OUR MISSION, VALUES, CURRICULUM & STORY
Ravenwood’s mission is to cultivate health, passion for learning, and stewardship of ecological and human communities through nature-based mentoring of youth, families, and adults in the communities we serve.
Ravenwood is all about healthy kids, families, and communities. Quality mentoring guides our mission, especially when it connects us deeply to the land and each other, creating relationships filled with meaning, hope, and resilience. There are many distractions and obstacles in our fast-paced society, and an increasing number of negative trends—obesity and health issues, screen addiction, attention disorders, stress, depression, violence, disrespect, substance abuse, you name it—all of which need our attention and action as a community. Ravenwood is here to help, a place for kids and adults to learn, grow, and heal–naturally.
All Are Welcome Here
Ravenwood Outdoor Learning Center is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing a quality educational experience for children and adults regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
WHAT IS NATURE CONNECTION?
The 8 Attributes of Connection
It can be hard to define nature connection. Is it the feeling of fun we get when playing in nature, or the “aha” feeling from learning something new? We think it’s actually something deeper. Gilbert Walking Bull, a Lakota elder and teacher, noticed that nature connection programs tend to develop certain attributes in participants. He told of hearing about these same attributes from his grandfather, and learning to watch for them to know who will be a leader. These 8 attributes serve as outwardly-obvious indicators of connection. Programs that reliably produce nature-connected people also reliably bring out these 8 attributes in participants. Nature connection is what happens in people when all these attributes are developing in concert.
Happiness of a Child: an innocent, joyous, slightly mischievous sparkle in the eye
Health and Vitality: a feeling of electric energy in the body, a feeling of vitality
Deep Listening: the ability to be fully present with another’s story and experiences
Empathy for Nature: deep love and empathy for the natural world, feeling the relatedness of our nonhuman relatives
Being Truly Helpful: knowing ourselves well enough to know what we have to contribute, and being aware of when our contributions are needed
Being Fully Alive: awe, reverence, treasuring the gift every moment of existence gives, treasuring the opportunity to be alive
Compassion: deep love and forgiveness for all people, a willingness to feel the relatedness between ourselves and all other humans, whether friend or not
Quiet Mind: awareness in the moment, the ability to be silent and peaceful in one’s self
Deep Nature Connection: This is the essential foundation of our work. It sparks real transformation and yields deep well-being for self, family, community, and our world.
Mentoring: We recognize thoughtful mentoring is necessary to support holistic connections for healthy development through all life stages.
Backyard Subsistence: We encourage activities that promote local resilience and inter-connectivity through nature connection and community activities like gardening, permaculture design, local wild-land restoration projects, community partnerships, and local commerce.
Caretaking Our Wild Spaces: We care about the health and vitality of our local ecosystems and encourage active participation in maintaining clean air, water, and open lands for humans and wild creatures alike.
Peacemaking: Ravenwood works hard to nurture healthy processes generating trust between individuals and in families, and building resilient relationships and bonds to generate strong community and organizations. We teach peacemaking by modeling transparent communication and honoring the process of learning by doing in this important area of work.
Inner Tracking and Transparent Communication: Transparent and honest inner tracking (self-reflection) is important to us. Exploring our shadows and bad habits in an open, transparent manner leads to greater self awareness and a stronger, more resilient community feeling. Inner tracking leads to greater self-understanding and promotes high levels of service to self and others.
Regenerative Design: Applying what we learn from observing patterns in nature allows us to solve problems efficiently and create regenerating value systems in our lives, our families, and our communities across the generations.
Creativity: Deep nature connection produces powerful creativity. We apply thoughtful mentoring processes to bring out the brightest light in individuals, communities, collaborators, and organizations.
Our curriculum model is process based and identifies 13 routines that build nature connection and skill development over time. These 13 activities form the core of our curriculum. As we plan and run our programs, we select from these core routines to simultaneously maximize learning for the group as a whole and individual student needs. This approach to program design is artful in nature and very responsive to what our group and nature are presenting on any given day.
Our staff are trained to look for the learning “edges” among our students. Do they know the name of a plant/tree species that is best suited for a friction fire kit? Can they identify that plant/tree in various stages of growth or decay? Do they know what time of year or condition is best for harvesting and which part of the tree is most suitable for use for this task? Can they successfully employ the skill itself and under what weather conditions? Can they creatively problem solve when the technique is failing? This is one example of the type of edge finding the staff are constantly attending to among all students. This approach requires small ratios (no more than 8:1) to allow for personal mentoring opportunities and is extremely dynamic in nature. No two days at Ravenwood are ever the same because our students are constantly developing their own competencies and nature is infinitely diverse and ever changing.
