Monday, October 31, 2011

practice moving with stealth

With dry crackling leaves underfoot, and muddy spots perfect for tracking, this week get out, practice moving quietly through the landscape, and tune your senses to the animal world.

Below are just two easy & fun ways to practice "fox-walking" and moving quietly and invisibly.

Go outside with someone - start with one person turning their back, while the other attempts to "stalk" up on them and tap them on the shoulder. The "prey" person can raise their hand if they hear the "predator" stalking up on them.

Next, have one person try closing their eyes or lowering their head to "browse", then suddenly open their eyes (or pick up their head) and see if they notice the "predator" moving toward them. Truly stealthy predators move so softly, and are so aware of their prey, that if the deer picks its head up, it won't even see the hunter moving.

Friday, October 28, 2011

News from the Field & Forest


Heading out with the Dryden after-school program this week, we knew it would be a great day for a fire challenge! With the increased need for heat, the kids started cranking out coals with the friction kits. Soon we had a beautiful fire blazing, and we started coal-burning spoons, bowls, and cups.

At the Belle Sherman Urban Forest Adventures program, the group had an epic hike down to Six-Mile creek. There they nibbled black birch twigs (they taste like wintergreen!), made some rock-paint for face painting, explored fossils in the rocks, looked at different types of wood & leaf shapes, and snacked on Cornellian cherries.

At Youth Nature Awareness Program, our Thursday homeschool program, the Hickory Clan (mostly 6- and 7-year-old's) made a fire in a cold snowy-rain. They had to burn through a string to drop a surprise suspended in the trees! Once the string burned and the bag dropped, they found all the ingredients to make ash-cakes over the coals of their fire, complete with wild autumn olives to sweeten the dough.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Something fun to do this week

With camouflage and costumes on the mind this week, create your own wild face-paint!

We love making face-paint using charcoal, rocks, old brick or pottery fragments we find in the creek, and clay. Choose a “palette” stone, then grind and rub rocks on the stone. You may be amazed by the colors you’ll find hidden in different sedimentary rocks. Paint faces, arms, other rocks, or paper.

Be creative – what animal do you want to be? Afterward, practice your animal forms - fox-walk to a hiding spot, and use your deer-ears to find who's hiding from you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

News from the Field & Forest

This week up at the Environmental Sentinels class at Ithaca College, Tim and Jed taught the students how to use igneous rocks for rock-boiling. In the photo above, they're cooking in a pumpkin!

The students are also carving their own bowdrill kits, as they learn about making friction fires.

Environmental Sentinels, now in its fourth year, was started by Tim Drake, Jed Jordan, and Jason Hamilton. It is a required course for Environmental Studies majors at Ithaca College.

Tim and Jed refer to it as "Primitive Pursuits for college students."
From 3-year-olds to college students and beyond - it's always a good time to put in some "dirt time."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Oh, for a place to sit...

What is a sit-spot?

The sit-spot is an important naturalist routine that we try to layer in to as many of our programs as possible. As instructors, we try to practice it in our own lives. It provides an opportunity to be still and present in a spot in nature, to observe how it changes over time, and a chance to interact with the natural world in a very different way.

Usually, we talk about sitting long enough to reach “baseline,” which is the time when the forest tends to return to the state that it was in before you arrived and set off all those robin and chipmunk alarms. However, when introducing a sit-spot to a youth participant, we want to set the stage for a successful and fun experience.

One way to ease into a sit-spot for younger children is to use the time as a game. Start with them pretending to be a baby fawn that needs to hide quietly while the “coyote” sneaks by. If you, the adult, are the coyote, after you hear them settle into their hiding spot, let them hide for a solid 45 seconds before you prowl past. Next round, maybe you can let them hide even longer. Ask them if they saw or heard anything while they were hiding – you’ll be amazed at the bugs and treasures they find when crouched under a honeysuckle.

Invite them to make the spot special – tie a feather to a tree branch or plant. Ask them what was different about that tree today, or what direction the wind was blowing the feather? Maybe they would like to build a miniature shelter for the gnomes or mice that live around their spot.

Send them on “errands” to their spot – ask them to bring back 3 different leaves from their spot. Or leave a gift - let them hang a bird-feeder, or leave a pile of acorns or apples to see who visits their spot.

