Posts Tagged With: kids

Is Scouting still relevant?

p6.jpgWhen I was in 7th grade, my father left the military and we moved to South Jersey, where we stayed for some years. I joined the Boy Scouts when I moved there, and stayed involved thru high school, and yes, earned my Eagle Scout.

I was very lucky, however, to have found a troop that even then still modeled itself after Baden-Powell’s vision – turning boys into men, and using nature as the forum for learning. Our troop was fortunate to own two dozen canoes, trailers, and tents to be able to get out often, and get out often we did. Starting in the spring, we would get the canoes out (most of them fiberglass behemoths, with a few aluminums) and clean them up and make any repairs necessary. Then every Sunday until fall we would have a canoe outing – sometimes it was just down to a local lake, but mostly it was into the Pine Barrens of South Jersey to explore some interesting route or other. In the summer the troop would take up to 20 kids to Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada for a four week canoe camping adventure.

In addition, during the warmer months, the troop would hold a backpacking trip at least once a month – we would head out to Pennsylvania, Delaware, or parts of Jersey and hike to a designated spot where we would set up camp. It was never too much, and the Scoutmaster did a great job of getting everyone to work as a team. Oftentimes we would visit historical sites like Gettysburg and combine that with our camping outing.

My best camping recollection from those days was always the January campout – in the days between Christmas and New Year’s our Scoutmaster would gather the unsold Christmas trees from the area and dump them off at a wooded area where we had our troop camping location. Then one weekend in January we would go out there, drag the trees for about a mile and half to the campsite, and pile them up. In teams of 3 or 4, we would strip the branches off with machetes, and use the trunks to build lean-to frames in the woods, and the branches to seal in the lean-to’s. The first time I did this, I remember we built a traditional top-only lean-to, and we woke up with our sleeping bags covered with snow. In subsequent years we learned to build full shelters, to the point where our problem was not snow, but the fact that we had actually built Indian-style sweat lodges!

February always meant Klondike derby, where we would build dog-sleds, with wheels, and use boy-power to traverse a course thru the woods. The goal was to use orienteering skills to get to the right place at the right time – at which point you should have found various skill stations where you would be tested. This was a contest between the troops of our district, and was a high point for the year.

My son had joined the local Cub Scouts a couple of years ago, and I was as excited as he was at first. It didn’t take long to see that something was different from when I was involved. First, the emphasis was not on the Scouting principles I had learned, but rather on how quickly one could get their books signed off to move onto the next rank. Outings were few and far between – admittedly these were only Cub’s, but with no associated Boy Scout troop, there also seemed to be nothing to look forward to. The drop-out rate among the boys was high, and I am still trying to convince my son to get involved again but with no success.

My question, then, is as noted in the title – is Scouting still relevant? How does its relevance (or non-relevance) relate to the “Last Child in the Woods” book? Perhaps parents are too protective, and don’t see the value of what Scouting has to offer. Without parent involvement, no troop could be as active as mine was. Or is it simply that other organized activities like Little League and soccer have dominated the time constraints on our children?

I have seen little evidence in my area that Scouting is alive and well – but would love to be proved wrong, and would love to have something to show my son that would convince him to reconsider.

If not, then the best answer may be to pull out my own Scout Handbook and attempt to use it as a guide to teach him what I learned – not just how to tie knots and paddle a canoe, but how to live with decency, respect and reverence. As always, it’ll be one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

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Looking back –

I am still waiting for the hip to mend, and saw the doc yesterday for an update. The good news is that the x-rays show that there is definitely some bone growth along the fracture line, but not enough that I can put weight onto it yet. What surprised me was that he showed me the actual break on the films – I had looked at them myself earlier, and thought it was about an inch and half long along the top of the femur, but he traced a break along the length of the bone that is actually 4-5 inches in length. No wonder this thing hurts so much!

I’ve had some good time to catch up on my reading lately, and have been thinking more about “Last Child in the Woods” and my own childhood, and how it relates to the book versus how my own children live now.

