EC Skills Progression

One of the unique and most fundamental aspects of Explorers Club outings is that we take advantage of opportunities that arise organically on our outing, even if that means skipping some of our planned activity for the day. For example, while we may have planned for a day of carving practice but we might instead choose to practice our shelter building skills because the weather turned cold and wet - not ideal for carving but a great teacher for shelter building! In our mentoring community we call this the "50/50" principle. Plan for 100% if the outing and be comfortable shifting up to half of it (sometimes all of it!) because nature provides a more valuable teaching moment or opportunity for exploration. Because of this, no two Explorers Club outings ever look the same.

The balance to this spontaneity is our our Explorers Club skills progression. It is the framework that we utilize to plan for our outings. It ensures that, during their time in Explorers Club, all  Explorers (in AGEC, GEC and BEC) have the same opportunities to engage with the natural world, their communities and themselves. Our skills progression has been built so that when we engage with new skills, we connect these to other skills that have been previously introduced. In this way, Explorers are frequently revisiting skills and deepening their understanding of these skills during their tenure in our program.

Pursuing the skills of living with our natural world leads us on a wonderful, challenging, and rewarding journey. In the EC, we consider these skills to be a means of connecting with our world and a way of empowering ourselves within it. From carving to tracking, from plant knowledge to shelter building to fire making, the natural world endlessly invites us to an exciting and powerful relationship with our beautiful, wild, and living home. 

Our EC Skills Progression will lead the Explorers on an Earth Skills Journey, laying a firm foundation of craftsmanship, wilderness living, and deep naturalist connection over the course of the Explorers tenure in EC. Our aim is for the Explorers to learn to thrive and live with the land while being comfortable in their knowledge that they can gather or create shelter, create fire, and harvest food.

The technical skills of wilderness living are only one part of what we do in our program. The Socio-emotional skills that Explorers have the opportunity to gain in Explorers Club are just as valuable. The Earth Skills that we teach are the canvass for the deeper mentoring and interpersonal group work that emerges on many of our outings. Socio-emotional skills are practiced and addressed throughout the program as they arise in a groups unique experience. 

In the descriptions below, you will be introduced to the technical skills that we teach and how they support the development of socio-emotional skills amongst our participants. 

Year 1: Camouflage and Harvest

The Art of Camouflage

The Art of Camouflage starts with one of the most quintessential Explorer’s Club games: Hide! Through many rounds of hiding with fellow Explorers, we will learn how to blend into our surroundings utilizing shape, size, color, light, shadow, movement, and sound. We also learn how to break up our image using intersecting lines to literally disappear into the landscape. We will train our naturalist's eyes toward a skill which many other animals have mastered. We’ll learn directly from our local teachers as we consider outline and pattern and ways to blend in seamlessly with our surroundings.

In addition to practicing this foundational skill, we will begin to practice and form our specific group culture. We will utilize circles to respect each other and listen from the heart. As we learn many new games this season, we will consider what it means to play with honor. We will practice helping the group and each other maintain physical safety as well as heart safety. We will begin to understand what Stretching our Edge means and how it can help us grow.  

Through practicing the Art of Camouflage, we will get to know our land and the plants and animals that live here. After some practice, we can be as quiet, stealthy, and aware as a bobcat! Be prepared for some foundational Explorers games that will help us on this journey.

The Art of Harvest: Plants

The abundance of spring brings a wilderness of young plants, ripe berries, lush flowers, and everything that eats them. Young birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians are everywhere this time of year, and they are all dependent on the plants. We, too, can join this wild rumpus if and only if we truly know the plants. Plants can feed you, heal you, warm you, help you, or harm you depending on how you relate to them. For this skill, expect an adventure into the plant world and the discovery of some big allies!

The Art of Harvest allows our mentors to facilitate discussions of need versus want as we consider our impact from a resource use prospective. Who else (human and non human) relies on these plants and the resources of our Earth? How much can we take? How much should we leave? We will dive into Leave No Trace philosophy as we consider how to explore, enjoy and live in this world while leaving enough for all of its other inhabitants.

We will utilize honorable harvest guidelines, whose foundations come from many indigenous cultures. A key aspect of these guidelines is that, if you sustain the ones who sustain you, the Earth will last forever. How can we seek to do this better as individuals and as a society?

Year 2: Navigation, Tracking and Bird Language

The Art of Navigation

ation is an essential skill to master when exploring. Whether you are out for a day or a week, on or off the trail, far away or close to home, knowing where you are and where you are going is essential. Eventually the Explorers may choose to go backpacking, and having a good grasp on basic map and compass skills can make the difference between a great backcountry trip and a challenging one.

But what happens when your map gets wet? Or your compass breaks? The skill of navigating without these aids is a practice in tracking the land and learning to use other tools. The Aboriginal peoples of Australia used Songlines - detailed stories of the land - to navigate hundreds of miles across the desert. The Art of Navigation will lead us on great adventures and safely back again.

