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Integrating History, Ecology, and Indigenous and Ancestral Wilderness Skills

February 3, 2011

Orange County, CA Coast Live Oak SchoolHistory is the study of events of the past and the people who witnessed and shaped these events.  The question that history asks is: “What happened in the past?” The understanding of history encompasses many areas of knowledge:  art, music, language, archaeology, economics, science, and mythology.  Knowledge of history gives a person a much greater understanding of other cultures, and of one’s own culture and the past that has shaped it.  Knowing the history of the place you live can give you an understanding of human and natural energies that shaped the place into what it is today, and how it might change.

One of the limitations of history is that it generally treats the natural world as simply the backdrop to the drama of human actions.  This is a problem.

Ecology is the scientific study of interdependence in the natural world and interconnection between living beings.   The questions ecology asks is: “How are these things that I observe connected?” Ecology relies on the fundamentals of scientific inquiry and the understanding of many scientific fields such as biology, geology, and chemistry.  However, unlike many other scientific fields, it does not always look at the world through a microscope.  Ecology instead tries to see natural processes in a much larger context, and to understand the inter-relationships between processes; ecology endeavors to find connections in the natural world and understand these connections.

In our modern society, and in the majority of modern educational programs, the human world and the natural world are presented as separate.  This is also a problem.  The natural world and the human world are not separate.  In fact, the human world relies entirely on the natural world.  This is basic fact that many people have forgotten. The human world and the natural world is the same world.  This is a connection that we can learn to understand and comprehend.

Can we combine the study of history and the study ecology in a real and meaningful way?

The study and practice of indigenous and ancestral wilderness skills is where the understanding of history and ecology, of human actions and the natural world, meet in a very real and immediate way.  When we use just our own hands and a few stones (instead of steel knives), to shape familiar plants into a simple tool like a bow and arrow, a tool that all our ancestors have used for tens of thousands of years, the world becomes a more real and more connected place.

Integrating the knowledge and understanding of history and human culture, ecology and nature, and indigenous wilderness skills is important in our time because it compels us to remember that we depend on nature and the health and vitality of natural processes for every moment of our existence. This approach to teaching and learning leads us toward a comprehension of our dependence on the natural world in everything that we do.Coast Live Oak School

The approach of teaching history and ecology as integrated and inter-related study is mostly absent from the curriculum of elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and universities.  I think the lack of understanding that most people have of these two subjects, and the disconnection people feel and experience between the “human” and the “natural”, has led to many problems that we experience in the world today.

Learning the skills of our ancestors who lived more connected to the land, and the skills of indigenous people who are still connected to the land, is a way to give life, reality, and meaning to both history and ecology and to reconnect ourselves to the Earth and to each other as human beings.

At Coast Live Oak School we hope to give students of all ages the opportunity to learn and develop greater curiosity for history and human culture, ecology and nature, and indigenous and ancestral wilderness skills, in a hands-on and fully integrated manner.  Our goal is for our students to develop a deeper comprehension of how we as humans are connected to one another and to the natural living Earth.   We hope that through this integrated learning process our students can become more informed members of the global community and also be able to make decisions with their natural, inter-connected, wild selves.

Written by Mark Hay, Founder of Coast Live Oak School


Native Skills Day Camp, Winter Break

November 9, 2010
A bow drill firemaking tool, hand made using branches of an abundant local bush called mulefat (baccharis glutinosa).  The skills used to make a bow drill are also used to make many other tools. Native Skills.  Indigenous Wilderness Survival Skills. Coast Live Oak School

A bow drill firemaking tool, one of the tools we use to make fire at Native Skills Camp

Hello Friends,

This winter break I will be teaching two sessions of Native Skills Day Camp at Corona Del Mar beach.

Class happens rain or shine…   in addition to building shelters from natural and found materials, we will put up a large tipi on rain days to keep dry.   The kids will help put up and take down the tipi, a great learning experience!

We will be cooking over fire most every day of camp.

In addition to learning how to meet our most basic needs without using modern tools, students in this this winter session will:

  • Learn some coastal survival skills, like using sand for shelter building and finding water along the coast
  • Smoke fish and cook seafood and other foods directly over open coals without using pots and pans
  • Use fire for warmth, toolmaking, and cooking

Native Skills Winter Day Camp at Corona Del Mar Beach

Session 1: Dec 20-24, 2010, Corona Del Mar State Beach, 10am-3pm, M-F

Session 2: Dec 27-31, 2010, Corona Del Mar State Beach, 10am-3pm, M-F

Coast Live Oak Native Skills Camps are designed for children ages 7-14.

10 students with 2 instructors

Parents are welcome to come to class and see what we do!

Det er ingen ting som dårlig var, bare dårlig klar!

