Mountain School at Home

Students! Parents! Teachers! During this time of school closures and stay-at-home guidelines, North Cascades Institute is sharing lessons and activities from our talented Mountain School instructors. We hope these will inspire students of all ages to continue to learn about the natural world and discover new connections to the outdoors from home.

Lessons to Download


Lesson 1: Sit Spots
Sit spots involve taking time to sit in a spot of your choosing in the natural world and getting to know it a little better. This time allows you to use your senses to observe: sight, smell, hearing and touch. This can be done in a backyard, a local park, a balcony, or even just by opening your window and bringing your attention to what’s going on outside. 
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Lesson 2: Tree Bud Journal
Spring is in the air, and it's the perfect time to investigate one of the most wonderful parts of the year: the leaves returning to our favorite deciduous trees and shrubs! This multi-week activity is perfect for attuning your senses to the changes happening in the natural world—in the wilderness, a neighborhood park, or your own backyard.
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Lesson 3: Nature Art & Writing
Art and writing can be wonderful strategies for expressing feelings and processing emotions in a positive manner for both children and adults alike. There is no “right” way to do art or writing and there are so many different styles to explore and we invite you to explore what medium feels natural to you. Here are some ideas to get you started!
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Lesson 4: Walking with Wonder
Soaking in sunshine or trotting in the rain can bring immense amounts of joy that are long lasting. By directing your energy and attention on your walks you can add a little extra oomph and make each walk unique—even if it’s the same path each time!
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Lesson 5: Tuning In To the Seasons with Phenology
Every year, plants, animals, and fungi go through cycles of change. If you have noticed the first flowers in spring, or the last maple leaf fall in autumn, then you have made a phenological observation. By helping you learn to pay close attention, phenology—the study of seasonal change —is a great way to engage in the natural world.
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Lesson 6: Mountain School Trail Cookies
One of every student’s favorite Mountain School treats is the delicious 
Trail Cookies included in their sack lunches. They are made from scratch by the amazing kitchen staff at the Environmental Learning Center. Packed with protein and all sorts of chewy, crunchy goodness, Trail Cookies help keep students energized for learning out in nature.
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MSatHome_L7_Adaptations_Thumb.jpg Lesson 7: Adaptations
In this lesson, we are going to embody the special adaptations some animals possess in order to help us understand what life would be like if we could 
see in the dark or hear sounds from further away. These characteristics serve many animals as adaptations that help them survive in the wild.
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Lesson 8: Making Granola
A popular staple of Mountain School breakfasts is our kitchen’s original Mountain School Granola. This delicious, crunchy goodness is hearty enough to power learners of any age through a morning spent in the woods. We’re happy to share the recipe so now you can enjoy it at home!
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Lesson 9: Learning Bird Calls
Identifying birds and their calls can seem a daunting challenge when there are so many different types! Starting small and practicing with common birds near you will help you to experience the world in an entirely new way. Use this lesson to become better acquainted with the feathered inhabitants in your neighborhood!
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Lesson 10: Make Your Own Treasure Map
Practice your map and navigational skills, and enjoy a totally unique adventure outside, by creating your very own treasure map!
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Lesson 11: Shadow Painting and Poetry
Learn how to make a beautiful work of art using the intricate outline of natural object's shadow. And then have fun with poetry while you imagine what would happen if your shadow had a mind of its own!
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Lesson 12: I Spy Nature
As we go about our daily lives, we rely heavily on our vision to tell us what is going on in the world. This lesson will help you get outside and get in touch with all your senses.
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Lesson 13: Love Letter to a Douglas Fir
The Douglas Fir is a constant companion in Pacific Northwest forests, a sage chaperone, and a place for a curious human to rest their head. It stands tall in the natural history of the North Cascades, and in the heart of Mountain School instructor, Taylor Woolsey. Learn about this essential tree species through poetry and creative reflections.
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Lesson 14: Enjoying Field Guides
Field guides are an excellent way to take ownership of your own learning. They give us an opportunity to pair names and facts with the colors and creatures we encounter on our adventures in nature. This lesson will help you get the most out of using field guides and shows some creative ideas for even more learning.
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Lesson 15: Watersheds in the North Cascades
Consisting of hundreds of glistening glaciers, tumbling waterfalls, and rushing creeks, the Skagit River Watershed is the largest in the Puget Sound Basin, providing over 20% of the water flowing into the Sound. Learn about this wondrous feature of the North Cascades in a lesson from original Mountain School curriculum first taught 30 years ago!
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Video Lessons

"Hello, It's Tree"
Since we can't sing together around the campfire at Mountain School this spring, we are bringing the sing-along to you at home! This Adele-inspired song about native trees of the North Cascades was written, sung and choreographed by our awesome instructors in March 2020, in the early days of Stay at Home, at our Confluence Property on the Skagit River in Marblemount, WA.

Owl Adaptations with Lindsay
Enjoy this talk about owl adaptations -- how their physiology helps them to be superior nocturnal predators -- with instructor Lindsay McCord.

Raptor Adaptations with Lindsay 
Enjoy this talk about raptors like hawks and eagles with instructor Lindsay McCord.

Composting with Tanner
Join Mountain School instructor Tanner Johnson at the Confluence Garden on our property in Marblemount for some tips on how to start and maintain a healthy compost pile, turning food scraps and yard waste in to healthy soil for gardening.

More Resources

Our Mountain School instructors compiled some of their favorite educational and nature-exploration resources that they have been itching to share with others! These recommendations include books, poetry, podcasts, citizen science apps, videos, and live cams. 

Mountain School Recommends: Books and Poetry

Mountain School Recommends: Apps, Videos, and Live Cams

Mountain School Recommends: Podcasts

We also have lots of resources for older students to dive deeper into topics in the Youth Leadership Adventures curriculum like climate change & getting outside in your own backyard. It is geared towards YLA alumni, but available for any students curious to learn more and includes articles for youth climate activists, fun outdoor activities and interesting podcasts. Visit

Thank you for helping us offer these at-home lessons for transformative learning experiences in nature by making a gift at