Youth Nature Immersion Handbook
Through The Trees Handbook
Section One - About Through The Trees
Through the Trees is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization located in a beautiful forest setting in Freeport, Maine offering enrichment programs for youth and classes and programs for adults.
To bring more peace, freedom and sense of belonging into the world by connecting people to nature, themselves and a thriving community.
To gently guide and invite people to connect with the wonders of nature by providing transformational experiences that awaken and enliven the mind, body and soul.
Our approach is three-pronged and caters to all ages; 1) We invite peace, freedom and deep healing opportunities through Nature Immersion and Connection. 2) We provide opportunities that forge resilience, confidence and humility through Nature Engagement. 3) We offer opportunities to take action in tending to our Earth, fostering a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging and fulfillment through Nature Stewardship and Service.
Be Your Best Self
THROUGH THE TREES STAFF
Guide - Experienced Adult Program Leader
- CPR and First Aid Certified
- Registered Maine Guide (or actively in training to become a RMG)
- Passionate about Nature and building Communities
- Proficient at leading and Managing groups in all 4 seasons in Maine
Mentor - Trained Program Staff
- CPR and First Aid Certified
- Trained on Wilderness Skills
- Passionate about Nature and building Communities
- Compassionate leader
Mentor in Training - provide support for the Staff and are preparing to become Mentors in the future.
Section Two - Community Agreement
At Through The Trees, we operate and are guided by our Root Values. Our goal is to share, teach and maintain these Root Values through modeling, conversation, gentle redirection, and the setting of clear boundaries. We expect our participants to show investment in and progress toward embodying these values. We do not expect perfection, however, participants, Guides, and Mentors in our programs need to work together to create a culture that personifies these values. If a participant is consistently showing that they are unable or unwilling to uphold a basic standard of behavior, they may be asked to take a break, adjust their schedule or discontinue participation in our programs.
A DEEPER LOOK INTO OUR ROOT VALUES
Safety is our #1 value. We strongly believe that embracing a healthy relationship with risk taking and risk management is essential to maximize each individual's own personal safety, boundaries, creativity and development. At Through The Trees, safety and safety decisions are something that we discuss often and empower participants to make for themselves whenever possible.
Additionally, natural boundaries that are set and explained must be respected, so that our Guides and Mentors know where participants are at all times. If a participant is consistently unable to follow a basic instruction from a Guide or Mentor like: “ Please don’t add wood to the fire without permission,” or “everyone please place your sticks on the ground,” or “stay where you can see me and hear when I call,” they may not be a good fit for our programs.
We ask our participants to be respectful toward themselves, each other, and our Guides and Mentors. This can manifest as listening when others are talking, honoring others’ needs, and regarding others’ words and feelings as important. All our participants are expected to treat one another with respect and avoid harsh or hurtful words and actions.
Our participants need to demonstrate a healthy respect for our Guides and Mentors whose job is to maintain the safety and enjoyment of the whole group. Our skilled Guides and Mentors lead with kindness and consideration for the needs of all participants to the best of our ability. We cannot tolerate blatant disrespect toward rules or expectations that are laid out by our staff.
We also ask that all members of our community respect one another's personal space and belongings. Any participant who consistently shows a lack of respect for others’ personal boundaries or defaces property may be asked to leave our programs.
We aim to foster an environment that feels emotionally safe. We work to create a culture of kindness and empathy. Social and emotional learning are a large part of our programs. Being together in the natural world creates ample opportunity to build teamwork and learn to overcome our differences. Disagreements are a natural part of life, but we ask our community members to work with us to resolve disputes with kindness and respect.
Participants are expected to be responsible for being prepared with the appropriate gear and provisions to help support their experience at Through The Trees. We expect them to keep track of and take good care of their own gear and group gear, as well as being good stewards of the earth by helping to keep trails and campsites clean. Taking responsibility for one’s own actions, such as returning items when borrowed, letting a Guide or Mentor know if something is damaged or if a participant makes a mistake that needs to be remedied is also important.
Mindfulness is an important part of interacting with the natural world. We must learn to slow ourselves down and widen our awareness as we seek to develop wilderness skills and learn what nature has to teach us. We invite our participants to incrementally become more mindful. Everyone begins from a different place, but we ask our participants to be open to slowing down and becoming more aware of themselves and their surroundings.
BE YOUR BEST SELF
We embrace the philosophy that we are all students of life and are constantly striving to grow, learn and become better versions of ourselves everyday. We know everyone is at different places and phases of life and we respect everyone’s individual nature and path. We expect all participants to bring their best selves to Through The Trees on most days. On the days when a participant is not feeling their best, we ask that they are open and honest about it so we can help support them through their hard day.
