Anyone who follows Mountain Roots’ social media content may have noticed recent posts about outreach. Indeed, our Spring 2021 Outreach Program is up and running, signaling a major annual pivot for us. This is when we, as an organization, transition from winter administration, curriculum development, and project management to full-swing execution mode (basically over night). It’s always an exciting time for Mountain Roots to take immediate advantage of the warmer, longer days and celebrate western North Carolina’s emergence from hibernation. What a better way to do this than to get as many kids as possible outside!
Outreach is an organization’s point-of-contact with the community at large. For Mountain Roots, this is a multi-institutional endeavor, unified under the common goal of facilitating meaningful outdoor time for kids. This spring, we get to work with staff and students from Brevard Elementary School, Pisgah Forest Elementary School, Rosman Elementary School, and TC Henderson School of Science and Technology.
“Field Trip Day”
Remember when it was “field trip day,” at school and you anticipated getting to have new experiences with your classmates? Personally, I have more memories from class field trips than almost anything else in school. Why? Because these excursions disrupted the monotony of school days, weeks, months and gave us something to tangibly experience together. Things that happened on field trips (whether intended or not) were talked about for years! Unfortunately, the 2020-2021 school year has made it much more difficult to safely execute these adventures. That’s why we believe this program is more important than ever, bringing the field trip experience to school campuses and exposing students to a whole new way of seeing their own school.
As an Outreach Instructor, I speak to a lot of teachers in local schools. I want to get a sense of how they feel about the students’ collective status and how Mountain Roots can support them. In several cases, teachers vocalize the underutilization of outdoor teaching spaces, even though every school in the area has one.
For every Mountain Roots Outreach class, we ask the teacher of that class to come outside with us. This, because you can imagine how helpful it is to have an adult present who knows everyone’s names and tendencies. But something else is happening, too. Teachers participate in the employment of these incredible outdoor spaces and hopefully get ideas in how to perpetuate their use. We hope to create poignant moments where students come up to us after a class and say, “Hey! That was FUN!” That’s right kids, playing outside is actually fun. The world is crazy, adults are stressed, iPads have battery lives, but nature is the playground that never closes.
Mobile Outdoor Ed
The best way I can describe this part of my job is that it is mobile outdoor education. We come to you! The best thing is that this program is 100% free for every student that participates and we would very much like to keep it that way. All kids deserve the opportunity to connect with nature, the community, and themselves through a specialized curriculum. All kids deserve to get a break from classroom walls and screens to breathe some fresh air. All kids deserve to form new memories through novel experiences with their classmates. Mountain Roots’ success can hardly be quantified; it is measured through the joy of the people we serve: the students. (Or, in my case, the follow-up “air high-fives” from kids as they make their way back into the school following a Mountain Roots class).
Winter in western North Carolina usually includes the whole spectrum of precipitation. Some days are cold and blustery, others sunny and breezy, so it can be difficult to make a plan for activities. Once you have exhausted indoor options: baking cookies, holiday-decorating, hot chocolate and movies, you’ll find that the whole crew becomes prone to the stir-crazies. Luckily, there are ways to get the family outside, even with the wintery whiplash that WNC tends to offer.
1- Bird-watching : Going on a walk with your family is a wonderful way to get out of the house and bond with your surroundings. However, some children may struggle with a stroll without the motivation of a “job.” If you have binoculars, now would be the time to dust them off and bring them along. Dress for the weather and enjoy the spectacular bird-watching that WNC has to offer, even in the winter! If multiple kids are involved, bring a notepad along and see who can find the most birds. For older kids, challenge them to differentiate the species. Who can find the highest variety of birds? From Bird Watcher’s Digest, you’re looking for smaller woodland birds like the Chickadee (with its distinctive call), titmice, Cardinals, jays, kinglets, thrushes, and sparrows. You may even get lucky to spot a woodpecker, like the famed Pileated, or a predatory raptor, like the sizable Cooper’s hawk. If you can’t identify a species, don’t worry! The fun is in the journey you get to share with each other. Make note of its characteristics and you can figure it out later. [Foul weather modification: Bird feeders are popular commodities for the avian population this time of year. By setting up a mixed-seed feeder at your house, you’re likely to attract all of these species to you! Winter is an especially great time to hang a suet feeder for woodpeckers, when it’s cold enough to keep the suet’s oily binding a solid. From the coziness of your own house, families can still engage with nature.]
2- Scavenger Hunt : On-theme with incorporating goals into a family outdoor-stroll, scavenger hunts are fun to design and rewarding to execute! This is an excellent opportunity for younger kids to practice identifying properties of nature. For example, “I want you to find me five things: something red, something flexible, something heavy, something soft, and something smooth.” Kids get to connect with nature via their sense of touch and apply words to what they’re experiencing (plus they can practice counting). Bonus: get kids to build a structure with the different materials they have found! They love the activity of trial and error with less-familiar materials and especially appreciate being able to share their constructs. Older kids can be challenged by scavenger lists that entail differentiating species. For example, 5th-8th-grade students could be instructed to find an oak, maple, and a poplar leaf in addition to other items. Ultimately, you know your child best. This activity is an opportunity for guardians to be creative and design a hunt that gets kids engaging with nature! [Foul weather modification: indoor scavenger hunt! List items in your home which are somewhat concealed and challenging to find.]
