COVID-19, NATURE SCHOOL

Now Introducing Nature School

First, a letter to you:

July 28, 2020

Dear families,

As I sit here on this beautiful day, I hope you are well and enjoying the summer, in spite of this crisis in which we find ourselves. In addition to our summer camps, we have been trying to go fishing, camping, and be outdoors as much as possible. In May we dug some garden beds, and, together with little helping hands, tossed seeds into the garden. Now, in late July, our garden is a forest of randomly growing Kale, Sunflowers, Beets, Carrots, and wildflowers. Our moose-eaten apple tree has two fine apples ripening on its branches. We made the garden a sanctuary – a place where we can remember the importance of letting go and abiding in this exact moment. I enjoy the pell-mell wilderness of the garden. It reminds me of the tiny hands who “planted” it with such glee, throwing handfuls toward the dirt as if they thought it might instantaneously transform into a vegetable. It makes me feel warm and smile, looking at the crowded, unruly plants growing in spite of the chaos.

Over the last few months, the stress in children and adults has been palpable as we have navigated a difficult path of health, safety, work, and school in a world where it feels like our collective zeitgeist is fraying into chaos. Its as though the world itself is holding its breath and waiting. Not knowing how long we must hold our breath nor what the landscape looks like when it is over can be unbearable. We promised ourselves in April, what seems like year ago now, that no matter what happened, we would try to eke out as much of each moment as we could. We would not give in to fear. We would not give in to hate. We would not give in to despair. We would control what we could, and be at peace with the rest; we would treat ourselves and those around us with grace, patience, and love. We would do our best to stay healthy and even-keeled as we navigated these rough waters.

We have been lucky. With hard work and many long nights adapting to this evolving situation, and a community of families behind us, we have been able to support our business and our community by providing child care, keeping our guides employed, hiring more, and working with employees and families to continue our program over the summer, with great success so far, and watch as it begins to grow into a year-round outdoor studies program. Not only that, but we are looking to bring together two of our passions: language/culture exchange, and the outdoors, with language immersion versions of our programs. More on that later.

Our summer camps have been truly a blessing, and we feel very fortunate to be able to 1) run summer camps and 2) provide kids with an outdoor experience to alleviate their stress. They may not carry the burden of financially supporting their families and the myriad adult responsibilities we have, but children have been the silent bearers of our stress over the course of this crisis. Unlike most adults, they often have difficulty recognizing and verbalizing their emotions and they have no tangible way of controlling their lives. They listen in on and observe everything around them but often lack a way of conceptualizing it. It is truly heartbreaking.

It will get better. We know that children will get through this-it will be an identifying landmark of their childhood, yes, but after it is over, it will get better and they will continue on to have eventful, happy lives.

Dan and I, along with our guides, have witnessed anecdotally that it takes about 2 weeks for a child to decompress and return to themselves at our summer camps. Many of these children we have worked with at our after school program. We are honored by the privilege of being a part of their childhood, and this summer, we have been the lucky bystanders in watching kids remember how to play, how to use their imagination, and, most beautifully, unfold their most difficult to understand emotions by acting it out through play in the woods. More than before, we spend a great majority of time discussing social emotional concepts with children, laying in the grass on a warm summers day for guided meditation, breathing, recognizing emotions and finding ways to verbalize them, learning to make space when it is needed, and so much more. There is nothing wrong with this-in fact, it is normal for anyone right now to go through many difficult emotions in the course of a day.

We all need to simply stop, and breathe.

We have been so honored to watch kids grow a depth of emotional understanding and connect in the best of ways with nature this summer. Kids truly understand the healing power of nature in our lives when they are allowed to decompress in the woods.

This, more than anything, is the crux of our programming: give kids the chance to develop a connection with nature, give them to chance to use their imaginations. Then, when they are ready to learn, we step forward and guide them to a set of skills that will last them a lifetime in our world’s natural spaces.

