by Todd Walker
I couldn’t believe what my former middle school student told me in Science class!
“You grow meat in the ground.”
Not believing his jaw-dropping ignorance, I fought back the urge to laugh because he was dead serious. Clearly, “No Child Left Behind” wasn’t working. We’re all ignorant on certain subjects, but growing meat in the ground!?
His alienation from the wonders nature was all too evident… and alarming… as he truly believed his description… “They (rancher-farmer) buy meat, like rib eye, unwrap the plastic, and bury the steak in the ground like you would garden seeds. It grows and farmers pick it, re-wrap it in plastic and people buy it in the grocery store.”
I wish it weren’t true, but this conversation happened.
Then the sad OMG! truth crashed into my brain cells like a runaway locomotive…
He’d never been to a farm, let alone, camped in the woods overnight. Ever. The complete lack of experiencing the great outdoors firsthand is at epic levels. How did we fall so quickly from the self-reliance wagon in this country?
Pinpointing the cause is an exhaustive exercise for a later time.
What matters now is one child – your child.
Nature Deficit Disorder
As a whole, our younger generation doesn’t get out much except to hang out at the video store in the mall and show off their virtual skills to impress other pre-pubescent gamers. Our children have lost a vital, primal connection with nature. They suffer from a condition called Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD).
This condition, coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods, is a result of our plugged-in culture which keeps kids and adults indoors. The disconnect from nature goes against what human brains are hard-wired to experience… the Great Outdoors!
Research shows that children who learn and play outdoors are enriched personally and academically in many ways:
- Improved attention spans
- Enhanced creativity
- Increased academic success
- Improved reading comprehension
- Higher levels of self-discipline, language and social skills
The cure for NDD is simple. Get outside.
“It is one of the blessings of wilderness life that it shows us how few things we need in order to be perfectly happy.” – HORACE KEPHART, Camping and Woodcraft, 1917 (Quote from Master Woodsman page)
From personal experience with my grandson, introducing him to woodcraft and bushcraft skills created a hunger to get outside. After his first hike to my personal space in the woods, he was noticeably anxious. Within 15 minutes of setting up camp, he turns to me and says, “Ya know, Pops, I don’t feel so scared now.”
Max eating his first camp meal and making memories
Today, Max willingly trades video screens for streams. He’s taken a strong interest in the wonders of nature and building outdoor self-reliance skills. So much so that he’s joined a local Boy Scout troop. His wild journey has begun.
“Keep close to nature’s heart and break clear away once in a while and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean” ~John Muir
Won By One: Doing the Wild Stuff
Kids today need one person in their life to help them connect to their true nature. They’re waiting to be Won by One. Who’s that One person?
Yep. Even if you have little to no experience outdoors, your child will respond if you lead, initiate, and unplug.
I’m developing a program called “Doing the Wild Stuff” to help students in my school escape their sterile block walls and learn in a natural environment. I’ll update you as it progresses. For now, let’s take this to a personal level – you and your child.
With holidays approaching, hopefully you’ll have extra time to start curing your child’s NDD. The first cure is as close as your backyard. And the good news is that you don’t need any specialized equipment or expensive gear to get started.
Cure #1: Backyard Bushcraft
Carve out a space in your backyard designated for practicing woodcraft/bushcraft skills. Fire craft is an essential skill every child should learn. Build a fire pit or use a charcoal grill. The fire ring will quickly become the ‘operating table’ for your NDD clinic.
Our son’s first bow drill ember at the backyard fire pit
Once you’ve honed your fire skills, plan a backyard campout. That’s the beauty of backyard camping, the backdoor increases the comfort level for newbie campers.
Cure #2: Tools
Kids love tools. The biggest hurdle may be your own fear of your child using sharp stuff. Knives, axes, and saws are essential tools for building outdoor self-reliance skills.
Only you know the maturity level of you child. She may not be ready to carry her own knife without supervision. Until then, model proper technique and safety rules for him/her.
Emphasize these rules:
- Never use a cutting tool inside the triangle of death. When cutting or whittling wood, work with the cutting surface outside the legs, never inside the triangle from the knees to the crotch.
- Be aware of the blood circle. Make a wide arch with your outstretched arm in a circular motion. If another person is within that circle, it is not safe to work with the cutting tool.
- A dull knife is a dangerous knife. More pressure is required to cut with dull tools. This only increases the chances of accidents when cutting stuff. Sharpening and caring for cutting tools is a can be taught… even to young learners. [for a progression of knife use, see Jack’s video below]
- Ax safety when processing wood.
Cure #3: Take a Class
If it’s in your budget, take a wilderness survival class with your child. Money well spent if you choose a reputable instructor or school.
Photo credit ~ Iris Canterbury
I smiled when I saw kids attending The Pathfinder School Basic Class last month with their dads and even a few granddads. They learned knife skills, foraging, fire craft, and other wilderness survival skills together and bonding over campfires. The experience is priceless!
Cure #4: Schedule Outdoor Adventures
Make a date with your child on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to get outside. Plan surprise doses of adventure in the city park, backyard, or state/national parks. Where ever nature is available, get out there!
Cure #5: Field Guides
Take a field guide and journal on adventures. Field guides are available covering a variety of outdoor interests like animals, birds, reptiles, plants, and trees. Sit quietly and observe nature and reference the guide to help identify what you’ve seen.
Jot down notes and sketches in your outdoor journal. A journal helps personalize outings, reinforces knowledge, and maps available resources. Can you remember the exact location of that patch of wild edibles you noticed while trekking? Jot it down in your journal.
Though Nature Deficit Disorder isn’t an official medical condition, it describes perfectly the costs of our modern disconnect with nature. When sitting around the Thanksgiving feast with your family in later years, your children and grandchildren won’t remember their best day of television. They will, however, remember the times you spent curing their NDD.
I leave you with a young man I admire for his adventuresome spirit and commitment to Doing the Wild Stuff.
Check out Jack on his YouTube channel Self Reliance Kid.
You won’t find WiFi in the wilderness… but be assured… you’ll be well-connected!
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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