3- Bouldering : Of the 5 Outdoor Winter Activity suggestions, this option requires the most equipment and preparation. Yet it presents an opportunity of fairly unstructured play. When I was young, growing up in Transylvania County, my parents were constantly trying to keep my sister and I out of the trees (to no avail). They eventually gave up and just told us to be careful. Now, I attribute our full-day tree-climbing adventures to who I am as an adult. All day, kids have adults telling what to do, when, how, and why. Wherein such formatting provides kids with much-needed direction, it wouldn’t hurt to give them the reigns of their lives sometimes, too. For the developing mind and body, climbing is hailed as a superfood. It also just so happens that western North Carolina is brimming with indoor and outdoor climbing opportunities. In particular, bouldering (distinguished from sport rock climbing), requires the least equipment. Climbing shoes, chalk, and a pad will get you and your family out in the woods for many afternoons to come. Moreover, kids get to approach a climbing problem with autonomous fortitude. “You mean, I am actually allowed to climb this and no one will tell me ‘no’?” On a sunny afternoon, it can get up to the mid 40’s or 50’s here in the winter, which is excellent weather for climbing. Check out Pisgah National Forest for boulder fields. For fowl weather, many climbing gyms offer day passes and even lessons for the beginner climbers. My recommendation, do plenty of research and know safety measures before facilitating a climbing session.
4- Snowflake Science : Let’s say we are having one of those white winters that sweeps western North Carolina every few years. The kids are home from school (again), everyone is tired of being on computers and distance learning…sounds like a prime opportunity to get outside. This snowflake science activity is a great way for families to enjoy a snowy day, while learning together! It requires a black paper and a magnifying glass. Put the paper outside in the cold (but not the snow) for about 15 minutes so that it equalizes with the outside temperature. Then, if it is actively snowing, let a few flakes fall on the paper and they should be there for a few moments for you to observe before they melt! You can even sprinkle some snow on the paper (spreading out the flakes as much as possible). Did you know that snowflakes always have 6 sides? It can take up to 100,000 water vapor droplets to create a single snowflake! This activity is adaptable for older children as well, to initiate a discussion about the molecular structure of water and why it is such a cool (and valuable) medium.
5- Hiking : It is no secret that the hiking opportunities in this area are second-to-none. Whether you are a novice hiker, experienced, or something in-between, there will be something here for you. In fact, the challenge lies in choosing hikes that suit you and your family’s ability. Hikes can become definitively not fun for anyone if they turn out to be miles more than you expect. Though we at Mountain Roots tend to limit the amount of condoned technology, I do think it is worth mentioning to download the free “All Trails” app on your smartphone. That way you can decide on a hike from the comfort of your couch, download the map layers before leaving (while you know you have service), and not have to think twice about making a wrong turn on your hike. That being said, a good ol’ fashion paper map may be a great opportunity to teach young ones how to navigate. Bonus: if you have a compass, this also might be a time for kids to learn about the cardinal directions and how to find them! You may be thinking, “Winter? Hiking?…not two things I would typically put together.” Let me tell you from quite a lot of experience: this is the time of year to do it. First of all, despite our instinct to hibernate in our warm homes, we all need to get out. Even the drive to the trail head can be a part of the adventure. Secondly, the spring, fall, and summer are notorious seasons for tourists in the area. Who wants to go hiking when the trails are literally crowded with people from all over the country? And third, winter hiking is beautiful. Icicles form from groundwater sources, waterfalls and rock features are visible from much further away with the loss of deciduous tree leaves, rhododendron leaves close and unfurl based on the temperature, while evergreen ground-cover plants are vibrant among the dead leaves. Views are as spectacular as ever and the family gets to enjoy it together. For easier, sloping hikes and lots of waterfalls, check out DuPont State Forest. Technical hikes that tend to intersect with beautiful water systems are numerous in Pisgah National Forest. Bundle with layers and enjoy the journey!
The great thing about these suggested activities is that they involve creativity by the facilitator. It depends on the severity of the weather, the amount of time you have at your disposal, and your family’s propensity for adventure. However, it is important to disrupt our tendency to rely on indoor exercises, especially when winter in western North Carolina is ripe for exploration!
Here at Mountain Roots, we try to provide as much information as we can on our websites and promotional materials to answer all the questions you might have about our camps, educational programs, and the non-profit itself. This ties into who we are as educators – providing you with the information you need to be successful in any endeavor! However, we know there might sometimes be a question or two that we haven’t covered so that’s why this blog post is all about Mountain Roots FAQ! If there are any questions you still have about Mountain Roots that aren’t covered on our website or this blog post, feel free to reach out to us.
Where does Mountain Roots teach their programs?
Mountain Roots has been all over Transylvania and Henderson counties with our programs. In Transylvania county, we are proud to be part of the yearly curriculum at Brevard Academy and we teach classes there on Wednesdays and Thursdays every week. We also provide outreach programs to Brevard Elementary, Pisgah Forest Elementary, T.C. Henderson Elementary, Rosman Elementary, and the Davidson River School. In Henderson county, we have provided programming to FernLeaf Community Charter School.