There is so much I want to say to our community – I feel your stress. I understand what you are going through. It is hard. Every day I feel it and I breathe through it, reminding myself to be in this moment and breathe. We went dip netting in Kenai. I was on the beach with a hot spot doing office work, taking turns with Dan between being suspended in the water and truly living in the moment, watching the timeless ocean waves ripple back and forth, waiting for a salmon to swim into the net – blissfully existing in that moment. Then, going back to office work moments later and trying to create an answer to an impossible situation. I lamented across a ten foot distance to two women that I wasn’t doing it right-office work while dip netting? It seemed sacrilegious. They told me they had been on zoom conference calls all day, while dip netting. This is the moment we are in – do what you can, control what you can, but be graceful, peaceful, and patient with yourself, your family, and your community.

I hope to grow this program into a decades-long and beyond venture, and I hope to do it with you. I hope that Into the Woods Alaska elevates the standard of summer camps and outdoor studies programs in Anchorage and beyond and that more businesses rise to meet the demand for nature-based programs in which they truly invest in the growth of a child. Knowing the healing power of nature, I hope to get as many Anchorage kids outdoors as possible over the years and to be a force of good in developing, healing, and helping our community. I know that we all have been through tough times before, and we will get through this together.

Before you scroll below to check out our fall offerings and see what we’ve been up to, please know that you have been in my thoughts – I wish you the very best and send you much gratitude and peace.

With warm regards,

Kristina

Nature School Offerings


Click below to look at our current offerings for each group. We’re proud to offer nature school programs – each calendar is a different age group offering various age-appropriate programs. All programs have a focus on academic subjects within the context of nature.

We apply experiential learning and outdoor safety skills, as much as possible, to support the learning of academic subjects. For example, in math and science we will bring in map reading, the making of compasses, and measuring natural phenomena like creek levels, trees, and doing geometry measurements in the mountains. In literature and writing, we will read while in nature but also assign children to read outside of the program so we can discuss the book while wandering through our natural spaces and learning outdoor safety skills. Kids – everyone- learns best while moving and using their hands. We are excited to bring Into the Woods Alaska into this next phase of development and offer more quality outdoor studies programming to your family.

After you’ve checked it out, scroll further below to read our plan in detail.

The Anchorage Youth Hiking Club

The AYHC, ages 13-18

The Junior Outdoor Explorers Club

The JOEC, ages 9-12

A Preschool in the Woods

ages 3-6

TBA – COMING SOON

Into the Woods Community Calendar

family hikes, ice cream socials, camping trips, coming soon

How it Will Work:

We are offering monthly programming in core academic subjects, with the first monthly session starting August 31 – Sept. 25. Programs cover science, math, reading & writing, and are 3-day/week or 2-day/week options. We are in the process of becoming a home school vendor. If you are registered with a home school organization, you should be able to find us soon on the ASD home school vendor list.

We are dividing our programs into four age groups:

  1. A Preschool in the Woods, ages 3-6 (with parents attending, and without – TBA – COMING SOON!)
  2. The Young Outdoor Explorers Club, ages 5-7 (The YOEC)
  3. The Junior Outdoor Explorers Club, ages 8-12 (The JOEC)
  4. The Anchorage Youth Hiking Club, ages 13-18 (The AYHC)

Each of our age groups has distinct programs designed at their particular developmental level-the AYHC and JOEC may have more socratic, seminar-style courses, whereas the Pre-K and YOEC programs provide more play-based, imagination-based learning. We believe in the power of multi-age learning-meeting kids where their actual learning needs are and working with them individually. Creating “buy-in” with kids so they are eager to learn and investigate new ideas and topics.

Each of our nature classes will have a corresponding “twin” in our online course catalog. Parents, if they choose, can purchase the corresponding online curriculum and lesson plans. Each guide creates their own curriculum – some courses may be more involved than others, but all courses are based on experiential learning. For reading and writing, most classes will have kids read a book outside of class and be ready to discuss it in class-some may have your child bring their favorite book and talk to the group about it as we dive into nature. There are many creative ways to tackle these core academic subjects in the woods, and our team is very excited to begin this new chapter. Before class begins, we will have syllabuses and course catalogs on a dedicated page under the “youth outdoor studies program” menu tab. Stay tuned for another newsletter when those, and other aspects of our website, are prepared.

