As always, things have been busy here at Pathfinder Ranch.
Recently, Pathfinder Ranch hosted a semi-annual conference for the California Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (www.AEOE.org or www.facebook.com/caeoe). We had educators coming from all over the southern half of the state. We spent time in the professional development workshops as well as learned some new campfire skits and songs. Several of our own staff presented some of these workshops.
Our Outdoor Education Director, Ryan, facilitated a discussion with other directors to talk about issues we face, and how to improve each of our programs.
Luna and Willow brought out the horses to show how we use them in our classes, and gave participants a taste of our ExCEEd (Equine Centered Experiential Education…team-building with horses) class. Imagine our team challenge programs with a horse as your teammate! There are pictures on our Facebook page of this class in action.
Canyon gave a tour of our nature center including meeting our animals, and discussed how we can make nature center experiences more engaging and meaningful for our students. Look forward to a few more displays and activities when you visit later in the school year!
We went to a workshop on solar energy where we built a solar powered wheelie robot similar to what you can build in our energy class. We also learned some things about solar energy that we will be sharing in our classes.
There was a good workshop on using poetry as a kinesthetic learning tool with some great tips on helping students be very creative while working within the limits of outdoor education.
We also had a great workshop on sustainability, parts of which will go nicely into our permaculture class involving farm animals, garden plants, and energy cycles. It was taught by the Green Camps Initiative (GCI- www.greencampsinitiative.org). The GCI Director shared a lot of fun and thought provoking activities that you will be seeing soon in some of our classes. Visit the website to see some great activities that you can implement back at school and at home. We learned that it takes 5,200 gallons of water to process the ingredients and produce one chocolate bar. Staggering!
We also went to workshops about inclusion, Common Core standards, astronomy, Ant-O-Lympics, citizen science projects, and team-building. We are excited to start using the new things we learned in our classes, and we hope you are excited to see them, too!
See you down the trail!
Spring is just around the corner, and like the plants that are being reborn all around Pathfinder, the garden is getting revitalized, too! Spring cleaning has begun and the garden is getting a fresh make-over.
All hands are on deck as Pathfinder gets ready for the warm weather and 50th year celebration in April. Maintenance began a project in the front lobby to try and get some plants growing even earlier than the cold would allow; and it worked! Live in a cold place, or have soil with little to no nutrients? Check out our experimental hydroponics system. Hydroponics doesn’t require soil. Instead, the plants are placed in plastic containers (drill holes through the sides and bottom) that are filled with shredded coconut medium, which absorbs water and nutrients from the water basin that it’s submerged in. We used an old plastic bin, recycled yogurt containers, an aquarium pump, and 6 gallons of purified water. Instead of daily watering, with hydroponics you can simply add 1 gallon of water every two weeks!
Not only can plants grow year round when protected from the elements outside, but you can also save both space and water! In our experiment, the basil is flourishing but our spinach is not. Try it at home and post the results of your own hydroponics system on our Facebook page. We’d sure love to know!
Another project a few Naturalists have been working on is our compost. As the weather gets warmer, and we want to grow many more things than will fit in our hydroponics system, we need soil for our plants to thrive in. As old plant matter breaks down, it creates fertile soil which you can use for planting. This decomposition harnesses the power of the circle of life. Why buy something you normally just throw away each day? Use those food scraps and start your own compost. Your garden will love you for it!
Have you ever composted before? If not, here are a few tips from our resident garden expert, Rain:
1. Dig your compost pile down at least a few inches. This makes the pile easier to turn and keeps heat in. Keeping the pile warmer will produce soil sooner.
2. Cover your compost. Again, this keeps it nice and warm which breaks down material faster. This also helps to keep unwanted critters away.
3. Turn your compost. There are plenty of fun ways to do this, including rolling it around in an old trash can! The reason is simple..all those microbes and other organisms like earthworms that help the food turn to soil need the help of oxygen.
4. Add nearly everything! Add any food waste that comes from plants: bread, veggies, fruit cores and peels, pasta, french fries, coffee grinds, tomato sauce, leaves and twigs, and even old paper, napkins, and tea bags! (Did you know it takes less energy for the paper to break down in the compost than to be recycled into new paper? Plus this added carbon helps the compost to be more nutritious and less smelly!)
New projects are springing forward to make this year’s garden the most beautiful and bountiful yet! We’ve had some amazing 4th-6th grade gardeners already come and help plant many new crops. How about you? This spring you too could revitalize that little plot of green space or an empty windowsill into a lean, mean food producing machine!
Thanks for reading,
Your Pathfinder Ranch Naturalists and Staff
A glistening blanket of snow greeted our students as they pulled up to the basketball court Tuesday morning. They rushed out of the bus and immediately flocked to the mounds of snow all over campus, creating their first snowmen of the winter season. The excitement spread like a wave from the students to the staff, and carried over to the many adventures that followed that week. Things started with an epic game of Predator/Prey. The students adapted different roles within the food web and hunted for food, water, and shelter. As in nature they learned the benefits of behavioral adaptations such as ambushing and stalking their prey. In this particular game, the insects bore the hardship when they were attacked from all sides by the lizards and snakes. The students really embraced the trials and tribulations most animals deal with on a daily basis.
The enthusiasm from the snow and Predator/Prey carried over as the students tried out their trail reading skills while summiting Rock Point. They put to use their ethnobotany expertise by identifying useful plants along the way and even stopping for a quick snack followed by dental hygiene with some hiker’s toothbrush.
Our week came to a close surprisingly fast, but new adventures awaited the staff that made the trek to Utah for some skiing and snowboarding. The 9-hour arduous journey provided to be well worth the drive with great snow and a friendly mountain atmosphere. After rejuvenating ourselves it was time to meet our new group of budding naturalists.
Bright and early Tuesday morning our new group arrived starry eyed and full of questions. The students instantly started exploring their new environment and soaking in as much information as nature and the outdoors could provide. They were like sponges about to explode. Their first night at Pathfinder Ranch was dedicated to investigating the night sky. Although there were some clouds, no one’s spirits were extinguished as the students created their own constellations in the Milky Way.
The rest of the week was met with challenges and new experiences for both students and staff. Students were able to test their climbing, riding, and archery skills. The staff was challenged to push themselves to keep up with the expanding sponge-like minds of their students. Some of Pathfinder’s favorite critters helped in this challenge by teaching our students key ecology concepts as well as exposing them to a love for animal care and the environment. A final challenge from Mother Nature that was met with some reservation, but mostly excitement by the end was the hike to a geographical wonder, the Land Bridge. There’s nothing like almost three inches of snow to end a trip to Pathfinder Ranch!
And remember “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dragonfly and Your Pathfinder Naturalists