TRACKS Youth Program: Amazing integrative initiatives

Since I started working for the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre, I have heard the TRACKS program mentioned almost continuously. TRACKS stands for Trent Aboriginal Culture and Knowledge and Science and is a dynamic and dedicated group of educators and activists. This summer I have been thrilled to come into greater community with them. I was extremely honoured to be part of their Tipi raising, a joint initiative with the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre. I spoke about that in my previous blog. Today, I want to speak about their outreach to kids and families through their Activity Books, Kits and Camps.

This summer, I ordered the TRACKS activity books and summer camp kits (that come with an option of joining in a virtual camp this year). I was so excited when the activity books arrived, one for Spring, Summer and Winter. For those that are interested, there a Fall activity book will be available as the seasons turn! These are beautiful books that are packed full of knowledge. What I love about them is how integrative they are: physics mixes with history, language and nature awareness in their discussion of paddles (beavertail, ottertail and square-tipped) and wiigwaasi-jiimaan (canoes) Which paddle would you choose? And would you take some aamoogaawanzh (wild bergamot) tea on your journey? There are messages for environmental stewardship (take a trip to clean up shorelines in the spring) alongside the frog cycle and tips for making a bistkitenaage (folded birch bark container) to collect sap from the ziinzibaakwawaatig (sugar maple).

Did you know that scouring rush or gziib’nashk is a nutrient rich plant that can be used to make a tea. It helps our bodies absorb Vitamin D3 and is full of calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper, zinc and silicon. If you harvest some, make sure to ask the plant to share it’s medicine and offer something in return.

On a rainy day or a cold winter afternoon, pull up a chair and help Makwa (bear) find his way to his den, imagine what Tracks the chipimunk is dreaming, or search for plant words. There’s lots to do! These booklets are thoughtfully and elegantly laid out and while geared to educate kids, they are a wealth of information for adults that brings us all into greater connection with our world and the many beings that inhabit it. I am excited to try out all of these activities and to expand my own knowledge of the world right outside my door.

My son Gabriel and I did dive into the summer activity kit that arrived! There were three kits offered this year and I ordered all three: Giinzhigoong (Skyworld), Aki (Land) and Nibi (Water) kits. The Giinzhigoong kit arrived recently. WOW! What a brilliant package of goodness! This kit integrates science with traditional indigenous knowledge. The result is a fantastic kit with something for everyone. I can’t wait to see what the others contain.

In this kit, you can make a moon (Nokomis) mobile, a sun dial, make your own meteorite (using clay) and examine impact craters with marbles. There is a planetary distance activity and when you’re done that, you can choose your favourite planet (or make one up!) using a coffee filter. You can also explore the night sky using the Ojibwe Star Chart to make a constellation in a jar or make your own chart on Turtle’s back. IF you wish, you can examine the magnetic properties of the earth. Make your own compass or create your own waawaate (northern lights)! When you’re tired and want to listen to stories, use the QR code at the back to link to a Virtual Storytelling Series. All this in one box!

Gabriel and I worked on the Nokomis mobile. Nokomis is the Anishnaabemowin word for Grandmother and is often used to refer to the moon. The other word is dibik giizis (night sun). We took the activity outside and cut a series of circles from black and white felt. It’s always important to conserve our materials and not use more than is needed so in order to make the eight phases of the moon, you only cut out four white circles to glue on the eight black circles. There’s a trick to this that sent Gabriel thinking for awhile before the a-ha moment came!

The kit included everything but scissors and a stick! We shared the tasks and were excited by the result! We did find that the glue stick needed a little reinforcement with some liquid glue but everything else worked like a charm. I was interested to see how Gabriel took to this and expanded it! The mobile is now hung on the wall and he is tracking the phase of the moon. We added a magnetic star to the mobile to do this: sticking a plastic clear gem to some magnetic paper and using a spare small magnet to affix it through the felt. Now Gabriel can move the gem star (maybe the north star?) from moon phase to moon phase. Beautiful!

What a brilliant set of activities! These kits and books are well worth the nominal donation asked by TRACKS. If you aren’t able to make the full donation, that’s OK. There’s a pay what you can option as well. What a gift to all: ourselves and this world, to take some time to learn more about our beautiful world and to enjoy learning a little more about Anishnaabe teachings and language. Chi Miigwech to TRACKS for making these for us all to enjoy!

All information in this post is taken from the TRACKS Youth Program Activity Books (Winter 2020, Spring 2021 and Summer 2021) and the Giizhigoong kit (2021). For more information on these books and kits, please visit the TRACKS website

Reference List.

TRACKS (2020). Winter Activity Book. TRACKS Youth Program.

TRACKS (2021). Spring Activity Book. TRACKS Youth Program.

TRACKS (2021). Summer Activity Book. TRACKS Youth Program.

TRACKS (2021). Giizhigoong Kit Booklet. TRACKS Youth Program.

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