November 1, 2010

“Det er ingen ting som dårlig var, bare dårlig klar!”

This is the Norwegian phrase for the great Nordic saying…

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes!”

The Living Classroom

October 4, 2010
Coast Live Oak School, Weekly Home School Classes, Orange County, CA

Laguna Beach with Weekly Home School Class, Oct 2010

The greatest classroom in the world is the world itself.  When a person is immersed in the movement of life around them, the knowledge they gain is not stored in their brains alone but in their bodies and bones and hearts.  When I began teaching I had the dream of a school where learning happened in the world, not just in the classroom.  For the past 18 years I have been teaching and watching people learn in many different types of settings and environments.  I have learned many things about teaching and learning that I would like to put into practice through Coast Live Oak School.

Classrooms are very sterile learning environments.  I have taught in the classroom, and classrooms are excellent places for writing, reading, discussion, and reflection, but they are limited;  it is difficult to give students real life, direct experiences in the classroom.

The direct experience of learning happens in living life, in real places. Learning can happen everywhere, all the time.  Here in Southern California, we can be outdoors year round and we have tremendous natural wilderness all around us. I think natural places are ideal learning places for many reasons.

-In nature there are more than just human factors to consider.  In nature we must pay attention to plants and insects and animals as well.  This widens our gaze and expands our perceptive abilities to include other people and other living things in our assessments.

-In nature, life in many phases and forms is happening all the time.  The amount of learning experiences that are available to us in nature, whether learning math or science or language or art, is much greater than in a classroom simply because there is so much action to observe and be a part of!  Please notice that I said experiences, not information.  I love libraries, and I love to read.  But books and libraries are full of information, not experiences.  We can experience reading a great book, but how much richer is that experience when we have real, personal experiences with which to relate to the people and circumstances in the book.

Our intellectual life is informed and enriched by the kind of direct experiences we have had in the real world.

In math and the sciences, direct experience, observation, and measurement provide the data from which ideas and perceptions are built.

Direct experience gives us images, smells, textures, nuances of light and temperature and wind direction, and real sensory experiences… the essential elements of very vivid memories.  These are the details that enrich our imagination and expand our creative ability.

Our family and social life is enriched by our ability to empathize with other people from own experiences, and by using our imagination.  Direct experiences enrich our imaginations because they give us the raw materials from which to visualize situations and perspectives we may not have experienced.

Families learning together, kids playing with aunts and uncles on the beach, students seeing their teachers doing things in the real world (not just in a classroom), teachers and parents hanging out with each other and sharing observations about their kids, people of different ages sitting together telling stories … these are the real living classrooms we can create!

Coast Live Oak School, Weekly Home School Class, Oct 2010

Is that a dead crab or a crab shell that was shed?

We can reflect together on our direct experiences by expressing real wonder and curiosity,  asking questions, then paying attention to the stories, observations, and reflections that unfold from this engagement.  This sounds very simple, but think how often we do not do it!

Human beings have been learning this way, by experience, reflection, and sharing, for thousands of years, long before there were universities, lecture halls, and standardized tests.  In my experience this is the best way to learn, and the most natural way to learn.  The end result of this type of learning is not a large storehouse of fragmented facts but a multitude of connections created between oneself, the world, and other people.

When we are given opportunity for direct experience we learn more quickly.  When we are encouraged to reflect on our direct experiences through conversation, telling stories, dancing, writing, making equations, creating art, making things with our hands, or teaching others, we are able to carry the learning experience in a meaningful and connected way, and we are able to share it with others.  This is real learning.


September 29, 2010
Coast Live Oak School new website! Weekly home school classes, native skills camps, wilderness survival campouts all in local outdoor spaces around Orange County, southern California

Screen shot of Coast Live Oak School's website.

If you haven’t heard, our website is up!  We are so excited to share it with you.  We invite you to peruse it and of course, pass it on.  We have something for every age and Mark is always coming up with new ideas and adding class dates and walks, so keep it touch!  We look forward to hearing from you!  Thank you!

Website Just Around the Corner

September 23, 2010

Thanks for stopping by.  We are nearly done with the website. Please check back in a couple days!

Coast Live Oak School is in Orange County, Southern California

You can always contact Mark at if you would like to know more about classes and programs.  Coast Live Oak offers classes for all ages, outdoors, year round!

Coast Live Oak teaches ecology, history, wilderness skills, and real life problem solving as a doorway to connecting with one self, with others, and with the living Earth.  Though most of us live in suburbia and spend hours driving in cars, we are surrounded by wilderness large and small.  Exploring in nature with friends and
family can be a transformative experience!
I hope our classes give you, and your children and family, the inspiration and confidence to explore our local natural places and create deep connections with the Earth and each other.