Monday, 28 January 2013

The Why.

I love telling stories. Most favourite one is why I started Nature's Backpack, because back then, I was a teacher assistant by day and make-up artist by night and on weekends. Both jobs I really enjoyed and thought I was living my passion.

It wasn't until I took the nursery school children to a local conservation area when I realized that a bigger purpose was waiting for me.

Nature has always been important, and I understood that we, as humans, are part of the whole circle of life. Having a background and education in environmental sciences gave me the foundation and  understanding of ecology and the benefit nature has in our lives.

I knew that people were not going outside as much, but I didn't fully appreciate this until that day.

As we were waiting for everyone to arrive, the children were sitting on a bench while the parents were chatting in the hall. That is when I heard it.... a piercing scream from a little girl. When I turned around, I saw that she was swatting a fly... a common housefly and screaming "It's going to bite me!"

It didn't stop there. When we walked outside with our nature interpreter (whom I worked with in the past many times) took us to the nearby pond. A frog leaped out in-front of us and I was expecting the children to run and try to catch it... one child tried, but the parent quickly squashed the curiosity and told the child not to touch it.


The rest of the time, I was keen to hear how this outing was going to go and was shocked. Shocked at the fear and the misunderstanding of nature these people had. When I went home that day, I went on the internet and found Richard Louv, who wrote the book "Last Child in the Woods". He called this disconnection Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). I bought his book and read it through, shaking my head in agreement throughout.

I felt I had to do something... even if it was small. And I did just that. I started a free family hike and called it Nature's Backpack.  The goal was to get people out into nature with a guide, model free curiosity and play outdoors and hopefully inspire families to go outside on their own and explore nature.

Through feedback from families and further research in nature connection, I wanted to take Nature's Backpack further. Connection to nature is powerful and through nature children will develop confidence, a sense of place, ownership of their surroundings, connection and love for nature and all living things, compassion, a sense of self, not to mention the physical attributes of being active outside. Studies show that when people spend time outdoors, they are more creative, focused, less stressed, happier, grounded, and calmer. If you are interested in this research, visit Children and Nature Network.

It all started with the observation of the disconnect from nature, but has turned into a mission of rebuilding our culture and communities through connecting to nature, to each other and to thyself.

Starting with our children, mentoring them to learn through their own passion to learn, to be curious about that frog, plant, tree or animal, to ask questions and to put your best guess forward. To bring out the gifts within each child and nurture it.  In doing so, guide them into knowing who they truly are and where their place is in the world.

Nature's Backpack is more than a program for children, it is a life long journey from birth to teens that guides and nurtures our children to build better communities and culture. It is about regenerating our culture, and building in the attributes of well rounded adults connected to their surroundings.

It is my passion and mission in life and one I do everyday through learning more skills and knowledge to pass along to the future generation.

It is the why behind Nature's Backpack and I do hope to see you on one of the hikes, programs or hear about how this has inspired you to do something similar.

Nature's Backpack has new programs coming in April, Oaks and Acorns (birth to 3), Wild Things (after school program 5-9), Chicks in the Sticks (girls club 9-14) and our popular program Young Explorers (3-5) 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Success in Failure (Guest Blog)

I met Michael McCarthy last year at the Headwater's Gathering at the Kimbercote Farm, ON. We connected and became friends right away through our love for all things nature and working with kids. That following summer, I had the honour to work along with Micheal at The P.I.N.E. Project. Michael is a natural mentor and nature educator for our youth, engaging them with his enthusiasm and patience.  I learned a lot from him and continue to do so. The life skills learned are usually hidden with the type of mentoring Michael does, and it is through example that the true lessons are taught. 

Here is a story of a time when Michael taught a valuable lesson about failure, working with the Pine River Institute.  I will let him tell you the rest of the story....

A True Story told by Michael McCarthy

The success in failure, or, how to celebrate when things don't go as planned. 

On Thursday night I spent an hour preparing a beautiful fire and getting my bow drill kit prepped. This was for a nighttime bonfire for 50 grade 6/7 students who were on a 3 day school trip at Mansfield outdoor centre. 

When the time came, I led them all to the unlit bonfire and proceeded to perform a most spirited and dramatic telling of how coyote stole fire. I rocked it and had the kids in the palm of my hand. I moved to my bow drill kit, getting one of the kids to shine a light on me. I have done this hundreds of times. First try - no coal. Second try - just a thin wisp of smoke. I ask the kids to look up and note the fog covering the stars and how the dampness would impede the lighting. 8 mins go by. Kids were chanting my name, telling me not to quit. I finally put the bow down, sweat pouring off my face, my body spent. I almost cried. I lit some birch bark with a lighter and we gave thanks for fire together. 
I thought I had failed them and lost my status as the 'bush-man'.

One of the teachers came up afterwards and thanked me for showing them how to try my best and for modeling that its okay to fail. She said that she noticed how much the boys looked up to me and how failing really gave them a great gift: being a man means not being perfect, and being humble enough to dance with the great mystery of life - where things don't always go as planned. 

Letting these words in, I really had to move past my bruised ego and rest in the fact that coyote had been present all along, teaching me that failure can contain hidden jewels - but only if my heart is receptive enough to see.

It is through these types of teachings and role modeling that our youth are taught to be confident with who they are, to take risks, fail and learn. Through programs at Nature's Backpack, our youth are giving opportunities to do just that.