For older students, challenge them to stay longer. Maybe they can take a compass and mark the four directions with special items: rocks, feathers, or bones they’ve found. Let them take a craft that occupies their hands, such as cordage or weaving. For more advanced students, you may consider letting them tend their own fire – set a small ring of stones as a parameter for a small fire, so they need to tend it more often and carefully.

Most importantly, be excited with them. Celebrate their discoveries and ponder over their mysteries. The biggest hurdle to overcome is going regularly – encourage perseverance. Better yet – go to your own spot!

I can’t wait to hear the stories!

p.s. Hungry for more? You and your family can join us in taking the Sit-Spot challenge this month!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

News from the Field & Forest

Have you ever wondered what we're up to out there? Last week we presented programs to over 300 individuals, ranging in ages from 3 to 18. Here's a brief glimpse of some of some recent Primitive Pursuits forest-dwelling fun...

On Wednesday, Primitive Pursuits joined with Earth Arts and several other outdoor educators to present at the Lehman Alternative Community School fall retreat in the Arnot Forest. Activities included creating and using a solar compass, lost-proofing tricks, friction fire practice, and plenty more.

We have also been teaching four preschool classes each week at Bright Horizons. Last week we made wild grape juice, and this week we are working on making cattail mats with a simple loom.

With our home-learners, the Youth Nature Awareness Program at 4-H Acres, we have started two large projects - a mini long-house, and a cob oven. In the photo above you can see the first layers - stone & wood base, fire-stone, and sand form. We'll be covering the sand with clay, which will harden to be the interior wall of the oven.

During Hunter-Gatherer Days, the two school break days over Columbus Day weekend, we had about 40 students in the woods each day - we built shelters and fires, processed wild foods, made wooden spears with feather fletching, practiced stalking, and played lots of games.

What's coming next?
Stay tuned for more news from the field & forest next week!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bioluminescence all over

A couple weeks ago I had the delight of spending 4 days on an island off the coast of Maine with some old dear friends, and a whole passel of new ones. The crowd was mostly adults, people who care about the natural world, ready to embrace the chance to enjoy the wonders of creation on this wilderness vacation together.

Despite being surrounded by 9-foot tides, granite boulder cobbled beaches, harbor seals visible on far shores, and interesting birds on the water (who saw the guillemot?) – nothing created such a stir as the announcement Rose made around the campfire one night.

“Have you seen the bioluminescence?”


“You HAVE to go. Take my canoe – just go!”

Thus began the frenzy. In the span of 24 hours, nearly every guest had either paddled a canoe in pitch blackness or simply plunged into the 60-degree water to experience the wonder of it – glowing sparkles that moved with the currents, lighting like fireflies any time the water was disturbed. We were told that they were dinoflagellates, micro-organisms that show themselves during the months of August & September when the conditions are right. But that barely mattered – we were mesmerized and needed to share this phenomenon with everyone on the island.

As soon as each “convert” would leave the water, they would dash off to find someone – anyone- who perchance had not yet seen the magic and glory. “Have you seen the bioluminescence?” became the new greeting in our world of wonders.


This morning I had the delight of leading two groups of preschoolers in the woods for an hour. We sang songs, told a story, and built upon our “nest” shelter. But mostly we explored the woods around us. And, as my co-instructor stated – it was like bioluminescence all over the place.

Every single hole or burrow, red, orange, or green leaf was cause for exclamations and celebration. They would yell to their friends and teachers to share in their discovery and joy. Upon finding a fuzzy white caterpillar, one little girl would not let the group leave until every single person had experienced it. “We found a creature!” one little boy shouted.

Snail-pace crawling to examine a spider web, then lightening-speed dashes to be the first to climb on a stump – we scoured the small woods-plot. In the next moment, they were off again – approaching the world fully expecting to find amazing treasures all around.

After my time with these young ones, I returned to our program office to check emails and answer phone calls. As I kicked off my muddy shoes, I pondered – there was no need to feign enthusiasm or ask the children to share their excitement. Is it in our nature to wonder, and is it in our nature to need to share this wonder in order to fully experience it? What can we learn from these little ones?

Perhaps in our genes or in our cultural memory there exists some need to maintain this balance – each wonder shared before another can be absorbed. What if we lose our ability to experience wonder as we stifle our awe and amazement?

So perhaps community is a tool – a tool to draw you toward wonders and point out fuzzy creatures, but also a tool to extract the wonders from your hands, a container to hold it for you - freeing you to go dive in and find more.