We want Through The Trees to be a place everyone wants to be! Enjoying time together in a light-hearted and joyful manner helps everyone to feel safe, welcome and free to be themselves. We strive to create a “yes” environment where there are lots of smiles, laughter, learning and growth.
BEHAVIOR IMPROVEMENT PROCESS
If during our program a participant lacks self-control, particularly in the areas of safety, kindness, and respect, a Guide or Mentor will separate them from the group and sit with them until they regain their control to resume normal activity. It is understood that all participants need to learn to respond to their emotions in a constructive manner, and for various reasons, not all are able to do this regularly. At no time will harsh punishment be used, nor will the participant be neglected. One function of the programs at Through the Trees is to guide participants through this process of developing self-discipline and self-awareness in a group setting.
Our program is not staffed for extended one-on-one time between our staff and a participant. If a participant shows some of the following behavior day after day and it cannot be modified and/or they begin to require one-on-one attention for extended periods, we may request that they have a reduced schedule or leave the program.
Unfavorable behaviors includes:
- Being overly aggressive
- Repeated physical or verbal assaults to others
- Distracting behavior when the group is meeting to discuss safety
- Wandering away from the group area
- Inability to follow simple requests or instructions
- Destructive to the space, group gear or others’ belongings
If the above behavior occurs on a frequent basis, and has not improved after redirection, we will follow the following protocol:
- The Guide will initiate a conversation with appropriate parties to discuss the issue and ways we can help support a change in behavior. We value the input of parents in helping us problem solve when kids are struggling.
- Possible adjustments may occur to help change behavior:
- Make a plan that the child, guides and parents agree to for supporting the child in making better choices.
- Reduce the participant’s schedule for example, participant comes for half a day instead of a full day if it is too hard for them to have self control for the full program day.
- Take a break from the program until a later date.
- Withdraw from the program.
All measures taken are in the best interest of the participant, the parents, the other participants and our staff.
Section Three - Sickness Policy
We ask that parents monitor their child’s health and keep them home if they feel sick. If a child has or has had a fever or any major symptoms of sickness in the last 24 hours or if they have a cough, please do not send them to the program that day. As an outdoor program, we are unable to provide extra care for a sick child and a child who is feeling unwell will likely struggle during their time at TTT. If our staff finds that a child is feeling very unwell or exhibits any major signs of sickness, we will call parents and ask them to pick up their child.
Section Four - Managing Risk and Safety
At Through The Trees, we believe in the importance of taking appropriate risks to support healthy development of the bodies, minds, and emotions of children. Navigating risky scenarios helps children become confident decision makers, develops physical and emotional competence, and creates optimal conditions for learning. Research strongly suggests that taking physical risks, particularly in a natural setting, helps kids with emotional regulation, social skills, self esteem, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity.
We try to avoid making unnecessary blanket rules and policies that don’t take into account the unique development of each individual child. Instead, our guides are present and available to coach kids in making healthy and appropriate decisions, and assess potential risks and consequences. If a child is repeatedly making decisions that feel uncomfortable or unsafe to our guides, we reserve the right to make more stringent rules in the moment based on the needs of the individual or group. Our goal is to support kids in developing their own internal compass when it comes to engaging in activities with inherent risk, allowing them to have a felt experience of what is right for their own bodies and practice trusting their instincts while keeping themselves and others safe.
The vast majority of children have very strong survival instincts and will proceed with caution when trying new things. Of course we occasionally encounter kids who are reckless or struggle to make good choices when it comes to risk. We work with these kids individually to help them read their body's cues and make safe choices.
We have created some guidelines around some of our most commonly experienced risky activities to help support our guides, mentors and participants in making healthy and safe choices around activities that have the potential to move from the realm of risk to the realm of danger.
We try to avoid making rules whenever possible, but we currently have 4 rules we expect everyone to follow:
- No sharing food. With so many kids having allergies and food sensitivities, we ask kids to refrain from sharing their food with people outside their immediate family.
- Shoes must be worn at all times. We are operating on old farmland and often encounter metal or glass in our woods. For safety we ask kids to wear shoes unless they are laying in a hammock or doing a guide-led, intentionally shoeless activity.
- Kids may not go near the water without a Guide or Mentor. Trips to the pond or brook must be organized and a guide or mentor will have kids in their sight anytime we are near the water.
