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Respect the child, in you, in me, in them

“Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Climbing program for first timers.

The children before me are no different from any other child anywhere else in this region, state, or nation. They are intimately close to some of the greatest wild places but yet have no experience within them because of limiting factors outside of their control. These limiting factors are typically money, time, and mobility. A child has no choice in any of these. They are controlled and dictated by their family and economic status. The level of fairness is frustrating as these children are often times the most deserving and most understanding of the sublime that exists in their backyards. I see their boredom and it frustrates me. Why are you bored, children!? We have a window of opportunity with children. They all have the capability to find their place within nature but they fall away from liking it when their experiences are not pleasant or of genuine quality. This can be at the hands of parents, educators, Sea World trainers, or themselves. At any moment in time we can lose a child’s interest and many times we fail at ever gaining it back. What motivates me are the children lost forever to the wonders of an unexplored world, because they choose to exclude themselves. At some point they stopped feeling that they belonged. When this occurs they begin to disregard its value and make choices that reflect that later in life in politics, economics, and recreation. It’s an exponential event but it doesn’t have to be. It will not take gadgets or hours of pouring over field guides to seek and understand what they are looking for but rather just simply being in the out of doors. For a child of the city to see the starry night of the Northwoods or for a child of the country to finally paddle Lake Superior- these are the moments where the children understand the majesty of their world. It becomes magical rather than simply real. To instill into them a sense of wonder of imagination is one of the greatest gifts they can carry with them through life for I believe it will make them better people making better choices. We can create better programs that work towards connecting children to an environment they are familiar to and relate it to the world that exists beyond them. It is our job as educators to bring awareness to the greatness of the world. To teach them that it gets bigger, that geography is beautiful. If they have fallen out of love for their own environment show them that there is more, let them know that this doesn’t have to be it, there is a place for them, they just need to search for it and it will come- aware or not. But the hope is they will have the awareness to know because you, we taught them self-realization. Children must understand they are not everything, even though their world tells them that. They are, rather, a part of everything. It is within them that the entire being of the universe exists and within them are the secrets of all the other creatures that exist in this world. I want children to learn balance in nature and that the balance within them is important and they must listen to it. Their wild places can teach them what they need and what they do not need, what they should and should not do, and where they need to be in different times of their lives. They need to understand that we may be an apex species but we are also a part of everything we stand atop of. I fear for the generation that forgets the art of contemplation. To sit and ponder something is an important human ability and with the instant sources of information our minds are brought to immediate answers never allowing the mind to wander, to contemplate. Youth today are trying to come to grips with the wisdom of the past but the reality of the future. Flooded with technology and the problems of the world they are paralyzed by a way of being. I search for those children that have the sparkle in their eye as you entice them to the outdoors. It is when I see their sense of wonder as a rock is flipped over and a world is opened to them, I see hope. It is when these children share stories of their dreams and in their dreams they speak of wild places they desire to be, to experience, to learn in, I see hope. There are children out there like me, like many of us. Their voices are quiet and their footsteps light and they make no sound as they move through the walls of their schools for there they know no freedom. They are the wilds running through the woods with unkempt hair and dirt under their fingernails. They play until dusk and even then that is not enough. I seek out the children who need wilderness to survive.

Through experiential education I am able to show these children the joy of living. Through my excitement and passion for place I hope they too can understand enough to seek out those places in the world that make them whole and forever with a sense of wonder. Learning comes from experience and from experience comes consequences. How can we expect our children to grow out of their immaturity if they are constantly coddled by the protectiveness of traditional education with its traditional desks and traditional textbooks? Where are consequences most realistically found? They are found in the real world, in our communities, with other students across borders and nations and worlds apart. Consequences breed connections and we must make effort to create more opportunity for our students to experience the consequences of their learning. We need to remind children to stop and think, ponder, be curious. We need to remind children that energy is not the source of mischief. We cannot scold them for having the energy we do not understand. We need to find them an outlet, a passion, a truth that they understand and can lose themselves within it. It doesn’t have to be nature but it has to be something that stimulates their imagination because once that is taken away we have lost the creative child to a mere verbal formula. We need to introduce into the educational process activities, lessons, projects that interest students of active bodies and active minds. It we appeal to their interests we appeal to their imaginations. With wisdom from John Dewey, “the mature experience of the adult is to mold the immature open mind of the youth through a medium of their natural world.” “A child’s life is an integral, total one. [They] pass quickly and readily from one topic to another, as from one spot to another, but no conscious of transition or break.” Life to a child is social and personal and if we do not affect to their interests we have failed them as a guide through their education.

“I am convinced there can never be an end to wonder and awareness, and that one is the real tragedies in life is to waste time when there is so much to see and learn.” – Sigurd Olson
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