Desert Survival: Prepare & Prevent

As a part of learning to survive, appreciate, and maybe even love our new desert habitat, I took the children to a program called “Desert Survival” at the nature center of a large (3500+ acres) regional park yesterday.

Desert Survival: Prepare & Prevent


We did not learn how to extract water from giant saguaros.  Nor did we learn how to create a bow drill to start a fire.  We didn’t even learn how to fight zombies with cholla cactus spines.

Instead, we learned about the importance of preparation and prevention.  Proper preparation is something every hiker in every climate can do to prevent a survival situation from happening in the first place!  As the fabulous ranger explained in at the beginning of the talk: his information does not make for popular TV shows, but it will keep you off the TV news!

Here are 3 new-to-me ideas for staying safe in the desert (or any hike!):

1-Instead of trying to find water, bring more water than you think you need.  Yes, water is heavy. Yes, it can be awkward to carry. But in the desert, by the time you start to feel thirsty, you’re already becoming dehydrated.  Bring the extra water.

In fact, bring an extra-extra bottle of water: Drink at your car until you feel satiated, then hike, then when you get back to the car, drink the rest of your extra-extra bottle.

2-A cheap emergency blanket has a variety of uses.  The park sells them for $3 each and I plan to buy one for each of us when we go back for a hike.  They look like these (excellent reviews & sold in a 10 pack).  Not only can an emergency blanket keep you warm in the cold and cooler in the heat, it makes a great distress signal!

3-Leave a detailed note about your hiking plans: Where you’re going, where you’re going to park, when you plan to be back.

“Took the kids hiking in the Superstition Mountains” is not the level of detail that is going to get you found!

Leave a detailed note: Desert Survival is about Preparing!

While I feel better about going for a family hike in the desert now, I guess we’re on our own for designing zombie-stopping cholla cactus weapons!

And if you’re ever in Arizona, stop by the Usery Mountain for a fabulous presentation or hike!

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Full Moon Walks 2016

Take a Full Moon Walk in 2016 with a FREE printable trackerDid you walk by the light of a full moon last year?

As a family, we tried to get out each full moon to take a walk. It didn’t always happen…it rained, it snowed, someone had to work late, or had a evening class. But we did try! And having a calendar showing when the full moon would be did help us remember to get outside at night.

Take a Full Moon walk with your family in 2016

Download your free printable full moon walk calendar here.

January’s full moon is the Wolf Moon — leave a comment and share about your walk this month.

Take a walk by the light of the full Wolf Moon this January!’s 2016 Full Moon Calendar has more information about the Native American names for the full moons and information on the moon’s phases.

Also, visit if you’re wondering why there is no blue moon in 2016!

Want even more full moon viewing inspiration? Check out Wilder Child’s Moon Gazing post — hint, she’s got an awesome free color download of all the full moon’s of 2016!

A New Habitat to Explore


As an occasional contributing poster here at Pocket Mouse Publishing, I’ve enjoyed posting about how my children and I got out into nature regularly.  How we had consistently enjoyed forest freeplay and learned through the book Hunting Red.

Our Former Habitat

Then, we moved.  A job-relocation across the country.

Our habitat is no longer the lush green forest and small creeks of the temperate East Coast pictured above but rather the Sonoran desert of the Southwest: a place of dry sands, endless sunshine, and prickly cactus.   See below.

Our New Habitat

We’re adjusting.  Adapting. We’re ready to explore our new habitat. We’re reading about desert life in books like 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Phoenix, The Nature of Arizona, and Critters of Arizona Pocket Guide.

Desert Book recommendations

We’ve even ventured to take a couple walks in the desert and are planning some more. It’s not the forest freeplay we had grown to love. In fact, one child refers to it as “desert doomplay” due to the sheer number of opportunities to interact with cactus spines.

One thing remains the same, despite this new habitat: the night sky.  The stars are the same. The constellation Orion is still the only one we all recognize.  I wrote about that nearly a year ago in Walking the Nature Talk. And the moon!  The moon is still the same. Did you know that we all see the same side of the moon, all the time?