- No hitting, pushing, or kicking. Physical violence will not be tolerated in our program. Kids may engage in physical play under the guidance of a guide or mentor, as long as they are not intentionally causing physical harm.
Tree climbing is an amazing activity with lots of benefits for children’s development. In addition to the obvious development of strength, balance, and dexterity, tree climbing provides opportunities to learn the fundamentals of botany, the qualities of different tree species, what other plants, insects, and animals live in or on the tree and more.
We find it is quite rare for children to climb higher than is safe for their own skill level, or put themselves in danger. We use the following guidelines to steer kids tree climbing experiences:
- Make sure the tree is safe to climb: Check to make sure the tree is alive, sturdy, and large enough to hold your weight. Look at roots, foliage, and bark to help make your decision. Also consider the weather and determine if branches might be wet, icy, or slippery.
- Consider the type of tree: Oaks and maples are strong and sturdy, beech trees are flexible and white pines tend to be brittle and have lots of dead lower branches. When in doubt, ask a guide for help before you choose a climbing tree.
- You can only climb the tree if you can get into it without help: If you can get in the tree, it is likely you can get out of the tree safely as well. We don’t boost kids into trees or use tires or stumps to get into lower branches. When a child is ready to get into the tree without help, they are ready to be safe climbers. That being said, we are happy to help in other ways, like giving moral support or talking through which branches to choose.
- 3 points of contact: There are four points on our bodies that make contact with the tree: two hands and two feet. Three of these points should maintain contact with the tree at all times.
- Stay close to the trunk: For both our safety and the health of our trees, climbers should stay close to the trunk. This is where branches are strongest and we have the most options for hand and foot holds.
- Test branches before you put your full weight on them: Before using a branch as a support, use your fourth point of contact to check for strength and stability. Make sure branches are alive, not broken, and large enough to support your weight. A good rule of thumb is to not trust a branch that is thinner than your wrist.
- No more than three kids in a tree at a time: For smaller and trickier trees, we may ask that only one or two kids be in a tree at a time.
- Check in with your body: Before moving higher into a tree, check in with your body. Do you feel safe and sturdy? Are you confident you can get down safely from where you are? Do you feel ready to climb higher or is this good enough?
Stick Play is a developmentally appropriate and common form of play in our forested environment. We often step in to provide some guidance on how to safely engage in stick play (ie: never purposefully hit another person with a stick, do not swing a stick wildly around other people, and learn how to safely walk or run with a stick without posing a risk to yourself or others.) Whenever stick play is happening, a guide will be close by, observing for signs that children need guidance or support. We step in when we feel it is necessary to maintain physical and emotional safety for all participants.
We feel that physical play is both developmentally appropriate and an incredible opportunity for children to learn what consent and collaboration looks and feels like. We work closely with kids to design games and opportunities to physically interact in ways that feel good and fair for all participants. When physical play goes off track, we facilitate conversations in which kids practice expressing what does and does not feel good and safe for them and expect that everyone will listen to their messages and respect their boundaries. This is not something that children learn all at once, but learn through practice in a safe environment. Mistakes happen, feelings get hurt, but we all learn from these moments how to interact with each other in respectful and mutually enjoyable ways.
We have both a brook and a pond on our land.
The pond is quite shallow on the edges and is mostly used for frog catching and wildlife exploration as well as ice skating and hockey when the pond is frozen. Our policy is that a guide must be within 30 feet of all children when we are near the pond and children are expected to stay where we can see them and they can clearly hear our instructions when we are doing a pond activity.
When the weather is warm we allow kids to splash around in our shallow brook to cool off. Our policy is that if kids are in the water a guide must be within 10 feet of them at all times and attentively watching.
Fire, Knives and Tools
Participants in our programs learn to work with fire, pocket knives and tools. Our Guides and Mentors walk them through understanding how to mitigate risk by employing the following protocols. We encourage parents to review these policies and if you are comfortable allowing practice at home, please try to follow similar procedures to help maintain safety and consistency.
Fire Safety Protocol - Through The Trees Fire Safety Agreement
STOP - Make sure you have permission and are in a good physical, emotional and mental space.
- Get permission from a TTT Guide or Mentor before you begin.
- Physical - Make sure no one else is within arm’s reach.
- Emotional - You are in a calm state where you are able to make smart and safe decisions.
- Mental - You are feeling alert and ready to focus on what you are doing and what is happening in your surroundings.
Before building the fire: Look at your space, clear an area and remove leaves, sticks, and other burnable materials. Look above and around you. Use rocks that you find to make a fire ring/area if available.