The technical skills of figuring out where you are or how to get somewhere are only part of the navigation puzzle. During explorations in this season, Explorers will have the opportunity to practice circular leadership and collaborating and compromising. A group makes its best decisions when it has the opportunity to hear from all of its members. How do we make room for quieter voices? How do quieter individuals learn to find their voice and offer their knowledge and insight during the group decision making process? These are crucial skills that a group needs to learn in order to function well. 

During some navigation challenges, groups may find that their are multiple paths that lead to the same destination. When choosing which fork to take, Explorers are tasked with coming to a consensus, meaning that all members agree on the plan. This is a fundamental skill that Explorers will practice more deeply in their second season. Collaborate and compromise never ends and becomes more important as groups are given more autonomy in terms of where they go and how they spend their time on our outings as they develop and mature. 

The Art of Tracking & Bird Language

Tracking is perhaps one of the oldest skills known to humanity. Learning the Art of Tracking is akin to learning a visual language of infinite subtlety. Join us for a season of immersion into the world of reading the landscape for tracks and signs of a variety of wildlife. We will begin with a brief introduction to some basic tracking skills and etiquette, then we will jump right into the local landscape to find tracks and signs of previous passerbys.

When the Explorers become well versed in this skill they can begin to use the landscape as their living source of history and information and the birds as their eyes and ears in the forest. What are the birds telling us that we can’t see? What does the land want us to know? What does it have to teach? Explorers should bring a small pocket notebook and a writing tool to record some of their discoveries.

Tracking the physical world is challenging, exciting and powerful. The same can be said for tracking the emotions of ourselves and our group members. When we track other animals, we seek to see through their eyes and attempt to gain a glimpse into how their minds work in order to track better. How can we learn to be more observant of our communities and become better listeners to those around us? What kinds of emotions arise in us? How did they get there and what kind of feelings do they manifest? These and other questions will help us consider how we translate our skills in tracking the land to tracking the heart and the mind.

Year 3: Shelter

The Art of Shelter Building

In humid climates such as western Washington, our landscape tends to stay damp and cool most of the year. We'll spend this season cultivating the knowledge and experience to stay warm and dry in any weather. 

Our Explorers will build both inner and outer resilience strategies to deal with prolonged exposure to cold temperatures and wet environments this year. Our goal is for them to feel a sense of confidence in knowing that they can be comfortable in any type of weather. We'll also take some time to learn the basics of building a temporary survival shelter. 
We'll practice gathering and constructing with the abundant shelter materials the fall season provides, remembering to learn from the squirrels and the birds as they prepare their shelters for the coming winter. 

During our first season of shelter building, we will consider the basics of shelter. We will also consider how our ability to work as a team impacts our ability to build safe, effective shelters. How do we select a leader to help us keep our efforts harmonized? How do we make sure that all members of our group have an opportunity to share their strengths to support the group process? Teamwork will be the overarching theme of our interpersonal work this season.

The Art of Shelter Building II

Many of us know how to build forts, and some can even say they’ve built primitive shelters. However, the art of building a truly weatherproof earth shelter is one that benefits from guidance and group practice. It’s also a lot of fun!

As Tom Brown Jr. wrote, "The point of survival living or 'earth living' is not to abandon the modern world, but to live more fully within it. Good shelter not only becomes a home and a place to stay warm and dry but offers a sense of permanence and firm foundation for life as well as comfort and security." One of the greatest joys in life is sleeping in your own earth shelter. 

During our second season of shelter building, we will deepen our knowledge of what makes a shelter "good". We will seek to build confidence through the recognition that, using our minds eye and a little imagination, we can take action and effect positive change in our lives and the world around us. We will use shelter building and our other technical skills to continually build our sense of agency and confidence in our ability to help ourselves and others when we need to.

Year 4: Carving

The Art of Carving I

This season we will begin our Art of Carving Earth Skills journey. This skill is a privilege. A knife is a very important and powerful tool, and we will begin the journey with a focus primarily on knife safety and some basic carving techniques. These skills will culminate in the ability to carve a number of fascinating implements as we use this Earth Skill over the coming seasons. Every Explorer must watch the knife safety and usage video before participating. If your Explorer does not have a knife already, the mentors will bring extra knives on our first carving outing. Eventually, we encourage them to acquire their own. We have a number of suggestions for their first knife in this Introduction Letter to the Carving Journey

The introduction of this skill is an important milestone in our Earth Skills progression. In order to begin The Art of Carving, a group must demonstrate a deep understanding of the difference between a tool and a weapon. The group must have the ability to listen well and respect mentor safety instruction. They must also be able to recognize when we can be silly and rambunctious and when a certain activity requires calm, respect and focus. These socio-emotional skills are essential to the safe use of knives.

The Art of Carving II
We'll continue the Art of Carving while making sure to keep in mind that Slow is Fast and Fast is Slow. We'll start by revisiting our knife safety culture and practice some of the basic carving techniques we learned earlier. Hopefully with some focus and lots of trial and error the Explorers will craft a full utensil set that they can use on our summer campouts! Every Explorer should rewatch the knife safety and usage video before participating.