Because every kid needs a hero right now – we are proud to introduce our “Heros, Myths, and Legends of math, reading, and science” Course for our Junior Outdoor Explorers (ages 9-12).

Check it out, along with our other unique courses here

We are keeping our groups small and static for month-long commitments. In the second session, when it is colder out, we will offer half-day blocks only (3-4 hours). We are working toward daycare licensing to begin an in-home preschool program for ages 3-6, and in the near future, we hope to have a facility from which we can explore nature and within which we can host nature school classes even on the coldest days.

Language Immersion programs: This is where we need your help. We are on the search for guides who are fluent in target ASD immersion school languages to provide quality programs and uphold our core company values and philosophies. If you know someone interested, send them our way asap! If you are interested in this, contact us. We have a job listing posted, however if you know a nature-loving, outdoors enthusiast who is fluent in Russian, Japanese, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, ASL, or another language, please feel free to pass on our information to them!
We are extending summer camp programming until the end of August. We will phase in more academic work over the course of the month in preparation for nature school. If you need childcare/summer camps over the next few weeks, we still have openings for all age groups.

Workshops, such as our bike maintenance and repair, backpacking, water filtering, and much more, will be available on weekday evenings and weekends from August through the Winter months.


Calendars & locations:

Safety is our top priority. Now with this crisis, this gives a whole new depth to that practice. At drop-off, children remain in their car – our central guide scans with a touch less thermometer and checks them in, directing them to their guide and group stationed several dozen feet away. We will ask that children with temperatures over 99.1 stay home for the day and potentially longer. All adults wear masks at drop off and pick up, and in close quarters. Children are encouraged to also wear masks in the same instances…more on masks below. At check out, our guide will walk your child to your car. Before drop off, we ask that each family take a moment to fill out our Daily Health Questionnaire.

We will have the Pre-K, YOEC, and JOEC operating at the same location every day. To give all of Anchorage some love, we are exploring a different natural space every week day- see chart below. The AYHC will be at Prospect Heights and Glen Alps for the first session, and may join the other groups for the following sessions.

Think of our central check-in, check-out guide as the earth, and their program guides act as satellites. Our distinct groups will not mix together, but they will base out of the same location. A central guide will be keeping social distance, barring emergencies, and having them positioned thus allows for the quality control we need to provide excellent programming and efficient management of resources while keeping everyone safe. We have hand sanitizer, hand soap with each guide and at the central check-in/check-out guide as well.

The Pre-k, YOEC, and JOEC all have staggered drop off and pick up times to help spread out the amount of parents waiting while we take temperatures and send children to their guide group for the day.

Pre-K, YOEC, and JOEC daily locations:
MONDAYTUESDAYWEDNESDAYTHURSDAYFRIDAY
KINCAID PARK
STADIUM PARKING LOT
HILLSIDE PARK
TRAIL HEAD
KINCAID PARK
STADIUM PARKING LOT
BLM TRACT
Abbott Loop Community Park
HILLSIDE PARK TRAIL HEAD
AYHC daily locations:
MONDAYTUESDAYWEDNESDAYTHURSDAYFRIDAY
Glen Alps upper lotProspect Heights Trail HeadGlen Alps upper lotProspect Heights Trail HeadGlen Alps upper lot

Mask wearing at ITWAK:

We have had a few parents express concern with us over what we plan to do as far as mask wearing is concerned – whether we wear them too much, or too little. Unfortunately, mask wearing has become a hot button for many people – we are going to simply and unequivocally say that ITWAK supports both science and community, and we are going to do what is right by those standards and ideals. Our top priorities are keeping kids safe, our guides safe, and the community safe. Our guides and our parents will wear masks at times as outlined above.