OVERSEE - Make sure your fire is safely under control.
- Don’t make the fire too big. A standard rule of thumb, 12x12x12 - fire ring is no more than 12 inches in diameter and flames are no more than 12 inches high.
- Never leave a fire unattended.
- Stay at least three feet away from the fire unless you have to get closer to tend to it.
- Don’t poke the fire needlessly or throw things in the fire.
- Do not run around or near a fire.
EXTINGUISH - Make sure you safely conclude your fire experience.
- Have a means to extinguish the fire - have a water bucket, snow or dirt/soil.
- Make sure the fire is completely out before you leave it. This means that you can put your hand where the fire was and not feel any heat.
LEVELS OF FIRE PROFICIENCY
We have designated five levels in our nine-month homeschool program (not in our summer program) to clearly distinguish fire building proficiency. This helps us and the participant be aligned on where they are on their fire building journey and what they are allowed to do while at Through The Trees. These steps will vary depending on the cohort, however below is an example.
Level 1: Learn and accept basic fire safety rules and have been introduced to the Through The Trees Fire Safety Agreement. Learn to safely light a match.
Level 2: Demonstrate enough self control that allows Guides and Mentors to feel comfortable teaching fire building. Practice reciting the Through The Trees Fire Safety Agreement. Understand the fire triangle and natural materials needed to build a fire. Practice building a fire with a Guide or Mentor.
Level 3: Collect your own materials, build and light own fire with supervision and permission.
Level 4: Complete challenges: three-match challenge, one-match challenge, timed fire challenge, water boil challenge. Practice making flint and steel fire.
Level 5: Build and tend a fire of your own with permission. Know how to choose a site for fire and create a fire ring or pit. Demonstrate an understanding of leave no trace principles. Help support others in their fire building skills.
Knife and Tools Safety Protocol & Agreement
STOP - Make sure you are in a good physical, emotional and mental space.
- Did you get permission from a TTT Guide or Mentor before you begin?
- Physical - Make sure no one else is within arm’s reach.
- Emotional - You are in a controlled state where you are able to make smart and safe decisions.
- Mental - You are feeling alert and ready to focus on what you are doing and what is happening in your surroundings.
AWAY - always cut away from your finger or other body parts
SHARP - a sharp, clean knife is a safe knife
STORE - knives are closed, in a sheath and put away when not in use
LEVELS OF KNIFE & TOOL USE PROFICIENCY
We have designated five levels to clearly distinguish knife and tool use proficiency. This helps us and the participant be aligned on where they are on their knife and tool use journey and what they are allowed to do while at Through The Trees. These may also vary from c
Level 1: Able to recite and apply our Knife and Tool Safety Agreement - SASS
Level 2: Use a knife to cut vegetables, use a peeler to shave bark off sticks, basic hammer skills. Discussion and recitation of basic knife/tool safety.
Level 3: Use a saw and begin whittling with a knife, both with close adult supervision.
Level 4: Use a saw or pocket knife with permission. Understand and recite hatchet safety rules. Use a hatchet with close Adult supervision.
Level 5: Use your own tools responsibly. Use a hatchet with permission. Can carry your knife on your person.
Helping kids develop social skills, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence are important parts of the work we do at Through The Trees. The natural environment affords us an incredible backdrop for fostering a deep sense of self, building meaningful friendships and a teamwork mentality.
It is normal for conflict to occur between kids and we are committed to using times of conflict as opportunities to learn skills for expressing ourselves, setting boundaries, negotiating compromise, and navigating disagreement. When kids are in conflict, our guides take time to listen with empathy, drawing from the principles of Marshall Rosenberg's framework for Non-Violent Communication. Using this amazing tool, we aim to help kids identify their feelings and needs in a given situation and help them identify what they want to request from others without relying on blame or shame. We are all learning together, and while it often takes some time and effort to work through more challenging social dynamics or conflicting personalities, we know that there is a lot of important growth happening in these moments.
We ask parents to be in communication with us if kids are feeling distressed about a social dynamic or interaction, and we will work together to make a plan that feels supportive to all. When kids leave our program prematurely because of an unpleasant social interaction, without taking time to see if the problem can be solved, they miss out on the learning and growth that are trying to occur. To the best of our ability we try to work through these challenging moments together and commonly see kids come out the other side more confident and capable.
