education

We just finished the spring 2019 semester, and it’s good to be back home for a spell before we jump into the summer programming at Jack Mountain and School Of The Forest. The semester was a challenging one for students. Spring in northern Maine is a tough time to be on the land. It’s cold [...]

One of the great things about long courses is the ability to see the natural shifts as they happen. Currently, we’re in the midst of the final thaw up here, and that’s indicated by the usual influx of birds, amphibians waking up and plants starting to flower. A large portion of our curriculum at Jack [...]

There’s always downtime on residential courses. Students and instructors need time to relax, work on academic homework, and process the experiences they’ve had so far. For some students, downtime is frustrating. They learn by doing and don’t want to stop. So along with improving our food systems on campus, we’ll be putting in two additions [...]

  At it’s simplest “Active learning” is learning by doing. On our semesters, student’s make their own canoe paddles, and that’s their first big woodcarving project. They have a basic set of tools and simple instructions on how to shape a paddle from a pine board. A lot of student’s struggle at first with what [...]

The School Of The Forest now offers an email newsletter where you can stay abreast of everything going on with the Jack Mountain youth and teen program. You can sign up at the link below. Sign Up For SOTF Newsletter Here I’m looking forward to keeping in touch with you all, and keeping you in [...]

First Person Ecology In The Winter Months

Well, everyone, it seems like winter’s finally here. The last three days I’ve woken up, made a quick thermos of coffee and thrown on my snowshoes for a morning hike. During those hikes, I was reminded of the stark differences in the ecosystem from season to season. We’ve talked before on the podcast about how [...]

Learning Bushcraft Skills As A Family

While I wrote up the course description for School Of The Forest’s Family Bushcraft Week, I couldn’t help but think of the families in the neighborhood I grew up in, and our yearly “backyard campout”. Once every summer, all the fathers, and their kids would pitch tents in the small common ground behind our homes [...]

Underlying every course we run at Jack Mountain and School Of The Forest are the principles of sustainable living, and building a lifestyle that is closer to the land. We talk about it in passing during courses, but when programs are running at the field school, students are living those principles every day. From composting, [...]

Youth Vs. Adult Learning Styles

Hello again from the Fall ’17 JMBS semester. This week was supposed to be spent on the trail, but due to inclement weather, we’ve pushed it back. So I figured I’d share an observation I’ve had over the “course” of the -heh- course. I spent the spring and most of the summer running youth programs, and [...]

Hey everyone, Christopher Russell from Jack Mountain and School of the forest here, This summer I got to help out with Jack Mountain’s summer woodsman course at our field school in Maine. Two fathers took part in this course with their sons, and it was really great to watch them learning together, as well as [...]

Six Weeks In

May-29-2016 Hey everyone. We’ve got about three weeks left in the course, so I sat down with Tim Smith again to chat about it so far, but mostly because he offered me coffee. There will be a podcast of our discussion in the future, but for now, I’d like to just compile my own thoughts [...]

Living The Life

“Imagine after being exhausted at the end of a hard day, you are coming home to this [long silence]. In the little remaining daylight he cannot possibly return to his main hut, his only recourse is to fix this one.” -Werner Herzog from “Happy People” The trapper then commences to put his small cabin back in [...]

It’s easy to make something that looks like a bucksaw frame, but it’s much more difficult to make one that will cut a lot of wood without coming apart. It’s easy to make something that looks like a snowshoe, but much more difficult to make one that will allow you to walk on it all [...]

Yesterday I was part of a conversation led by a man who runs a small academic program for homeschoolers. He was talking about the modern fascination with being able to measure learning when he mentioned that problem solving is not as important as problem finding. This got me thinking. Modern education puts a high value [...]

Nature has become wallpaper in outdoor education; a backdrop for human-focused activities. But it doesn’t need to be. When it’s only scenery, it’s not easy to get people to engage. From personal experience I know that the natural world is a different place to someone who is seeking food, raw materials for crafts, materials for [...]