In a few days it will be the first full moon of 2016!  I’ll be making a calendar to share the dates of each full moon — check back soon.

And enjoy your habitat, whatever it may be!

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Sometimes it’s the forest, sometimes it’s the beach

Exploring different habitats - forest and beachFor our family, the forest is our everyday nature place.  We can walk to a forest for daily time in nature; we can drive 5 minutes to a forest — and we do, every week for Forest Freeplay.  But at the end of June we spent a few days in a completely different habitat: the beach!

The forest tends to be dim, with soft filtered light and a soothing hush.  Or it might have a continual throbbing undertone of cicada song.  The creek burbles by, and the children can climb on the muddy banks, over boulders, and across fallen logs.

Playing in the forest -- children's natural habitatGoing to the beach provides a natural experience of a completely different kind.  The sky is vast.  The Atlantic ocean is endless.  The water is powerful!

Taking children to new nature places -- the ocean!There are birds to be seen, shells to examined, waves to be ridden, and salty water to be tasted, and the sand — oh, the sand.  I think it is still coming out in the wash.

There is much to be said about the importance of connection to local places — Hunting Red* is just such a story!  Exploring completely new habitats allows you to come back and see your own familiar nature spaces in a delightful new way.

Where will your nature explorations take you this summer?

*Hunting Red is‘s own book! It can be purchased through Amazon‘s affiliate program: full disclosure here.

Forest Freeplay: How we got started

How I started a Forest Freeplay groupA few months ago, I saw a posting on a local homeschool group about an informational meeting for staring a “Forest Freeplay” group.  We’d been getting outside into nature as family every day as our One Thing.  But I liked the idea of getting together with other families who valued time in nature.

I attended, hoping to meet someone who was excited about starting a group near me that I could join.  The hostess was fabulous — answering questions (What do kids DO?), sharing the experiences of leading a group, and providing lots of links to online organizations which support kids in nature.  Sign me up, I was ready to join a group!

Of course, none of the other moms lived near me.

So it was either feel sorry for myself that no one who lived near me wanted to start a group, or drive to another group.  But, I’m tired of driving.  I drive to the store, the library, weekly SCA practices, the community college, and to take my older ones to work.  And if we want to visit with friends, I have to drive.  I’m just tired of it.

There was, of course, a third option: start a group myself.

And so, with great trepidation, I posted a short announcement to the local homeschool group list.  Two families came out!

Every week I post a short little announcement with the details, including the statement: Plan to get wet & muddy! Every week we’ve had other families join me & my kids for Forest Freeplay — sometimes only one family, sometimes as many as six.  Yes, even on the two weeks it was actually raining!

By planning this weekly, I’ve committed us to two hours in the forest with others — socializing for the children and me (possibly more important!).  By going to the same spot every week, we observe the changing of the seasons and the effects of sun and rain.

For example, when the kids built this structure, the water was low & clear.

Child directed learning in a nature setting: that's Forest Freeplay!The next week the water was deep and rushing…but the structure held!

Forest Freeplay means letting the kids buildGot questions?  Ask me in the comments!

Previous posts on Forest Freeplay:

Forest Freeplay: What is it?

About Forest FreeplayForest Freeplay is playing outside freely in the forest.  There is no parental agenda, no nature study planned, no journaling required — nothing but playing in the natural space of the forest.

Think “parkday” without the playground equipment.

But what do kids DOYes, that was my first question.

They play.  They explore. They challenge themselves physically.  The discover.  They create.  And sometimes they read a book.  Or even sit by mom and say “When can we go home? I’m bored (or hungry or hot or cold or tired)?”

Sometimes Forest Freeplay means just reading a bookJust like at the park.  But in the forest.  That’s it: Forest Freeplay!

Later this week, I’ll share how I learned about Forest Freeplay & started meeting with other families on a regular basis!

Forest Freeplay is part of our 30 Days Wild!

Day 3’s Random Act of Wildness

Random Act of Wildness Day 3: we rescued a snake!“Look! Ravens!”