Relying on routines for connection and skill development allows us to be adaptive to these ever changing needs and create a daily rhythm that is enjoyable for staff and students. The first two routines on this list, Sit Spot and Story of the Day, are the most foundational but all are employed across the arc of any given program series.
Sit Spot: Taking time during our busy days to just be in nature forms the foundation of our nature connection curriculum. Hiding games and quiet time in nature are small versions of this. How does it feel to sit quiet and still in nature?
Story of the Day: After we notice things in nature, telling another person brings the learning full circle. We often do this in a circle at the end of our day. What stories do you want to share at the end of the day?
Expanding our Senses: Taking a moment to check in with each sense, and bring awareness to all senses together, helps us see each moment in a new way. We often use a sensory check-in moment if a group of participants needs some time to settle, and this is an especially effective tool if participants are starting to spin out of control. What do you notice when you pay attention to touch, taste, smell, hearing, and finally vision all together? Can you expand your senses in all four directions and above and below you?
Animal Forms: Imitating and pretending to be animals, plants, and other life forms helps us learn about them in a more embodied way than if we simply stand back and observe creatures in nature. Can you imitate an animal you see at your sit spot?
Questioning and Tracking: Tracking and asking questions about the natural world help us to see every situation in a new way, and to hone our pattern recognition skills. What tracks and signs of other living things do you see around you right now?
Wandering: Wandering without a schedule or agenda opens up unexpected opportunities for connection, and helps us take a more flexible and open attitude in nature. Can you wander somewhere without any agenda or plan?
Mapping: Drawing maps connects us to our places in new and sometimes surprising ways. What does a bird’s eye view of your immediate surroundings look like?
Exploring Field Guides: Field guides are dense with knowledge gleaned by the many generations of naturalists that went before us. Using field guides in our programs can accelerate our learning about the natural world. What kinds of treasures can you find in a field guide?
Journaling: Taking time to reflect quietly to ourselves about events in the day brings new insights and learning. What events from today would you want to share with a journal?
Dynamic Sensory Memory (also known as Storyteller’s Mind): Using dynamic sensory memory when telling our Story of the Day helps us re-live the event and learn more of what it has to teach. When you tell a story, can you imagine, touching, smelling, tasting, hearing and seeing all the things in the story?
Survival Living: Practicing survival skills reminds us that we’re part of a very large and powerful natural system, and that we can relate to that system in fun and life-supporting ways. What would the land give you right now to help you live and thrive?
Bird Language: Practicing bird language offers a way of reflecting on what attitudes and body language we are projecting into the world. Bird language also helps us quiet our minds and notice the subtle patterns in nature. What are the birds reflecting back to you right now?
Sharing Gratitude: Giving thanks cultivates a positive attitude, and it helps us remember that nature provides everything we need to support our bodies. Can you find something to be grateful for in every part of life, and every part of nature?
These routines can be used to enhance connection as well:
Errands: Sending people, especially children, on errands in nature creates an opportunity for service and builds a sense of belonging while strengthening mind’s eye tracking through following directions. Errands also create spontaneous adventure, require independent problem solving, and re-enforces wandering attributes.
Storytelling: Sharing personal and traditional stories (with permissions) creates a mind’s eye landscape for both the storyteller and listeners within which we can explore important questions, relate to challenges and limitations, learn from others’ mistakes and celebrate our shared humanity. Stories can create a rich inspirational opening to a new project, help us heal and grieve, and give us direction from the lessons of our ancestors.
Ravenwood founders Laura Strong and Brett Holmquist have deep roots in outdoor mentoring. Both grew up with expansive back yards in the big, wide country of Montana. As young professionals in Yellowstone doing biological research and conducting education programs for youth, the couple witnessed a fundamental lack of nature connection among many of the young people they encountered. For many kids, these programs had been their first serious outdoor adventures, even among those who grew up in Montana! Laura and Brett also witnessed a real thirst for learning and a noticeable shift in awareness and appreciation among their students when they were making connections on the land. They saw the trend of what is now called “nature deficit disorder” emerging, with kids spending less and less time exploring and learning outdoors and more and more time plugged into electronic media. They decided to meld their various talents in the science and education fields to do something about it—and the inspiration to create Ravenwood was born.
With no budget and only the volunteer capital of its founders, first generation board members, and local volunteers, ideas began to develop and program concepts emerged. Soon enough, the networking began to bear fruit and landowners with facilities near Bigfork offered to donate the use of their property. Fundraising began and teachers across the state were contacted with information about Camp Corvid, a nature field study program for elementary students. By October 2003, programming began and positive feedback flowed in from students, teachers, parents, and community members. Ravenwood was on its way! With each following year additional programs developed and more kids and adults experienced the many rewards of outdoor learning and nature connection. Confidence, skills of awareness, vision, creativity, problem solving, improved health, happiness, and hope resulted and the word was out that Ravenwood had something very important to offer our community.