Humans are social animals. Put two of us together and we’ll talk and talk, even if there’s nothing useful to say. I believe a small part of this is human nature. We’re social animals, and verbal communication is a foundational principle of how we organize in groups. But I think the vast majority of this [...]

Over the weekend we began our 24th semester course. We’ve got a big group, a new cooking pavilion, an expanded fleet of canoes (new 20′ Old Town XL Tripper) and a fresh coat of spar varnish on the paddles. There’s been talk of purchasing a giant neon sign in order for Moose Vegas (our student [...]

Learning something new demands more action than details. More often than not, excessive details and information get in the way more than they help during the initial steps. In my opinion, only the minimum amount of information that leads to a successful outcome should be provided the first time someone learns something new or completes [...]

Today we’re running the third of three wild food walks, and will be heading to a nearby wetland at the top of its drainage to harvest cattails and other wetland species. The walks have been a lot of fun, and we’re right in the thick of the foraging season. I’ve spent several afternoons with my [...]

Last weekend was arguably the best weather you could request for the last weekend in April. Sunny, a slight breeze and warm, it was perfect for hitting the water and getting the winter cobwebs out of canoe muscles. We ran two, 1-day canoe programs at the folk school in NH and they both were fantastic. [...]

Aroostook Headwaters

The general route for our spring canoe expedition is set.  We’ll spend the bulk of the month on the Aroostook drainage.  We’ll be doing a good deal of upriver work, both poling and lining, to visit a few of my favorite spots.   Our second trip in on the Allagash, where we’ll be poling up [...]

The Number 7

The number seven has been coming up a lot the last few days. First, I’ve had this blog for seven years. I started it in 2006. I had one before this, but it was hacked and most of the 140 posts were deleted. Second, I recently crossed the 700 posts threshold. This is post number [...]

On Wednesday, February 27th we’re running a short course on winter bushcraft for kids (ages 6-12) and parents in Wolfeboro, NH.  The tuition is $25 per family, which can include 2 adults and multiple kids. I’m planning on running the program from 1:30-4:00 pm. We’ll be focusing on lighting fires, snowshoe use and making bindings, [...]

Over the past few months I’ve seen numerous blogs offering tips and tricks on bushcraft and survival. But tips and tricks will never take the place of practiced fundamentals; learning the correct technique, then doing it until it is second nature. The seemingly inexhaustible human desire for shortcuts keeps the search alive, but don’t be [...]

The deep snows of mid-February are covering the landscape (and the canoe trailer), and for the past few days the wind has been howling down the lake with enough force to sculpt the snow and make it feel very cold. With no more winter trips planned for this year, my thoughts are turning to spring [...]

As of February 14th, our 2013-2014 yearlong bushcraft immersion program and the fall wilderness bushcraft semester are both full.  Although it grows a bit every year, this is the earliest we’ve ever filled; more than 6-months in advance!  We will still accept applications for the waiting list in case their are cancellations.  If you’re thinking [...]

I like first person accounts of life in the bush. There are many from throughout North America that I’ve read, but I also enjoy those from farther afield. Recently I had a day of travel (car, bus, plane), and spent the whole day reading Dersu The Trapper. It’s a true account written by a Russian [...]

I’m headed to the Snow Walker’s Rendezvous in Vermont November 9-11. If you’ve never been and you’re interested in non-mechanized winter travel and living out in the winter, you should check it out. I’ll be teaching workshops on axemanship, ropemaking, and making low-tech crooked knives, like the one Little Justin is holding in the above [...]

This past weekend we wrapped up our 21st long-term immersion program. When we started in August I had big plans about blogging every day, but the realities of field school life intervened and I only posted twice during the course. There were lots of great moments, from the weasel who lived under my tent and [...]

There’s a grace that comes with experience when form follows function. Simplicity is the goal. The more experienced one becomes, the less work is needed to complete a specific task. This is accomplished by eliminating the unnecessary. When using an axe to procure raw materials for basic needs from the forest, the more skilled and [...]