“See? We DO have ravens here.”

“What is that one doing?  Is it trapped in the mesh?”

I glance out the window with the children who have excitedly gathered.  One raven is plucking at the tangled mass of “deer proof” mesh that I attempted to cover my new basil, rosemary, and oregano plants with last week when we planted them. Thinking of Jeremy the young crow from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, I open the sliding door. The raven flutters backward, not trapped.

“Let’s watch and see what it does,” I say, proud of myself for recalling the idea of becoming a nature mentor in How to Raise a Wild Child.

The raven returns to the mesh and stalks around the entire mass.  He is obviously very interested in it.  The other raven continues to watch from a distance.  The first raven arrives back at his original spot and begins to peck at the mesh again.

“There must be something trapped there!”

And then I see it.  A writhing black snake.  No one noticed it at first, since it looked just like tangled bits of mesh against the dark bark.

Vutha - last year's eastern rat snake
Vutha – last year’s eastern rat snake

I decide we must investigate.  A bird of prey eating a snake would be a cycle of life lesson.  But an animal inadvertently trapped in plastic by me?

We troop outside.  The ravens take to the trees; we inspect the snake.

Likely an eastern rat snake like we saw on our deck last last year, is the verdict from the 12 year old.

I send everyone running around the yard to find a forked stick to pin the snake’s head down.  Isn’t that what they do on TV?  A garden fork will have to do.  As you can see from the picture, the fork did nothing since the snakes head was so skinny!

I snare a snake in deer mesh and free it - a random act of wildnessThe 12 year old holds the snake’s head while someone brings me scissors.  I start attempting to cut the mesh.  This is one tangled snake.  More children arrive and someone brings my phone so we can take a picture.  I clip carefully and see fluid oozing from the damaged scales where the plastic has cut into the snakes flesh.

The 5 year old asks: Is it poisonous?

The 12 year old replies that it is just a constrictor.  At that moment I’m suddenly aware of powerful muscles coiling around my ankle.  The 15 year removes the snake’s body from around me and holds it away from me.  I continue to clip.  Once partially freed, the snake begins to writhe forward, entangling itself more.  Incredible muscles!

Finally the plastic mesh is completely cut away.  My boys transport the snake to a shady, plant-filled area of the yard and release it.  The other children remove all the mesh from the plants.  I have to cut some of it free of the wooden stakes beside my plants.  This stuff is treacherous!

Rescuing a snake - a random act of wildnessWith the snake freed, the mesh properly disposed, and the scissors in the dishwasher, I return to preparing dinner.

The whole  experience probably took less than 10 minutes total, but it felt like an eternity — a random act of wildness for the day, close to home.

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Huge Black Bristly Caterpillar!

The David Suzuki 30×30 Nature Challenge comes to end today!  Or tomorrow if you missed a day.  That would be our family.  Earlier in the month we enjoyed a day with my parents — space museum visiting, dining out, and swimming at their hotel pool.  That night I was horrified to discover that we hadn’t had any nature time!  We failed!  Alas, our habit was broken and the challenge lost.

However, out we went again the next day and the next, and the next… And we’ll go out again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…  As Dr. Scott Sampson says in his new book How to Raise a Wild Child, it’s “abundant experiences in wild or semi-wild places, typically close to home” that forge the deep connection with nature that I’m hoping to create with my children.

Discovering a HUGE black caterpillarOn one of our “close to home” outings we came upon a huge, black, bristling caterpillar.  Imagine a solid black wooly bear, traditionally seen in the autumn, twice the usual size.  My son picked it up and as it crawled over his hands we noticed that between the black bristles, the caterpillar had skin of dark red.  Even I took a turn letting it crawl on my hand to experience the disconcerting feeling of its myriad of scratchy, sturdy feet marching relentlessly forward.

After everyone had a turn to hold this amazing creature — he really was huge — my daughter set him on a fallen log a few feet off the path from where we’d found him.  And on we went.