Up until I was in high school, my father was in the Air Force, and we moved every 18 months or so…while I suspect most people would say today that that is detrimental to a proper childhood, I loved it, and I believe it has shaped me in many ways that are actually good. For one, I am at ease in new places, and love to travel. When my job required that I travel internationally, I was always told by my customers that they could tell how much I respected their cultures, and found that I was easy to work with compared to many Americans they knew. But as it relates to my love for the outdoors, I think the stage was set early on as well.

When I was only 4 years old, my family moved to Izmir, Turkey for three years. While there, we spent much time with other assigned NATO families, and nearly every weekend went and explored the countryside. We would walk thru the ruins of Ephesus, one of Alexander’s many fortresses, and other ancient ruins. My mother would pack enough food for a small army, and we would go to the sea to play and explore – even at that age, I recall being given enough of a leash that I wasn’t always attached to my parents apron-strings.

What really stands out in my memory is the time we lived in Tripoli, Libya (I was 7 then) – while we did live on the military base, I was free to go out with my friends and do things I would never consider allowing my kids to do. For example, at that age I would take the bus to the center of the base to go to the movies with my friends – but even more, I remember exploring some abandoned buildings and scavenging supplies for the tree houses we built in each of our yards (such as they were!). I distinctly recall finding wires for lashing, scraps of wood, and more bent nails than we could ever straighten against the sidewalk. We’d drag our finds back to the housing area, and haul it up the olive trees in our yards, and build our own place to get away. When it was hot (and it’s nearly always hot in Libya) we’d retreat up there to read our comic books and stay out of the sun. We’d also be able to catch chameleons (the real ones with the googly eyes, not the Florida kind) and try to train them to race each other, which, as I recall, rarely worked without me getting a bite or two.

As I grew up after that, we moved first to southern California, then to Globe, Arizona, and then to Lubbock, Texas. In each of these places I can remember spending every afternoon outside, roaming the neighborhoods, fields and canyons at will, as long as I was home in time for supper. While the book “Last Child in the Woods” falls short in prescribing actual solutions, it does at least make me recall how I grew up, and what I would wish for my own children, should society allow it. Alas – too many crazies, too many germs, too much homework from school, and not enough real neighbors watching out for each other prevent this lifestyle from happening now.

And so I do what I can to take the kids outside whenever we can (and I’ll be able to again eventually when this damned hip heals), but I think going forward I plan to allow them some more time to discover on their terms, and not mine. We spend quite a bit of our warm weather weekends hiking in the Finger Lakes, and this year I will give them a longer leash, and forget so much about making time, but will make it a better time. We’ll see how it goes – and as we get cranked up again, I’ll be sure to update here on our journeys, both on the trail, and back in time.

I wanted to add at the end here that when I was younger and out playing, I used to come home filthy – dirty, muddy and just plain messy. Never once do I remember getting in trouble for being dirty – in fact, I think it was understood by my parents that I was just “being a kid” – I thank them both for that, and hope to do the same for my kids. Dirty? So what! It’ll wash off – that’s why they take showers!

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Last Child in the Woods…

lastchildpbcover.jpgI just finished reading “Last Child in the Woods – Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv….it was, to say the least, an interesting read, and one that made me think of my own childhood. I would highly recommend it, and am planning myself to buy several copies for the school administrators of my children’s school district.

Louv’s premise is that today’s children have lost touch with Nature, and by doing so, are losing out on a major component of their total learning experience. There is certainly more to it than that, but that’s the nickel tour…there are enough other reviews and synopsis around that you don’t need me to write another one.

My major fault with the book, as important a work as I believe it to be, is that it seems incomplete. While Louv gives some examples of school districts and communities that are trying things to bring kids back to nature, he doesn’t really say what the rest of the schools and communities should do. Perhaps its because the answer isn’t that simple, and that each community has it’s own set of issues to deal with, but what I took from it is that the problem is so big, it’s ludicrous to even think about a grand solution.

To me, like many of the issues with today’s education system, the solution to this problem starts at home. Granted, the world is a very different place than it was when I was a kid running around the neighborhood building forts, tree-houses, and getting muddy. Hell, my children’s mother doesn’t even allow them to get muddy for fear they’ll get ring-worms or something. But with the reality of whacked out psycho-paths on the prowl for young children, many of our fears do have foundation. So what to do?