I woke up before dawn and watched the sun rise over Squapan ridge this morning. We’ve had a bunch of hot and humid weather, but a cold front came through yesterday afternoon and the overnight temperature was in the low 40’s. This morning the sky is clear and there a hint of autumn in the [...]

Yesterday we started our 21st bushcraft semester course, our 11th since relocating our immersion programs to the field school in Masardis, Maine. It’s significant because now we’ve run more of them here than at our old base in New Hampshire. It’s also the first semester course where we’ve been able to accept the GI Bill [...]

There’s a legendary story about the band Van Halen and their tour rider with concert venues from the 1970’s and 80’s that has to do with brown M&M’s (the candy). Buried deep within the contract was a clause that they demanded to have M&M’s backstage, but that someone had to go through and pick out [...]

Following up on yesterday’s post, I’m currently reading a book called Discussion Based Online Teaching To Enhance Student Learning by Tisha Bender.  This year we’re adding a distance learning component to our immersion programs, and I’m educating myself as to how to do it effectively.  More on this later.  Bender relays a story on page 38 [...]

I first met Mors Kochanski in 1995 at his place in Alberta. Over the years we’ve stayed in touch and I’ve learned much from his sage advice. Recently at Woodsmoke we were chatting when someone complained about being kept up late the night before. Mors responded with several great lines I’ll never forget. I’m paraphrasing, [...]

These two quotations from “The Art Of Outdoor Living” jumped out at me because what they say about experiential education and a realistic assessment of skill through a practical exam apply directly to our new Journeyman Bushcraft Instructor & Wilderness Guide Certification Program. Scroll to the bottom for full bibliographic information. “The training and preparation [...]

One of the new aspects we’re building into our Journeyman Certification Course are skill and craft benchmarks. It’s great to learn how to make new things. But, to attain even a basic skill level with them, they have to be completed a number of times. For example, on some of our courses students learn how [...]

It takes time to learn. For some things, this can be measured in minutes. For others, it’s measured in decades. When we become enamoured with something, we often want to shorten the learning time so we can get to the point where we’re respected for knowing it, where we’re the celebrated “expert”. So the temptation [...]

A lot of what we do in our bushcraft courses doesn’t look like formal education. The old-school image of a standing instructor lecturing to seated students taking notes is a rarity. We have no love affair with seat time, nor with the lecture format. You’re more likely to see a small group of people engaged [...]

If you eat a great meal at a restaurant, is the type of spatula the cook used responsible for the taste of the food? If you see a beautiful house, how important is the type of hammer the builder used to the final structure? If someone has a beautiful website, do you ask them what [...]

We stopped using sandpaper for smoothing wood on field courses years ago. Sandpaper is sand, or grit, glued to a piece of paper in a thin layer. It doesn’t last very long, which precludes it from being taken on long trips. A simple alternative is to take a piece of fabric (denim or cotton duct [...]

You learn to write by writing. It’s a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it’s true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis. – William Zinsser, from “On Writing”, p.49. Is there anything you could switch writing [...]

When you’re learning a new skill, it should be as simple as possible, broken down into its necessary elements and with as many details as possible stripped away. The focus should be on the minimum input needed for success. This is why many how-to books aimed at beginners fail; too much detail. On our bushcraft [...]

Taking a course does not make you an expert. You become an expert by investing enough time, energy and sweat to really learn something in depth.  How much time?  Malcom Gladwell, in his book Outliers, popularized the 10,000 hour rule; “The idea that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill.”  [...]

I  have learned more about fungi from Paul Stamets‘s book Mycelium Running (Amazon.com link)  than any other resource.  While other books on mushrooms are often great field guides for identifying individual species, Stamets’s book has helped me to understand the ecology and relationships of mushrooms.  I still have a long way to go, but I [...]

“Craft teaches our dependence upon the natural material world directly and practically – not as an abstraction.” –  Zabe MacEachern, from her article Crafting as a practice of Relating to the Natural World in the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (CJEE), Vol 5, No 1 – 2000. Crafting is often seen as a way to [...]

