Spending time in the natural world gives kids a powerful tool they can take with them for the rest of their lives - a sort of personal barometer that uses life’s pressure’s to sense the storms before they arrive.
After paying my dues as an outdoor educator, a climbing guide, and a father, here’s a quartet of the rewards I’ve seen kids reap from spending intimate time with nature:
1. Overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. Sure, every student encounters personality conflicts or challenging assignments, but the very structure of school is to present students with bite-sized steps that will result in an education. Even extra-curricular activities and sports present challenges that are designed precisely for the age, size, and strengths of a given child.
During outdoor activities, on the other hand, the goal can be overwhelming. Hiking up a long mountain ridge is a perfect example. You start out, and within a short time you are out of breath, your legs are tired, and you look up to see the summit appears even farther away than it did from the start! All your internal calculators then come to the same conclusion: we’ll never make it. Yet somehow, hours later, you do make it. Mountain sports provide an incomparable cycle of facing the impossible and ultimately finding success.
2. Interpersonal conflict never pays. In school, conflict often ends in a no-win scenario of who’s right, who’s wrong or who’s in charge.
In the mountains, it is painfully clear that everyone is on the same team, and conflict will obviously not help anyone, so even very young children realize that conflict almost never results in a solution. Who are you going to get mad at, the mountain?
3. Results and challenges are not always measurable. In school, we take tests and get grades, play games and either win or lose, attend class and progress to the next grade.
When outdoors, one part of an adventure gives you an indefinable, indescribable, incalculable ability to take on the next part. For example, on a hike you approach a hill that looks nearly vertical from a distance, but once you are on the hill you realize the hill is not vertical after all, the footing is secure, and hiking up it is perfectly reasonable. Then when approaching the next hill, an even bigger and steeper one, you have the experience from the previous hill to draw from and you know that, even though you’ve never seen this particular challenge before, that it will likely be a more reasonable challenge than it appears from a distance.
4. Complaining doesn’t solve problems. Some students (and parents for that matter) learn to use general complaints as a way to work the system without actually facing the root cause of a problem.
Let’s say you are on a world-class hike in the Canadian Rockies with a mountain guide and your heels are beginning to hurt from a new pair of boots you just bought before the trip. The problem solving method would be to tell the guide, “my heels are hurting.” The guide stops, pads your heels, the problem is solved, and you continue hiking through some of the world’s most spectacular mountains. If you complain without solving the problem, your feet hurt more and you have less fun.
As one experienced parent said, "Complaining doesn't make the weather better, the trail shorter or the food magically appear."
At the heart of many legendary outdoor programs, including NOLS, Outward Bound, and our own CMH Family Adventures, is a quest to give kids and young people the opportunity to learn from the outdoors in a fun, safe, professionally managed environment. While our CMH Family Adventures are primarily a memorable and fun holiday for the the entire family rather than a traditional outdoor education program, the mountains are still great teachers and most kids leave the CMH Lodges with a whole new respect for their world and their own family.