SCARBOROUGH – In the midst of last week’s heat wave, a group of children and their parents gathered in the shade of the woods near a stream on Broadturn Farm.

Some stood with the cool water rushing past their legs, while others squatted on a nearby ledge, but everyone focused on Chris Knapp.

“It’s a good day to sit by a stream and work on something slow,” Knapp said to the group.

They were gathered as part of a monthly class Knapp and his wife, Ashirah, hold for about a dozen families home-schooling their children. On July 6, the group was wrapping up a series on birch-bark baskets.

“The purpose is for the kids, to expose them to all the wonders of the Earth, the things they can utilize to make things for their life,” Knapp said.

In previous weeks, the group dug roots from pine trees to use as a binding material and then peeled bark from birch logs to form the baskets. Just before Chris and Ashirah Knapp arrived for the class, parents helped the children find rocks to weigh down the sheets of bark in the stream so the material became more pliable. While they waited for their instructor, the children played in the stream, splashing in the water and spotting small fish.

“That’s totally awesome,” Etain Brown, 9, said, reaching in the water with one hand trying to grab a fish swimming by.

“You have to catch it like this,” said Kaya Brown, 13, holding out her hands like a cup.

The two have always home schooled, their father Eric Brown said, and have been coming to Chris Knapp’s class every month for the past year.

“It’s nice to reconnect with nature,” he said.

After starting the class with a group sing, Chris Knapp demonstrated with a wet piece of bark how to fold the sheet into a basket form. The children watched him working on it before he dismissed them to collect their sheets of bark soaking in the stream.

“This is probably the hardest thing we’ve done, so we have to really focus on it,” he said.

Knapp has been practicing survival skills most of his life. With two young children at home, Knapp and his wife incorporate a lot of traditional skills into a homestead style of living. Through this class, he can pass on things he has learned.

“We want to teach, teaching is what we do,” Knapp said, adding he and his wife also run Koviashuvik, a small school in Temple, designed to teach basic skills for living off the land.

Stacy Brenner, who runs Broadturn Farm, which is part of agricultural conservation with Scarborough Land Conservation Trust, said it is great for these families to come out and use the land.

“Chris is a real gem. He has great energy and approach. It’s exposure to new material and he engages the whole group,” she said.

The group was working just off a trail blazed by a local Eagle Scout, including a foot bridge. With the conserved land open to the community, Brenner said it would be nice to see more families using it regularly.

“The more time kids spend in the woods the better. It’s the best playground,” she said.

Throughout monthly meetings, the group has built a wigwam on the land as their “home base,” learned how to identify trees, worked on compass skills and learned how to harvest acorns, which they made into flour for cooking, Jean Lee said. Lee joined the class with Desmond Molloy, 13.

“I can’t say enough good things about working with the Knapps,” she said. “It has been wonderful.”

Steve Soule, who brought his children Adelaide and Ezra to the class, said it’s a great opportunity for “nature learning” and being outside.


Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]