My experience running 16 bushcraft and wilderness semester courses has taught me the value of taking a time-out from modern life and living more simply. I’ve seen the positive effect the experience has had on course participants. I know the effects it has had on me. Some of these include: Separating needs from wants. Living [...]

Can you train people for white water canoeing without them spending time in white water?  Is training without a realistic setting viable? I spent six years trying to get people ready for white water canoe poling and paddling by having them complete exercises on smooth water.  But when we got to the actual white water, [...]

I’ve been researching the role of crafting on the learning process recently.  There is a mountain of how-to information on crafting, but most of it on how-to-do things; the questions of why and what are the impacts are aren’t as common.  Since crafting is one of the seven core elements of the Jack Mountain Bushcraft [...]

It takes a minimum of 100 miles to learn how to paddle a canoe It takes a minimum of 80 miles to learn how to pole a canoe It takes a minimum of 100 friction fires to learn how to consistently make a friction fire It takes a minimum of 50 percussion fires to learn [...]

Assessment exists for the student, not for the instructor. At their worst, assessment systems put students in a competition with their peers.  At their best, they provide a way for students to gauge their progress and to see how far they’ve come, give them an honest accounting of where their skills fit into the bigger [...]

Teaching bushcraft these days is as much about helping people to eliminate the extraneous as it is showing them something new. Put another way, it’s as much carving as it is building. Much of what passes for common knowledge in bushcraft and outdoor living is fantasy, created and fed by poorly conceived books, movies and [...]

“Toddlers ask many questions, and so do school children – until about grade three.  By that time many of them have learned an unfortunate fact, that in school, it can be more important for self-protection to hide one’s ignorance about a subject than to learn more about it, regardless of one’s curiosity.”    – Jan Hunt [...]

We’ve had some great discussions about how the brain works in the learning process as part of our ongoing online course on becoming an instructor.  One aspect that we’ve only touched on briefly is the role of exercise in the learning process.  To simplify a complex subject into a soundbite, exercise is good for your [...]

Nutshimit is a word and concept from the Innu.  Previously known by the name given to them by the French, Montagnais, they inhabit a huge, sparsely populated region of Quebec and Labrador. For many Innu, life in the village is marked by idleness and a sense of loss and alienation, in strong contrast to being [...]

I’ve been thinking for several years about putting together an expedition-style course for young men where we’d spend three or four weeks in the north woods canoeing and living outdoors.  It would be a similar, although less rigorous, curriculum that we use in our college semester programs, with a focus on academic subjects such as [...]

TV survival shows are about hardships and risk. With background music to set the mood, the feeling of jeopardy hangs heavily over the host as s/he negotiates within an inch of his/her life. The danger makes it sexy. In the real world, bushcraft is much more about heritage and tradition rather than risk. The old [...]

Thinking about taking a semester off from college and spending it in the wilderness? If so, compare the different approaches of our program versus the large, corporate wilderness education companies. If you’re looking for modern, high-tech outdoor education with programs on backpacking and mountaineering, then check them out. But if you’re interested in building a [...]

As part of the online course we’re running titled “Becoming A Bushcraft Instructor”, we’re currently reading the book “Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind” by Guy Claxton. We’ve been enjoying many thoughtful discussions on teaching and learning and how they apply to bushcraft and the outdoors. This gem of a passage is from near the end of [...]

I was discussing bushcraft on Saturday and trying to explain it to someone whose life experience has been all in urban areas. In discussing life at our field school, I explained that it was just like life anywhere else, except without the infrastructure. I thought about this for a while after the conversation ended, and [...]

Our first online course, titled “Becoming A Bushcraft Instructor,”, has been a great experience thus far. We’ve had some thoughtful discussions about our first book, Hare Brain Tortoise Mind, which examines how the brain processes information. I’ve been learning a lot from the discussion. As a sample, below is a post from Russ Venditto on [...]