Heidi Bardy lives with her partner in a yurt outside of Ithaca N.Y. and spends many days of the year in the forest getting dirty with children through her work with Primitive Pursuits.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Danby summer camps look to make local kids healthier and more ecologically aware

From Broader View Weekly on Thursday, May 26, 2011
By Andrew Casler

With the longstanding trend of Americans spending the majority of their time inside, local summer camps are working to increase connectedness with nature among children.

In Danby, there are two environmental education summer programs for children: Primitive Pursuits and Earth Arts. These programs foster tangible connections with nature by teaching wilderness survival techniques, naturalist skills and imparting ecological knowledge.

Brian Fowler said that outdoor education is a way to keep his kids healthy within a world that offers many unhealthy influences – such as video games and television. His four children have attended Primitive Pursuits, and his 9-year-old son, Avery, will be attending summer camp in Danby.

Fowler said he appreciates having the summer camps offered in Danby, and that nature is an essential part to his children’s development. He also said that environmental education has helped his kids maintain interest in outdoor activities.

“So rather than devolving in front of the television they get outside,” Fowler said. “I like knowing that my kids are making friends with other local Danby kids in an environment that I consider to be healthy and beneficial.”

Indeed, similar sentiments have been expressed by American Medical Association studies. According to a 2005 study titled, "Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children: Looking Beyond Fitness and Fatness to Attention, Affiliation and Affect," outdoor play is beneficial for the physical health of children. Time outside also helps children develop traits ranging from creativity and problem solving skills, to increased self-awareness and stress reduction.

Primitive Pursuits Program Coordinator Heidi Bardy said outdoor time helps kids recognize their own connections to animals and people alike, “Whether they’re being taught a skill outside, or even if they’re just out there playing.”

Bardy sees a sense of empathy develop from outside time. She says this affective knowledge develops from caring for nature, “I think [empathy] is immediately transferable into how they relate to other humans beings, which is a piece that is missing from the indoor environment,” Bardy said.

Outdoor learning seems to be a symbiotic relationship. Children who learn outside tend to gain empathetic attitudes, and in return those kids can develop life-long connections to nature and act as stewards who may protect natural lands.

Danby itself is an ecologically important area. Jennings Pond is the site of a major divergence in water flow; one current can be traced north to Cayuga Lake and then eventually into the North Atlantic, and another can be traced south to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Danby is also a diverse natural area, with wetlands and cattail marshes, mixed forests, resurging unfarmed fields and the home of several sensitive plant species.

According to a 2010 study by The Outdoor Foundation titled, “Outdoor Recreation Participation Report,” outdoor recreation participation among 6 to 12-year olds has slipped since 2006. In 2009 only 62 percent of 6 to 12-year-old children reported participation in outdoor recreation. Conversely, the study found that people who identified as outdoor participants wished to protect undeveloped lands at a greater rate than non-participants.

Earth Arts Lead Mentor Julie Kulik said that connecting kids with nature is an excellent way to get students motivated to protect the environment. She sees her mentees developing into conscientious adults, “We hear through parents that kids will carry these lessons on in their adult lives.” Kulik said, “They carry on that connection to nature and then strive to save it.”

For more information please visit:

Earth Arts

Monday, June 6, 2011

Primitive Pursuits Family Field Day

Primitive Pursuits host its annual family field day in mid May at 4-H Acres, 418 Lower Creek Road in Ithaca, NY.

The field day offers free workshops for kids and adults that include hands-on activities in wilderness survival, outdoor living and nature awareness. The event is held rain or shine.

Again a big thank you to all of our sponsors and volunteers for helping us make Primitive Pursuits Day this year so phenomenal!

This great field day is owed to the many organizations and individuals who donated their time and skills.

Thank you to our sponsors at Gimme! Coffee, GreenStar, the Ithaca Bakery, McNeil’s Music and Napoli Pizzeria. As well as the highly skilled people at CNY Wildcrafters, Earth Arts, Hawk Circle and Lime Hollow Nature Center. Special thanks to Jeff Gotlieb, Becca Harber, Suzanne Johnson, Jeff Joseph, Linda Spielman and the staff & friends of Primitive Pursuits who volunteered their time to make this event possible.

You can view an additional story about the event in the Ithaca Times, or our laurel in The Ithaca Journal.

Primitive Pursuits is currently gearing up for summer camp season. Please visit our summer camp registration page for more information.Click here!