Crafting a Connection

By Naturalist Ben Sehl

Dunes Learning Center supports professional development for the naturalists in many ways, which feeds directly into the quality of programming that we provide for students. In just a few short months, I have been able to attend this year’s Environmental Education Association of Indiana (EEAI) conference, a 10-week Indiana Master Naturalist (IMN) class and a weekend fungus workshop; all paid for by the DLC. Not only are these interesting and valuable opportunities for me, but I can use what I learn to improve my teaching methods and the depth of information that I include in my programs.

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At the EEAI conference in September, I attended an especially impactful talk given by a primitive skills instructor. He focused on making fire by friction with a fire bow and the steps involved in crafting the bow, including carving multiple pieces of wood and making a natural rope. Both the process of making the bow and the fire bow itself have fit perfectly into our Walk Through Time hike. Native peoples like the Potawatomi, who are included in the program, crafted fire bows and other tools using only materials gathered from the land.

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The informed gathering and crafting of tools is an important skill that has unfortunately faded from general knowledge. I have been able to engage students in that living history by teaching them how to craft a rope using only natural materials. The process starts with the students gathering dried stalks from a stinging nettle plant and ends with a sturdy rope that they can take home and even wear as a bracelet. This activity not only connects the students with an ancient tradition of tool crafting but also provides a hands-on example of how people interact with and use resources from the natural environment. The students learn that stinging nettle is a nutritious edible plant as well as a useful raw material. It is just one example of hundreds of plants that can be used as medicine, food, or tools. At the end of the program, they have their rope bracelet as a reminder of what they learned.

Natural rope bracelet, made from stinging nettle fibers

Natural rope bracelet, made from stinging nettle fibers

Teaching students to make their own tools is a hands-on way to connect them to both history and the environment. This connection is increasingly important as we continue to lose touch with how our use of resources affects the land that we live on. It is important to reach students in creative and interesting ways. Dunes Learning Center encourages us as naturalists to be creative and pursue new information and techniques that will make meaningful impacts on our students.


Ben Sehl