Ellensburg Homeschool Class Learns to Make Rope from Stinging Nettle, Cottonwood Bark and Other Plants

Today’s class met at Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park off Umtanum Rd.  The trees along the river were brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red.  We began our afternoon together learning how to spin rope out of raffia.  It takes some practice to get it right but before long all of the kids were making some nice cordage.

Spinning raffia into rope.
Practicing the reverse wrap method of making cordage.
Testing the strength of the rope after splicing in a new piece of raffia. Now that’s some strong rope!

We learned how to lengthen the rope by splicing in a new piece of raffia.  Then we checked the strength of the splice with a good solid tug.  As the kids continued to work on their cordage, we each shared our life story – in 25 seconds!  It’s always great to hear about some of the amazing things kids love to do.  Once everyone had some time to practice their new skill, we took a break to learn about two very important awareness skills:  fox walk and owl eyes.

Everyone is checking to see how far they can see with their peripheral vision.
Now we’re practicing fox walking while using our owl eyes to watch Chris off on the sideline. We have to try to copy his gestures without actually looking directly at him.

After learning and practicing the skills everyone headed into the woods to try their hand at Observation Alley (or Squeeky Game).  Prior to class, Skye and I went for a walk down the trail and Skye happened to “lose” several of her squeeky toys in the tall grass and nearby tree branches.  So the next activity was to fox walk down the path and using our owl eyes see how many squeeky toys we could find.  It’s amazing how difficult it is to see a round pink pig perched in a tree!

Everyone was amazed at how sweet the grass stalks tasted. Grass is the most important plant to know.
Chris is showing how cottonwood bark (from downed trees) can be harvested and used to make rope.
We found this little fella under some cottonwood bark we pulled up. I’m pretty sure it’s a wood cockroach. Awesome find!
Testing the strength of a small piece of cottonwood rope.
Heading back to the picnic table where we processed our finds.
Learning to twist the bark to make rope.
It’s amazing how many uses there are for plants and trees.

Some of the kids continued to work with the cottonwood bark and others learned how to process stinging nettles for their fiber.  It definitely takes some practice but the rewards are great.

Learning to remove the pith from the fibers of stinging nettles. Stinging nettle fibers are some of the strongest natural fibers found on the west side of the Cascades.

After trying stinging nettle tea (everyone loved it!) the group headed out in search of some pine needles.  Pine needles are loaded with vitamin C and also make a very tasty tea.

Looking for acorns under a nearby oak tree.

Before we knew it, it was time to pack up our things and gather in our closing circle.  Everyone shared their favorite activity of the afternoon and posed for class pictures.

Our closing circle by the river.
Our first Ellensburg homeschool class!
Family class photo!

What a wonderful afternoon we shared.  We hope to see you all next month to learn all about willows!

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