In 2020 we will also be offering programs at The Mountain Community School in Henderson County, the Family Place in Brevard and Rosman, Brevard Middle School, Rosman Middle School, and Rise & Shine in Brevard. We love finding opportunities to expand our programming into new schools and organizations!
What kind of programs do you teach?
Mountain Roots teaches hands-on outdoor learning experiences that connect K-8 students to the outdoor spaces in their backyards. Our programs provide intentional opportunities for students to learn in an experiential way during their school day. Our interdisciplinary curriculum enhances classroom learning and incorporates exploration and active play into every lesson.
We partner with schools to design the best experience possible for them. Schools choose which grades they’d like us to work with, how many hour-long lessons they’d like to integrate into their school year, and which lessons best fit their school’s needs.
What grades are your programs suited for?
We typically offer programming for grades K-8 but we can always create a Teams, Leadership, and Character development (TLC) program for high schoolers!
Do you have your own outdoor education center?
We do not! Our programs can be taught anywhere there’s a little bit of outdoor space (or indoor space, since outdoor ed sometimes becomes indoor ed in the rain and cold). This model allows us to travel from school to school and still provide high quality lessons with just a few props. We love being able to take the kids outside and have them explore the land that’s right on their school property!
How do you fund your programs?
Grants, grants, and more grants. Running a non-profit is all about finding the right grants, private donors, and corporate sponsors in order to fund our programs and help us expand into new schools. Our outreach programs such as the ones we teach in schools like Brevard Elementary or TC Henderson are completely free to the schools as they are grant and donor funded.
How do you create the programs for schools?
We align our programs with the state science standards for each grade. For example, we have a program specifically for 3rd grade that focuses on forces and motion as that is a very specific part of the NC state standards for the grade.
Is there a way for my child to be involved in the summer?
Absolutely! Mountain Roots offers 7 weeks of both full- and half-day camp. Our half-day camp is for children ages 4-5 and our full-day camp is for rising 1st through 5th grade. Both of our camps are focused on the outdoors and connecting campers to each other, their community, and the natural environment. Rising 7th-9th graders can volunteer as our Roots Crew: counselors-in-training who are interested in making a difference in the lives of younger kids. Our days are filled with science, arts, music, community-building, and, of course, getting outside. Check out our website for more information on dates, prices, and locations of camp.
We hope these FAQ answered some burning questions you may have had about how we operate here at Mountain Roots. We always welcome feedback, questions, and comments about any of our programs!
Did you know that Mountain Roots runs 7 weeks of day camp in the summer? Well, we do! This summer we are excited to offer 4 weeks of camp at Brevard Academy, 3 weeks at Brevard Elementary, and 1 VERY exciting week at Earthshine Lodge in Lake Toxaway.
Mountain Roots offers fun and educational day camp adventures for preschool and elementary-aged campers. Both of our camps are focused on the outdoors and connecting campers to each other, their community, and the natural environment. We structure each week around a general theme but our activities are always varying! One of our favorite parts of each week includes a field trip into the forest with our older campers. Daily science experiments, arts and crafts, movement, music, and community involvement are all part of a day’s work at Mountain Roots Day Camp.
While day camp can just be a fun diversion for our kids or a helpful child care option during the summer, there are actual, documented benefits to attending camp. In this blog post by the American Camp Association, some of the benefits of camp are summed up in this paragraph:
“Camp activities… in a natural environment are the tools used to create camp communities that provide for successful, healthy development and a place where having fun is a daily criterion. In such a structured environment, children interact with positive role models who have time to listen, talk, relax, and reflect. They learn to work together, make choices, take responsibility, develop creative skills, build independence and self-reliance, and gain confidence. All are necessary steps on a child’s path to a healthy, productive life.”
The Mountain Roots staff always aim to a provide safe and enjoyable environment where our campers can develop all of these skills that will help them in their daily lives and even later in life. If Mountain Roots Day Camp sounds like something your kids would enjoy, there is still space available for all weeks of camp. Register at: www.mountainroots.org/camps.html
The first established “Earth Day” was on April 22nd, 1970 at the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Now, 49 years later, Earth Day is something that we celebrate yearly on April 22nd. Around the globe, communities gather to participate in activities that give back to the planet in some way. Garbage collection, tree planting, and river cleanups are common ways to engage but there’s plenty you can do at home to celebrate the day!
Play a Recycling Game
Gather a bunch of items that can and cannot be recycled – food wrappers, plastic bottles, styrofoam egg cartons, etc. Spread them out and have your child separate them out into trash, recyclables, and things that can be recycled at special locations (plastic bags, styrofoam containers). After the activity has been completed, have a discussion on the
importance of recycling and the impact single-use plastics have on the planet. Trash doesn’t magically disappear – it goes into landfills, oceans, rivers, and streams and stays there for hundreds of years.
Composting creates a nutrient-filled soil for plants and it is made up of things that you use daily – FOOD! Composting helps reduce the food waste that makes its way into landfills and helps the environment. Use this Earth Day to start composting in your backyard!