We do not tolerate bullying behavior or physical violence, but we also know that much of the time this kind of behavior comes out of an unexpressed need or a skill that hasn’t been learned yet. We try to give kids the benefit of believing that they are capable of growing past using undesirable behavior to get their needs met and don’t need to operate under the labels of “bully” or “victim.” If a child’s social behavior is having a significant negative impact on the dynamics of the group, and they seem unable to shift this pattern, we may ask them to take a break until they have made a developmental shift or learned some new skills.
Maintaining open communication with the parents in our community is very important to us. We encourage you to reach out to us anytime questions or issues arise so we can work together to find a resolution that works for everyone.
Please email us with individual questions or concerns about your child, planned absences a day or more in advance, enrollment requests, and schedule or payment issues. Our email address is email@example.com.
Section Five - Gear & Food List
At Through the Trees, we are outdoors every day, in rain, snow or shine! We love to fully immerse ourselves into the elements which means we often leave pretty dirty. Only extreme weather may bring us into a tent or shelter for short periods of time during our day. To help ensure a comfortable day at Through The Trees, it is required that all participants bring the items below (labeled) each day. View our complete gear list for the 9-month Homeschool Program and Summer Program.
As you prepare for a day at Through The Trees, ask yourself the following questions:
- What does the weather forecast tell me about the day ahead?
- What should be worn to program and what should be packed in their backpack based on the weather forecast? If it is at all wet or snowy, please make sure waterproof layers are on their body at drop off.
It is best to avoid cotton clothing in cold weather as cotton absorbs moisture when we sweat. Because it dries slowly, it makes us work harder to stay warm. We recommend good quality wool, fleece or synthetic layers for year round comfort.
Section Six - Cancellation Policies
We find that as long as participants are dressed properly, being outside in almost any type of weather is comfortable. It’s important that participants have good waterproof clothing and footwear and have adequate backup clothing packed. Please see our detailed clothing and gear list for each season to help make sure your child is properly prepared for all weather conditions.
The woods often provide adequate shelter from the elements, we have large tarps to provide extra protection from rain, wind and the hot sun when needed. We also have two large bell tents equipped with wood stoves to support participants who get wet and/or cold.
When & Why we make the decision to close
We understand that the decision to close or delay programming due to inclement weather has a significant impact on families. Our top priority is the participants' safety. After careful consideration of the weather forecasts and road conditions the decision to close or delay Through The Trees programming will be made by 6:00 a.m. or earlier. We will announce our decisions through email, social media platforms, and text when possible.
The decision to cancel programs or activities due to inclement weather is made at the discretion of our Registered Maine Guides. An announcement will be made at least two hours prior to the program or event if weather conditions permit.
Due to the nature of TTT nature immersion philosophy we do endeavor to allow the participants to experience the wide diversity of weather that Maine has to offer so that they can learn skills and concepts to be comfortable and safe in nature, however TTT also wants to avoid exposure to dangerous situations.
Dangerous situations can be defined as:
- Sustained high winds with gust 30 knots or higher
- Thunderstorms predicted throughout the day
- Extreme high temperatures
- Heat index of 100 degrees or greater
- Extreme cold temperatures with an excessive wind chill
- Temperature with a wind chill of 10 degrees or below
- Winter storms that bring a significant amount of snow or ice accumulations that make driving dangerous
Homeschool Program: In the event that we have to cancel the Homeschool Program because of dangerous weather conditions, we will have one scheduled make-up day for each day of the week (Monday through Thursday). Due to time constraints and the nature of holding an outdoor program in Maine, we are only able to offer one make up day per day of the week. For example, if we must cancel program on two Mondays, we will only be able to make up one of those days. We have time designated each year for weather make-up days, and for the 2023-24 nine-month program there are designated Fridays in April and May 2024:
- The make up day for Mondays is Friday, April 12th.
- The make up day for Tuesdays is Friday, April 26th
- The makeup day for Wednesdays is Friday, May 3rd.
- The make up day for Thursdays is Friday, May 17th.
These days will only be used for program if needed as a make up day. Refunds are not provided for days cancelled due to weather.
SUMMER: If two days in a week must be canceled, we will offer a makeup day the Friday of that same week. If one day is canceled, we will not provide a makeup day. Refunds are not provided for days cancelled due to weather.
Withdrawal from TTT 9-Month Program
If you must withdraw your child from the program a 30-day notification is required. If at least 30 days notice is given, the remaining monthly payments will be canceled. If less than 30-days notice is given, the next month's payment is required, and all remaining tuition payments thereafter will be canceled. Notice of withdrawal must be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The application/enrollment fee and deposit upon enrollment are non-refundable.