Harnessing The Power Of Nature

Photos Courtesy Of: Ricardo Sierra

Photos Courtesy Of: Ricardo Sierra

Few experiences go together as well as wilderness and adventure when kids are involved. It’s virtually a genetic, almost magnetic pull, even when most children and young adults don’t even know what ”wilderness” is on a practical level.

The Road To Wilderness

My own journey began in the mountains of upstate New York, and then through an extended apprenticeship with Tom Brown, Jr., in 1984. I was 20 years old, and the thirst for learning Native American wilderness-survival skills was voracious over the next 5 years as I learned, practiced, and lived the ”old ways.” My friends and I built natural shelters and slept in a tipi. We tanned deer hides into soft buckskin and made our own bows and arrows tipped with stone or bone points. We made fires without matches and learned about the uses of plants and trees for fibers, medicine, and food. We tracked animals for days, studying their behaviors to learn their ways of survival. Every day nature provided something more to learn, to uncover, or explore. 

At that time I also realized the power that these experiences had on children. Everywhere I went, kids were drawn like moths to a flame, asking questions about what I was doing, or making, or building, and they would listen while I worked and explained it all. They would offer to help, and looked longingly at me when their schooling or parents pulled them away. I worked at a summer camp one year, and 3 years later I started my own camp called Hawk Circle Wilderness. Twenty-five years later, the camp is still going strong. 

The Awakening Effect

The power and popularity of wilderness-survival skills and education are clear now more than ever. When someone discovers a deep connection to nature, an ”awakening effect” occurs that lasts through adolescence and beyond; this experience often bonds youth to a program and staff members in positive and beneficial ways. So, how do you bring this type of program to an established summer camp or enrichment program? 

Effective wilderness-education programs encompass shelter-making, providing a fire without matches, wood carving, tracking, hunting skills, stone tools, plant and tree

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studies, native crafts, leather work, night walks, the ”council process” (talking stick, etc.), and many other nature activities. These programs are best suited for ages 7 to 18, modified for age appropriateness, safety, and a particular group’s skill level. For those seeking to start a similar program, here is some further advice: 

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