I knew my daughter was stressed and unhappy in school, but it wasn’t until school was out for just a couple of days, that I heard her laugh and I thought, “Oh my gosh, my daughter is back!” She had slowly slipped away over months of being caged in a classroom, under the heavy load of academic overwhelm, social and emotional overstimulation, and physical boredom. But summer is here, and she is her sunshiny self again.
Let me say right off the bat, that I am a strong supporter of public education and teachers. As a former classroom teacher, I fully believe that public education is the cornerstone of democracy and that all children deserve an equal and quality education. I also believe that most teachers do not go into teaching because they enjoy testing or disciplining – or stressing kids out. My children’s teachers are wonderful, kind-hearted, caring individuals, but they are under a load of their own pressures. The infrastructure of public education in California is straining under the weight of modern capitalism. Our kids are suffering from it.
There is not just one solution.
Let’s start with summer and reclaiming the nature of kids with our connection to each other.
HUMANS EVOLVED BY COOPERATING IN COMMUNITIES
Take a (Treasure) Hike!
Purpose: Inspire your family, or a group of your friends and their families, to take a special sensory hike. By now, you understand the importance of getting more movement in your life and more walking–since it is a fundamental part of being human. Many people feel like they can’t get enough walking in because they have too many other things to do. The good news is that many things can be accomplished at the same time as walking. When we consider walking instead of being in our cars, can be a lot of time for walking, as long as we plan for it. Start by just getting dropped off a block away from your destination, five minutes early. Walking longer distances is sometimes easier with others. People can share a workload and socializing makes the time enjoyable. (Kids who complain about having to hike with just mom and dad are often happier walking with a large group where they can talk to other kids and adults of many ages.)
Focus: When you are walking, where should your eyes be? Hiking is a great time for some near-far vision movements. Since your eyes will be necessary for evaluating the environment, obviously it is not a good time to be reading a book or, (ahem) looking at your phone. Have you ever seen someone walk into something while their eyes were down on their screen? Yikes!
Okay, since we need our eyes to be looking up and out, what are some activities we can do when we are walking? Communication is another skill with which humans have evolved, and it is how we connect with each other as well as how we teach each other; let’s put the two things together and be efficient with our time and movement needs. Walking and hiking are great opportunities for gathering or collecting, carrying things from place to place, and sharing information. Each of these activities requires lots of different movements, from all your big muscle groups, and your small ones too.
Consider This: Native cultures include rites of passage for boys and girls as they enter into adulthood, usually between the ages of 10 and 17. Some of these adolescents take a solo journey, a walkabout, or vision quest which involve a long, long walk in the wilderness. When you are alone in the wilderness, your senses are on alert. It feels much different than walking with another person or a group. Have you ever taken a solo hike?
These solo journeys come AFTER lots of long walks with groups of people where children learn the skills necessary to keep them safe when they are alone. That is, kids don’t just go out one day and hike 50 miles into the wilderness without any knowledge or experience, or else they might get hurt. The solo journey is kind of a “test” where they use everything they have learned for years, and it’s an opportunity to gain confidence that they are able to care for themselves.
Appetizer: We’re going to go on a “treasure hunt” and use our senses to find things that feel like “treasure” to us. Do you have any collections of special things?
Equipment: You decide. You’ll want to think about how far your hike will go and provide information about the trail so people know what to expect. Do you need to prepare for the weather? Bring snacks or water? Pens and paper? Also, YOU are part of the equipment, you’ll need to carry what you collect!
Play It Out: Gather your group at the trailhead or starting place to set the stage. On this hike you will be on alert with all your senses to find things that feel like special treasures to you. It is like a sensory scavenger hunt. Your goal is to collect a “living” scrap book of the things you found special in this experience and carry them with you for the duration of the hike. Everything you collect will be left at the end of your hike. Nothing will be coming home with you.
Give people a short list of about five to seven things they should collect on this hike. You can tell them there is one for every sense. It might be something like this:
Find something colorful (eyes)
Something that smells good (nose)
An item that you saw in the distance and had to walk to or climb to (eyes and physical)
Something you can eat or drink (taste)
Note a sound that you enjoy (ears)
Think of a story you can share with others (memory and verbal)
Something sharp that you didn’t step on – or you did and that is how you found it! (touch)
Something heavy or light (physical)
Next, there are some important rules of respect to follow when you are walking in nature.
Be safe. Do not pick up something dangerous, poisonous, or something that belongs to someone else.
Be respectful. Do not destroy any part of your trail or the environment. You are a guest in the forest home.
Be smart. Use common sense. If you find something you MUST have in your collection but it is unsafe to get to or it would hurt the environment to have it, then take a picture with your mind and be ready to share all about it.
As large groups hike, they tend to spread out a bit. You might find yourself having a quiet moment and able to look for things for your treasure collection. At the very end of the hike, circle up and have each person share what they found and why they thought it was special. Then, before you leave, create a ceremonial scattering of everything that was collected. Give gratitude for the items you found and return them to a place along the end of the trail.
References: Some National and State Park rangers are experts at this kind of hiking. They are used to taking large groups of people out into the wilderness and sharing interesting facts about the area. If you would like to experience something like this, make a point of stopping at a National Park on your next vacation and signing up for a ranger-led hike.
Check out www.nps.gov for more ideas.
There are also several wilderness “schools” around the country where children and adults can enroll to learn more about the natural environment. Some teach survival skills specifically, and some are everyday home-schooling communities. You can take courses to learn about keeping yourself safe and healthy alone in the wilderness so you can prepare for your own solo hike one day.
Going Beyond: In urban areas, this sort of hike can also be used for a “progressive school bus.” My friend and teacher Annelisa started one in Oakland and ended up with 12 kids on the “bus.” The families farthest away from school start the walk together and make stops along the way at all the other kids’ houses until they arrive at school. What a great way to start your day and build community!