own wings and fly about with the parents.

To calm all the excited birdies down, announce nightfall, when chicks and parents come back to their nest and sleep cuddled up, warm and safe.

My kindergarten group couldn´t get enough of this idea and we had to play bird family several days in a row! CT

Unravelling the mystery

On a walk near some flooded meadows and reeds I found an eggshell. I´m not sure if it´s from a swan or a goose, both are known to breed there and both the size and colour of the eggs can be almost alike.

But the time of year and surrounding tracks presented a nice puzzle – it was much too early in spring to be hatched already. More likely a predator had snatched it from the nest.

I´m actually quite frustrated with the pandemic and accompanying restrictions due to which my urban kindergarden group couldn´t go on a trip to the forest for more than a year.

But why not bring the mystery inside?

I thought this could prove an excellent opportunity to introduce field guides to the children. So, I took some pictures of the tracks and the egg and the next morning found my little trackers and me engrossed in a field guide and wondering what might have happened out there.

Our best guess is a racoon stealing and eating the egg. Maybe you can come up with a better idea? CT

Weaving a basket

For a nature reconnection day with our course we had the idea to weave little baskets for collecting herbs with our mentees.  

We were trying different materials. Blackberry vines seemed rather suitable after getting rid of the stings. For that we were using an empty tin in which we had drilled a 5mm hole into the base. We cut long blackberry vines and pulled them through the hole. While doing so we had to move the vine into all directions and the stings fell off.

Now we could bind the vines into a ring (wreath like shape). Then 4 rods were pulled from one edge to the other edge of the ring. They later formed the base for the grid. Start the next vine from outside crosswise to the 4 base stems and weave it in turns (alternating) over and under the base stems. At the edge just wind it around the wreath and secure the end within the wreath. Go on witn this until the whole base is covered. At the beginning you can define the shape dy moving the basic framework.

It was similarly by using hop vines whereas even here the more sturdy blackberry vines made the base grid.

Stinging nettle is a good material for weaving small baskets. I picked some taller grown nettles with gloves and took off the leaves. They can later be used for tea or soup. After that I beat up the stems with a stone until they got soft. Hence the fibres broke and the stems could be bent or woven more easily without breaking. Again a ring was shaped and here I included a little handle. As for the other baskets put stems from one edge to the other edge of the ring and hide the ends. SG


Seize the opportunity! Or: Tracking for youngsters

Usually we get very little snow in my region during the winter. So when we found ourselves in a snow-covered world last week, the children in my kindergarten group were really  excited and we decided to go for a walk to a park in our neighbourhood. 
Under normal conditions this park is  quite dull but snow has some magical abilities. 
We found lots of tracks and the questions just bubbled up – who left them and where did they go? We had a good look at the tracks, noticing the balls, toes and claws – a wolf? A cat? More likely a dog. And these smaller tracks? Surely they were made by a cat? But look, there are claw marks, too… 
Soon I had a group of 3 and 4 year olds tracking first one dog across the lawn, then another, gaining insights and confidence along the way. What a joy to watch the little trackers with their red cheeks and bright eyes! CT