I’ve never looked the part. Most people never do. We’re TBH (trained by hollywood) that people who do certain things should look a certain way. After all, that’s how they look in the movies. But it’s a big lie. My high school soccer coach was adamant about people not using their appearance to stand out. [...]

Our educational system has become increasingly abstract over the last hundred years.  Instead of instruction in sensory development and hands-on skills, we focus almost exclusively on the intellectual and the abstract.  Much of this is the result of the influence of Jean Piaget and his stage theory of cognitive development from the 1920’s.  He viewed [...]

There’s a difference between outdoor leadership and management.  Management is when you ensure people carry out predetermined tasks leading to a defined outcome.  Managers aren’t looking for innovation.  They’re there to ensure things get done according to a preexisting plan.  When we’re cooking a group dinner over a campfire in a remote location, we often [...]

We’ve been fielding a lot of questions about our yearlong program lately.  Several people over the weekend wanted to know if students live on-site for the entire year.  The answer is no, they don’t.  The program is organized around three intensives: the fall semester, the winter program, and the spring expedition.  For graduates, there is [...]

I was recently interviewed by Iain Haywood at ooh.com.  You can read the piece here.  In addition to some nice photos of Ernie Davis and David Bosum, I’m quoted on educational philosophy: “At its best, teaching should be invisible; a person who learns from a mediocre instructor will realize how talented their instructor is. The [...]

I had the opportunity to do some reading and enjoy some spirited discussions on our recent trip to northern Quebec. One of the topics that kept coming up was the lack of decent terminology in english for the simple, outdoor lifestyle based on skill, simple tools and a relationship with the land and it’s resources. [...]

Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote that “adventure is a sign of incompetence.”  But if it isn’t for adventure, why do people do the things they do?  I’m with Stefansson on adventure.  It implies that you’re not prepared for what you face, which, in the case of living a life outdoors, should never be the case.  [...]

The number of primitive skills and survival schools has swelled in the last few years, and while all schools are not created equal there are many opportunities to learn wilderness skills these days.  It’s important to be clear about what we do because it’s different than what’s available elsewhere.  Yes, we teach skills.  We’re among [...]

We went out on a family tracking walk yesterday.  The snow was perfect and there were all sorts of tracks for my son to investigate.  It’s fun being outside with him and seeing the landscape through his eyes.  One of the neat things we can learn from children is the idea of vu-ja-de.  It’s the [...]

I saw an ad for a college today and in the photo they had as their centerpiece was a student in a lecture hall looking toward the front and acting interested. That’s a negative for me. I remember sitting through a bunch of lectures, some great, some not, but what I took away from the [...]

I’ve taken a wide variety of wilderness medical courses around the northeast. In 2000, I took a winter medicine and rescue course at the AMC center in Pinkham Notch at the base of Mount Washington. It was a two-day course, and on many nights they have slide show presentations for the people staying there. The [...]

Last summer I guided a trip to northern Quebec where we spent a week with Cree guides David Bosum and Lawrence Capissit. They were born in the bush and have spent their lives living off of the country there. One day one of guys on the trip was asking David some questions about winter trips. [...]

“Having done is worth more than having read, having watched, or knowing how.” I was thinking about experiential learning yesterday when the line above came to me. I think it will be our slogan for 2008. We live in the era where information is everywhere. But we should never confuse familiarity with understanding or experience. [...]

I had a professor in graduate school who said that we decide how the world works by the time we’re two and a half years old, and we spend the rest of our lives justifying and defending that idea. It’s a concept that keeps coming up and makes me think about what I believe and [...]

I spend a lot of time thinking about the teaching process in preparation for our courses. Years of doing so have led me to believe that there are many things that can be learned, but not directly taught. An example of this took place the other night when some of the participants in our winter [...]

A guy called me yesterday with questions about our Summer Survival Weekend Course. We spoke for several minutes about what the course covers, what he could expect, and other related topics. Then said he had a question about religion. He asked if we incorporated spiritual teachings or Native American ceremonies in the course. I immediately [...]

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