Our family – my wife, her daughter and my two children – do as much as we can to spend our weekend time outdoors as we can. Unfortunately, I only have my children with us every other week, but when we do, we make it a point to plan some outdoor activity – typically we’ll drive down to the Finger Lakes area and hike on of the many waterfall-lined trails we are blessed with in this part of New York. And while these trips are not super-rugged, they do get the kids out experiencing nature first hand. Last summer the three kids spent one hike trying to ‘out-find’ each other, and turned up frogs, toads, salamanders and bugs I had missed – but the point is they were looking! And despite the fact that their little legs got tired, they had fun…

This is not the same as the unstructured wild play time Louv suggests is so important, but in the context of today’s world, I know it’s more than many of their friends get.

One other interesting point I’d like to add – I know there are many forums that criticize Bear Grylls and his Discovery Channel show Man vs Wild. I have a different perspective, and proof positive of his impact. No, his shows are not NOLS level survival courses, and yes, he likely makes some foolish decisions that might adversely impact your chance for survival should you be in a situation such as he places himself. But – my kids LOVE this show, and they love him, and because of watching his show, they are more intrigued than ever to get back out into the woods and try new things. Last weekend it snowed here (and yes, it’s snowing quite a bit now) – rather than spend the weekend in front of the telly, my kids went out in our yard, found several 7′ gardening stakes, some rope and a tarp (OK, so it was the one covering my firewood – whatever!). In the back of our yard under some trees and against the fence, they lashed the poles to the fence, and tied the tarp over the frame they built, and built a perfectly excellent shelter. Like their hero Bear, they made a camp, and even made a make-believe firepit in the shelter to cook on.Even as I look out back now with the 10 inches of snow we’ve had since last night, it’s still standing, and if they were here this week, I know they’d be out there. So while Bear isn’t necessarily going to save your life, he might just save your family from Nature Deficit Disorder, and I think even Richard Louv would be happy with that!

You gotta start somewhere…

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Mendon Ponds WinterFest 2007

This past weekend I took the family to the Mendon Ponds WinterFest – while it had looked shaky just a week ago with such warm weather, the final week before was cold and snowy. It was perfect – we started on the southwest side of the park, where there were hosting sled dog races. We watched a few of the teams take off and finish the three mile course, and if you’ve never watched even a short race like that, you should. Until then, I always thought of these dogs as seriously overworked – but to watch their eagerness when they’re clipped to a sled is amazing. They absolutely love it, and the only thing cruel about this is not letting them run right away – the dogs simply can’t wait to get going.

We then went over to the main park offices and Nature Center, where they have recently opened a center for injured birds of prey. They had several redtail hawks, golden eagles, kestrels and two owls on the trainers hands – the kids loved this, too. There is also apparently a bobcat there, but it was hiding when we visited. EMS set up a small winter camping demonstration, but it seemed as if they could have done a bit more.

We finished by going to the fields by Stewart Lodge, which sits on the Hundred Acre Pond. There were hundres of kids sledding down the glacial kames of the park, but we strapped on our snowshoes and walked out onto the pond to see the ice-fishing demos. They hadn’t caught anything, but the demo and explanations were enough to interest my kids – not to mention the fact that they were thrilled (and scared) to actually be walking on the frozen pond.

We managed a short hike in the snowshoes, but it was pretty cold (14F) and the kids wanted to cut it shorter than I would have liked. We did stop in the lodge to talk to the local Nordic Club, who was giving free lessons and had plenty of equipment to borrow, but it wasn’t enough to keep them going any longer. Too bad – I would have liked to have joined the large gathering of skiers.

The bottom line is that I highly recommend the festival to anyone in the Rochester area – it was well organized, and there was more than enough to do for all ages, and all abilities. Rochester’s winters have been the brunt of east coast jokes for years, but for many of us who live there, it is winter time when the place really comes to life. The WinterFest proves that, and was able to show many locals new ways to enjoy the cold.

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