Huge black caterpillar with spiky feetWhen we got home we searched online and found a link that fit our description of “huge black bristly caterpillar” and as I scrolled down through the pictures, I knew we’d found a match: The Giant Leopard Moth!

But when the actual picture of the moth appeared, I jumped up — I’d seen this moth before in Hunting Red! I found our copy and started thumbing through.  I had to go through several times before I found the picture on the dedication page.  Yes, there it was — the moth and the caterpillar.  Very exciting!

We found a huge, black, bristly caterpillar -- turns out it was a Giant Leopard Moth fromAccording to the article, the caterpillars eat the non-native invasive honeysuckle.  We enjoy plucking the honeysuckle blossoms and sipping the tiny drop of liquid nectar.  If you’ve never tried this, The Magic Onions has a short post on how to experience this sweet summer foraging ritual.

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Earthing at the Hydra’s Lair on the First Morning in May

Happy May Day!  Today, being the first day of May means we listen to “Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight” by Lisa Theriot.  The song has a rich and varied historical basis which you can read all about on Wikipedia.  Some day, maybe next April, I plan to research it myself!

Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight - a song for the first morning in May
Hunting Red’s artist sketched the opening scene

My children disagree with the term “Elf Knight” — they claim he is neither elf nor knight, but rather one of the Fey.  I’ll leave that research to them.

Also since it is May 1, we started our 30×30 Outdoor Challenge — with a 40 minute walk to the Hydra’s Lair.  This is a retention waterway at the base of a hill in a nearby neighborhood.  I have yet to see the hydra, but today there were 1000s of tadpoles wriggling in the shallows.

Checking out tadpoles on the first morning in May
No hydras, just tadpoles

By checking off our 30×30 Challenge, we are also on our way to completing the 30×3 Challenge!  After dinner we took a 20 minute walk as well.  So 60 minutes for Day 1!

Earthing!  Walking barefoot on the earth...
A little EARTHING in the last snow of the season

I learned a new word today.  Earthing.  Earthing is the process of absorbing earth’s free flowing electrons from it’s surface through the soles of one’s feet.  So that’s why my children are always barefoot!

May your May be filled with music, successfully completed challenges, and a little earthing!


Challenges to Getting Outdoors Daily

Is getting out into nature daily a challenge?

Or do you need a challenge to get out daily into nature?

Getting out into Nature a challenge? {}Tomorrow is May 1.  Nothing like a new month to take on a new challenge.  And MAYbe this is your month.  May is spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern hemisphere — not too hot, not too cold, just right for getting outside and getting a daily dose of nature time!

But…maybe you’re feeling too busy.  Or maybe you’ve had a nature walk go wrong.  Or maybe you can’t seem to remember a single benefit to time outdoors when the kids beg for just 30 more minutes in Minecraft. Or is that only at my house?

Getting outside, every day, can be a challenge — so here are 3 challenges to get you there:

1. Starting May 1, the David Suzuki Foundation has a 30×30 challenge.  That’s 30 minutes outdoors for 30 days.  Do you have 30 minutes?  Just 30 out of 1440 a day — about 2% of your time.

100 Trees, 100 Chances to Get Outside! Free Worksheet Download

2. Want something less time-bound? Wilder Child offers a chart called 100 Trees, 100 Chances in the fantastic article 6 Ways to Get Your Kids Outside (When They Don’t Want to Go).  Color a tree every time you go outdoors and watch your forest grow!

3. Is a purposeful, structured  time more your style?  Back in 2008, the Handbook of Nature Study Outdoor Hour Challenge began — and is still going.  Years of challenges to get you started and keep you outside!

Do you know of another challenge that encourages getting outside regularly? Share it in the comments! Or tweet to @pocketmousepub and let us know!

And after you’ve been outside, check out the Nature Chills Challenge to share what you’ve discovered!

I just read a 2010 study that found kids ages 8-18 spent 7 hours and 38 minutes in front of a screen daily, about 27% of their day.  Has technology use gone up or down at your house in the last 5 years?