Exploring the Senses and Safety: Highlights from the ICO Retreat at Harwood Lodge

  • Posted on 1 November 2023
  • By Elizabeth Neat
Next time you go for a hike try this strategy to enhance your observation.  Thinking about your five senses, note 5 things you see, 4 that you hear, 3 that you smell, 2 to feel and 1 to taste.  This was one of the suggestions made during the Nature and Children Workshop at ICO’s first annual retreat at Harwood Lodge, held on September 22 - 24.  
For the uninitiated, ICO stands for Inspiring Connections Outdoors, a program of the Sierra Club designed to provide safe and fun outdoor experiences for youth and adults from marginalized communities.  The Angeles Chapter has an active group, which leads more than 100 hikes and camping trips each year.  At the retreat, local ICO volunteers were joined by our colleagues from Tucson and Las Vegas.  It was exciting and rewarding to have members of other groups join us. 
Sharing was an ongoing theme of the weekend, and it happened both formally and informally.  For example, on Friday night, one leader led the group in team building activities.  They were designed to help us to get to know each other, and to give us ideas to use on ICO outings. 
ICO Planner enjoy a meal
First she instructed us, “Without talking line up in order by your birthday, with January at this end of the room and December over there.”  People got creative with their gestures to communicate a month and day and to signal their place in the line.  With smiles and laughter we accomplished the task quite quickly.  Then, half of the line moved down to face the other half.  Once we were opposite someone, introductions took place and through the leader’s questions, we learned about one another.  
During the Nature and Children Workshop, another leader shared the idea of a Scavenger Hunt.  She suggested we use a colorful picture grid that students carry with them on a hike, checking off items as they see them on the hike:  a bird, rough bark, a smile.  
Leading the hike
Children delight in seeing animals on an outing, and evidence of animals is always fun. One leader shared facsimiles of scat, which were uncomfortably realistic.  They help students and leaders recognize and identify real droppings on the trail.  
This workshop wrapped up with a conversation about journaling, including children illustrating their observations.  At the end, the presenters shared environmentally themed books. 
Fun is important, but as is commonly said, “Safety First.” Safety was the subject of the second interactive workshop.  The leader shared six precursors to death or serious injury in the out of doors, then each of six groups considered one of these issues and how it might play out on an ICO hike. In the midst of laughter and humor, some important reminders were shared. 
Starting the workshop
The group acting out ‘in a hurry’ recalled one leader’s attempt to plan an outing full of activity and learning that resulted in rushing to meet the bus.  We took away the lesson, “Save something for another day.” 
In illustrating ‘moving water,’ participants from Tucson described Arizona’s flash floods and one of our experienced hike leaders illustrated the safest way to cross.
Building community was a goal of the retreat, and participating in a drum circle was a practical manifestation of that.  When we sat together and learned a rhythm, we started as individuals, but soon a feeling of oneness and connection emerged.   
One participant commented that we were “never more than 30 minutes away from food,” and it was all delicious!  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, snacks, afternoon tea; certainly no one was hungry during the weekend. 
On the drums
Harwood Lodge was a beautiful setting for our gathering, and we look forward to returning there for our second annual ICO retreat next September.
If you would like more information about Angeles Chapter ICO and for how to volunteer, please visit our website, www.angelesico.org.   

Photos by Nguyen Tran

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