We are encouraging campers to wear masks during times when we are in close-quarters (waiting for the bathroom, taking a closer look at something). We are not requiring children to wear a mask when it is unrealistic-when we are running and climbing trees and the mask becomes saturated to the point where it is ineffective. Or, if a child is not developmentally ready to understand how to use a mask appropriately or continues to misuse it.

It is understandable to key in on things like mask wearing when we are stressed – it is, for many people, a foreign thing to wear one, yet it is something that we can tangibly control in a time when we have little control. We adults provide strong leadership to children when we are calm, cool and collected. There is no reason any child should feel scared or threatened by mask wearing when we set such an example. Wearing a seat belt doesn’t mean you’ll get in a car crash – it is simply the thing we do to be safe. Carrying bear spray doesn’t mean we will encounter bear attacks – it is what we do to stay safe. We lead by example and education that wearing a mask in the context of certain situations is nothing to be afraid of – in fact, it is being a supportive community member.

As stated above, mask wearing will be a thing we do realistically, and with purpose. There are some situations in which wearing a mask is completely unreasonable – while there are other situations in which wearing a mask is the smart thing to do. Some kids can’t wear masks due to physical or developmental abilities, and that is okay, we can work with that. Like everything else we do, we want to keep kids safe, playing and learning in the woods, and mask wearing lends itself to seamlessly mold into our program at times when it may be appropriate/realistic to do so.


The AYHC up at the summit – JUNE

Forms, Links, and other Cool Changes

Slack – the best thing since sliced trees

Due to the transitory, off-grid nature of our locations, we have implemented a new guide <> parent communication system that helps us communicate efficiently and effectively. Using Slack, you can now have direct communication with ITWAK and our team at all times. Our team will all have access to the same information and we will continue to perform with safety as our top priority.

When you join an ITWAK program, you will be sent an invite to join our parent slack channel. In the channel, guides will provide photos over the course of the day with your specific group, when appropriate, and update parents with any new information as it happens.


Updates and other Forms

Coming soon, there will be a page in the Menu so parents can have quick access to all the various forms they may need, and the links to these forms will also be in the confirmation and reminder emails to make it easy for you. At the end of the day, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for your children to get out and into the woods of Alaska.

We have set up an online form for non-emergency communication from parents to the ITWAK team. This form is quick and easy to use, and makes sure that any information you need to let your child’s guide know about their day – whether they’re not coming, you’re running late, or you’d like to be there early for pick up – rather than a phone call, email, or not getting through because we are at a location with no reception, this form links directly to our team’s slack channel – it is private – and it makes sure that we are all on the same page.


We care about you and what you are experiencing with Into the Woods Alaska. We welcome your feedback, critiques, and suggestions. We consider our time with your family to be important to us, and it is an honor when parents feel comfortable enough to share all things – the good and the bad. Ultimately, we want to be the best youth outdoor studies program out there, but we can’t do that without your help…if you have a frustration or problem – tell us, so we can fix it!


One of the ways we are adapting to keep everyone safe is to have parents fill out the daily health questionnaire – it will come in the reminder email a day before your program and must be filled out before your child can participate. As with our other forms, it is very quick and can be done via smartphone.


For parents that have been with us from the beginning, we are pleased to present this form – parents registering for any ITWAK program must fill this out for each of their children attending. The good news? Fill it out once, update over the years as information may change.


This is an important link – each of our programs’ locations, times, and other pertinent info for drop off and pick up will be found on our calendars page.


Without further ado, check out our photo gallery below from some summer highlights so far – we still have some space left for the rest of August in both the Kincaid Park groups (the YOEC and JOEC) and the Anchorage Youth Hiking Club before Nature School begins August 31.


From the ITWAK Team to you: Thank you for being a part of the Into the Woods Family – it is an honor to be a part of your child’s life, especially during such turbulent times. We are glad to have you!


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