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Naturalist Students Experience a Night in the Woods
Posted 12/21/2011 12:05PM

Hunter Moore nestles into a
debris shelter — his home for
the night on a recent December
evening.

Most teenagers seek the warmth and comfort of their own beds on a wintery night in New England. However, on a recent December night, the woods at High Mowing School were the evening accommodations for students in the school’s Intermediate Naturalist Program. Nestled in small debris shelters made from sticks, leaves and branches, students tested their survival skills — and the new capotes (or cape-coats) they made for the occasion. According to Keith Badger, program director, “It is all part of a larger focus where students are steeped in the natural history of the northeastern woodlands.”

Why is this particular experience important to the Naturalist program? Hannah Burnham, a sophomore at High Mowing, said, “At first it was strange because I started feeling claustrophobic, surrounded by several feet of leaves. But, it’s surprising…how fast you fall asleep. The best part was to learn things through experiencing them. Tracking, rope-making, building a shelter, or starting a bow-drill fire — these skills are learned best by putting them to use.”

Students Hunter Moore and Skylar Wisswaesser agreed. “ I was surprised by how effective the shelters we made were, since they consisted of sticks and leaves,” said Hunter. Skyler added, “The overnight was cold, but I learned I could warm up the further down into my shelter I went. Once I was asleep, I slept through the night.”

High Mowing students prepare for their night in the woods.
(L-R) Will Wright, Aidan Woishnis, Skylar Wisswaesser,
Ben Auerbach., Hannah Burnham and (kneeling) Hunter Moore

According to Keith Badger, High Mowing’s program teaches students to use natural resources to survive. “Reciprocity is a fundamental law,” said Badger. “But it can’t be taught as an abstract, intellectual concept. I like to incorporate this type of experience into the Naturalist curriculum because I feel a missing element in adolescent work today is the Rite-of-Passage experience, or 'Identity Work.' Teenagers require intense experiences; if we fail to provide them in a structured way, they will be found without our guidance — often in destructive forms. A large piece of my work as an educator is getting youth ‘connected.’ Time in nature provides the stillness that enables them to do so.”

As it turns out, a wintery night is a perfect forum for learning about many things. What did sophomore Aidan Woishnis learn? “I learned that I should make my shelter better next time.”

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