“Nature, too, supports our personal blossoming through her spontaneities, through her beauty, power, and mirroring, through her dazzling variety of species and habitats, and by way of the wind, Moon, Sun, stars, and galaxies.” - Bill Plotkin
Fostering Youth Relationships with Nature
Have you ever been struck by the beauty of a sunset landscape? Or found yourself in wonderment in the face of nature? These moments are like MAGIC when we take the time to pause and drop into our senses. They have a unique timelessness that feeds our most ancient human soul on a deep level. Unfortunately these moments are rare for the youth we work with. The average American kid spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play and more than 7 hours a day in front of an electronic screen. Fortunately the ability to connect with nature is an inherent human skill and the world is not over yet! As mentors, we share a responsibility in teaching teenagers how to develop reciprocal and harmonious relationships with nature so they become good citizens (both ecologically and socially).
Summer season at BYEP provides countless opportunities for just that! Even the simplest activities like watching a bird in a tree can teach empathy. Helping youth to build their observation skills in nature enhances their personal power and teaches them how to apply their mind to gather up the components of a story. Next time you’re out with your group imagine yourselves as nature detectives and try a few of these simple activities.
Start by closing your eyes and tune into your ears. Imagine what it would be like to be a bat with their massive ultrasonic ears. How many different sounds can you identify around you? What’s the quietest sound you can hear? What birds are calling in the distance?
Then spend a couple minutes tuning into your nose. Sniff the air and everything around you. See how many scents you can identify in 5 minutes. What can you detect in the temperature and moisture content of the air?
Then sit very still & tune into your body. Feel which direction the wind is blowing against your face. Feel the earth beneath your seat. Pick things up with your hands & test different textures with your fingers.
Finally open your eyes & tune into your sense of sight. Notice all the different colors & shades of green. Use your peripheral vision and tune into broad patterns with your eyes.
Follow the Trails of Natural Mystery
When you go out into nature there are stories everywhere. Nature is like a huge interconnected web. Now that your senses are fully engaged, you can start to learn how it all fits together. The natural world is made up of many interacting layers (celestial bodies, weather, natural cycles, birds, trees, mammals, ecology, plants, waters, and earth). When you break that pattern and just practice watching, looking, listening, you’re going to amaze yourself by how much you learn. You’ll be less apt to walk by and ignore the bird feeding on the lawn. Sit and watch the squirrel for a little bit longer than you normally would, get down on your hands and knees and really tune into the insect world, pay attention to water patterns & notice that water moves through the land in an interconnected manner…
Notice what catches your curiosity and makes you think. Keep a notebook of questions that impact you and revisit them regularly. In reality, it’s not about knowing the answers. It’s all about how the question gets you to look & pay attention to notice something new. Go outside and ask yourself, What’s happening right now? What can I observe? Why is that happening? How does this all fit together? Sometimes you might think you have a great question, but if it doesn’t catch the attention of your participants, let go of expectations and move on. The real magic of mentoring happens in the overlap of passion between participant and mentor.
All you really have to do is provide opportunities for these natural moments to occur, without trying to force them. Be yourselves, and have fun!