Year 5: Wilderness Travel and Fire

The Art of Wilderness Travel

This season we'll spend some time during each outing working on one the vital technical skills an expeditionary team needs for wilderness travel. All too often we find ourselves trying to learn these skills while out backpacking which can be
daunting when the group is already tired and hungry. Becoming proficient in these skills before we head out will improve our overall experience. Together we will consider and learn how to: maintain and use water purification systems; set up and care for tarp shelters and tents; navigate and orienteer with a compass and topographical map and set up a safe and sanitary backcountry kitchen while using our stoves.

It is necessary for any group to become proficient the technical skills of wilderness travel before heading out into the backcountry. These technical skills are worthless, however, if the group cannot function well, especially as they manage stressful scenarios and conditions that are often out of their control. In this season, groups will be introduced to the concept of Expeditionary Behavior. This is a framework of expectations that helps the group function safely and efficiently. The interpersonal skills acquired while practicing Expeditionary Behavior are just as powerful when utilized during any kind of group work, not just those times when we are in the woods. 

One of the goals of Explorers Club is to foster a community-minded ethic. Practicing backcountry living skills as a group is an effective crucible for developing an attitude of We not Me.

The Art & Skill of Fire (Construction, Maintenance, Ethics, & Culture)

Here's a secret we learn in Explorers Club: there is only one fire. This one fire is everywhere and in everything around us. The Art and Skill of Fire starts with learning how to build a good flame that lasts long and stays where you intend it. We'll find out which plants pass flame well and which don't, we'll use our knives to make tinder, and we'll put our skills to the test with a challenge or two. Explorers should bring their knives and awareness for this season.

Harnessing fire is easier said than done. This skill requires the ethical harvest of the kit materials, the proper shaping and crafting of the tools, and the patience and practice of form and technique. There is a great deal of responsibility and safety involved with this skill. When fire is used as a tool we can create warmth, purify water, cook, make tools and building materials, regulate the landscape, and create a space for conversation and processing. Using fire as a weapon, we can kill, devastate landscapes, squander materials, and injure ourselves. The gift of fire comes with reverence, appreciation, and respect for it.

When groups are introduced to fire, some feel that they are already skilled in this arena. However, when challenged with only using materials found in nature (ex: no paper or cut and dried kindling), they are often humbled. This is a great lesson in the importance of patience and persistence. Fire maintenance can be a difficult skill to learn and it will take perseverance to learn it well.  

Year 6: The Art of Surviving

Our sixth year together will be spent as both a refresher and a test of all that we have learned on our EC Skills Progression. T
he focus will be based around short-term survival in the woods - getting by for a few days rather than intensive wilderness living skills. We will follow the groups focus and energy as they lead us toward the skills that they want to focus on the most. 

With a strong foundation in the Art of Carving and an introduction to survival with Shelter Building we will begin our journey into Fire by Friction.

This is a challenging skill - one that takes much discipline and draws from all the skills we work on in Explorers Club, from tracking which woods are the best for making our kits to making precise cuts with a knife. We will also need to utilize our practice and skill from the Art of Fire.

Fire by Friction is a long journey; one that will take many years to master. The process starts with creating a coal that is produced through friction as the wooden spindle whirls against the fireboard. The motion of the spindle drops hot powder through a notch in the fireboard. The coal is then dropped onto the tinder or nest and blown into a flame. Harnessing fire is easier said than done. This skill requires the ethical harvest of the kit materials, the proper shaping and crafting of the tools, and the patience and practice of form and technique.

As we work on Fire by Friction and revisit many of the other skills we have practiced, we will also be honing our Socio-emotional and interpersonal skills. We will practice our Expeditionary Behavior while deepening our understanding of Collaborate and Compromise, Grasp the Nettle, Leave No Trace, We not Me and Stretch Your Edge.

Year 7: The Art of Thriving

The Art of Thriving begins with understanding that we cannot dominate our land, we can only live with it. 
We can learn to take comfort in the fact that the land is our ally and has everything we need. In our final EC season the Explorers will utilize and deepen the Socio-emotional and Earth skills that they have learned so far as their group engages with challenges on their outings. The group will have fewer but longer outings during this year. In addition, they will have overnight outings that last two whole days!

Although the technical skills of thriving are essential for wilderness living, just as important are the ways we interact and communicate with our peers and community. We’ll spend some time in our last season focusing on the socio-emotional skills of thriving. Taking time to work on our expeditionary behavior, interpersonal and leaderships skills, attitude, patience, and mindset can make or break a thriving experience and can also teach us a lot about working within our local communities back in the front-country. Through team-building activities and scenarios we’ll experiment with some of the most effective tools and strategies the mentors have to offer.

Another important part of this final year of Explorers Club is transition. Throughout the year, the mentors will be weaving activities and discussions about transition into the outings in order to support a healthy adjournment for the group. These reflections are an important part of any process; we take time to consider how we got to where we are in order to inform where we may go next. 

Adolescence is a time that comes with joy, discovery, challenge and many questions. As we finish Explorers Club and look towards this time of transition, we will consider what our personal relationship with nature is and why it is important. We will also consider who we truly are and what skills we have developed that we can use as we meet the challenges of budding adulthood.