ELEMENTAL QUEST: Multi-year Rites of Passage for 7th & 8th graders


Elemental Quest can be tailored to schools’ needs. The ideal would be two or three seasonal trips in 7th grade and three trips in 8th grade. Trips can take many forms based on the group, budget, and intentions of teachers/families, including: camping at local state parks, backpacking or kayaking camping in Point Reyes, backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, and engaging in ceremony with elders.

About Elemental Quest

The approach that Elemental Nature utilizes is that of seeking to meet, acknowledge, and appreciate each individual – both as they are, as well as how they grow and change over time.  As with one who tends trees, the goal for guides is to support healthy growth and individuation. From developing self-awareness of one’s patterns, passions, and challenges, student cultivate the confidence and practice in redirecting streams of thought, words, and action.  We will be cultivating the roots of nature connection, the trunk of self awareness, the branches of community, the leaves of naturalist knowledge, flowers of artistic expression, the fruit of action, leaving seeds of hope.

Training will include learning basic neuroscience and awareness practices, deep nature connection and self-generated ceremony, Non-Violent Communication, and the Way of Council.  Conflict resolution and peacemaking will be discussed and practiced.  From nature connection to survival and ancestral skills, we will play, explore, and connect in wild landscapes, in acknowledgement and honor of traditional lifeways and the teachings that come directly from Nature.  We will explore the landscapes that are the traditional homeland of the Coast Miwok, while learning an overview of land care and ethnobotany of California tribes.  Weaving explorations of emotional skills and social intelligence, we will explore subjects such as status assigning, sex, and gender in an everchanging cultural landscape.  Nature’s examples will be the context for these conversations, as we learn from and identify with our animal friends and teachers.  We will discuss power as it manifests as privelege and its imblanced expressions of racism and sexism.  As we grow in maturity, we seek to make an arc from playing together, talking together, laughing together, crying together, working together, and healing together.

CORE THEMES explored:

Sustenance Skills: Tools and carving, cooking and fire tending, foraging/growing food, shelter buiding and survival techniques

Conflict Resolution: Non-violent Communication, Way of Council, forgiveness practices, mindfulness and meditation

Emotional Skills: Dealing with grief/loss (including Earth grief), appreciations, honoring love, facing fears

Status Assigning: Gender, power (physical, intellectual), racism/sexism/classism, privelege (earned and unearned)

Sex & Relations: Orientation, expression, culture, love

Human nature & Eco-Responsibility: Ceremony & Self-generated ceremony, eco-consciousness and ecological self, habitat care (and global awareness), animal care (and endangered species)  

Example of 2-year curriculum:

FALL 7th grade

Nature Awareness: Watersheds and plant communities, geological formation of California/Point Reyes, Indigenous cultures and life ways
Earth Skills: Knot tying, friction fire, fire tending
Inner Cultivation: Gratitude, mindfulness, intention-setting
Social Connection: Peacemaking, Non-Violent Communication, gender identity, context for rites of passage

WINTER 7th grade

Nature Awareness: Local trees, tracking, water purification, wild herbal teas
Earth Skills: Carving spoons
Inner Cultivation: Emotional patterns of feeling and expression, basic neurobiology
Social Connection: Power & privilege – racism, sexism, classism, The Way of Council

SPRING 7th grade

Nature Awareness: Astronomy, ecology of Point Reyes
Earth Skills: Backpacking, orienteering with map & compass, Leave No Trace principles
Inner Cultivation: Flow state psychology, peak & transformative experiences
Social Connection: Non-judgement and acceptance of self and others

FALL 8th grade

Nature Awareness: Foraging and land care
Earth Skills: Cooking over fire
Inner Cultivation: Ancestry and family tree
Social Connection: Story-telling

WINTER 8th grade

Nature Awareness: Survival skills
Earth Skills: Bow making, archery
Inner Cultivation: Renewal of Creative path – creative scene and creating healthy practices
Social Connection: Relationships, consent, healthy sexuality

SPRING 8th grade

Nature Awareness: Sierra Nevada ecology
Earth Skills: Water purification, backcountry cooking, how to poop in the woods
Inner Cultivation: Solitude and sense of self, integration, commitments, self expression and acceptance
Social Connection: Leadership, appreciation, giveaway

Threads of Connection

Nature Connection

In practicing survival and ancestral skills, we too develop our capacity to thrive as an individual with visions of a beautiful future for life as we know it.  Outer nature skills of wilderness tending and regenerative agriculture are balanced by the inner nature skills of emotional resilience & rebalancing, deep listening to nature and the elements, and the cultivation of peacefulness.

Personal Connection

Our adventures are designed to not only build connection with the land and with each other, but also with oneself. Be it through solo time or other opportunities for reflection, invitations will be made to attune to one’s body, mind, and spirit. From gaining clarity about intentions and goals, to practices and commitments to manifest these goals, we will explore the power of will and creativity in creating a heart-centered life as a teen, and as a human.

Group Connection

In unity with our relations, we strengthen our social threads, which allows us to collaborate to create shared visions.  Through games to embody the wild ones and develop agility, we seek to find and express joy and full vitality.  By being truly helpful and developing care for humans and all sentient beings, we learn by building relationships with other species and learning their basic needs for surviving and thriving in a landscape. 


Our family has known Spencer for more than four years. He has provided wonderful role modeling and support during our son’s transition into adolescence. Spencer’s gentle manner, combined with his knowledge and enthusiasm for nature, make him an ideal mentor and guide for children as they navigate their way through today’s complex world.”
-Parent, Elemental Quest

Spencer has been our son’s teacher and mentor for many years and has honestly been one of the best people in our lives.  Our son is homeschooled and has learned so much through his outdoor studies with Spencer.  I am always so impressed with the knowledge that he shares and also with the way that he relates to the students in his groups.  We are so lucky to know Spencer!”
-Parent, Homeschool program

Deep Gratitude to my teachers and guides along the way

Elemental Quest is inspired by the direct teachings of John Young (8-Shields Institute), Bill Plotkin (Animas Valley Institute), Michael Meade (Mosaic Voices), Emerald North and Betsy Perleuss (School of Lost Borders), Dave Talamo and Amy Beismeier (Wilderness Reflections), Jeffrey Szilagyi (Stepping Stones Project), Amos Clifford and Shay Sloan (with Way of Council), Jack Kornfield, Donald Rothberg, and Joanna Macy (Spirit Rock Meditation Center), John Stokes (The Tracking Project), as well as indigenous elders and wisdom keepers: Tata Erik Gonzales (Deer Mountain Sanctuary), Philip Scott (Ancestral Voice), George Bertelstein (Medicine Path), Don Rynberg (chairperson, Tsi Akam Maidu), Edward Willie, and many more from The Bioneers Conferences, Buckeye Gathering, and beyond.

Understanding of universal life force and the healing journey have been supported by Teja Bell (Qigong Dharma), Saul David Raye (Atma Yoga), Jerry Alan Johnson (International Institute of Medical Qigong), Damo Mitchell (Lotus Nei Gong & Xian Tian College) Master Zhongxian Wu (Chinese Wisdom Traditions, Dr. Nida Chinensang (Sowa Rigpa, Traditional Tibetan Medicine), and many more.

Spencer has led hundreds of teens in rites of passage programs, from Summerfield Waldorf School, Marin Academy, Credo High School, as well as through programs with Back To Earth, Vilda Nature, and Elemental Nature. Spencer continues his efforts to weave the presence of indigenous and non-indigenous elders into programs. Over the years, Spencer’s co-guides across numerous schools and organizations have also been amazing mentors, contributing to the continual evolution of programming.