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Monthly Archives: January 2016

There are many words for purpose: dreams, goals, vision. Fundamentally, to find our way, we need to know where we are going. As an educator, I understand that fostering purpose empowers students to become autonomous learner. And more importantly, it helps kids grow into well-rounded adults.

Many confuse fostering a child’s sense of purpose with making that child feel special. Unfortunately, being labeled the “chosen one” can have a negative effect on developing functional goals. When free of such pernicious myths, kids don’t care if they’re special—instead they naturally seek out how they can be useful, how they can be truly helpful.

Babies need to see themselves as the center of attention in order to survive: feed me, shelter me, me, me, me. That’s healthy, because infants cannot take care of themselves. Yet, as they grow, kids are hardwired to progressively break out of parental dependency and do more for themselves. Unfortunately, the overzealous comforts our culture demands can stifle a child’s natural inclination toward independence.

Autonomy by itself does not provide purpose, however. Different forms of independence can still prove selfish. Self-reliance is just the doorway to being truly helpful to your family and community.

We’ve all met “driven” people who act completely self-centered. A selfish visionary is never healthy. On the other hand, purpose with the right balance of humility, thoughtfulness and self-assurance not only leads to individual genius, but also contributes to collective brilliance.

This takes us back to evolution. We evolved to find purpose with the survival of our tribe. Once we understand that, we can understand what truly motivates our kids—and ourselves.

This is one challenge with conventional schooling. There’s no innate sense of greater purpose in getting good grades. You could argue that good grades lead to college, which could eventually lead to a job that does help people. But such far-reaching goals are too abstract to be good motivation for the average seven-year-old.

Grades do not build a chain of wisdom one link at time, nor do they appeal to the natural instincts of a child. But when you tell a kid, “Go catch a fish and bring it home to the family for dinner,” they instantly understand. When that fish is frying in the skillet, while everyone’s waiting to eat, the kid who caught it beams with pride. It’s like our bodies and minds function optimally with a life attuned to natural environments. Go figure!

As kids grow older, their purpose naturally abstracts to encompass more than the everyday. Ideally, it extends beyond their lifetime and for many generations into the future. A vision where they care for more than just people, they also tend to nature and the more-than-human world. In order to reach so far, we must allow our kids to cultivate the foundations that come from finding purpose in simple moments. Let them know: the family needs a fish for dinner.

-By Tony Deis

MISSION – Purpose Debrief
The Trackers Earth community lives by three purposes. If your child has been to our camps (or if they are a kindred adventurer), it might be useful to discuss these and see how they fit into their understanding of the world.

Purpose beyond self-centeredness. For family and village.
Purpose beyond human-centeredness. For diversity and the more-than-human world.
Purpose beyond our lifetime. For many generations into the future.

Fishing Camp

Silence is an essential survival skill. But silence is not necessarily serene calm. In the wilderness, silence could be a deer listening for a cougar. It may be waiting quietly for a fish to bite. Or stillness when you feel sad.

Today, children spend so much time being told what they could or should think. They’re not only bombarded with the noise of traffic, crowds, machinery and television, but also the constant stream of information, opinions and advertising hitting them at web-speed.

Social media can be an assault on the nature of silence. It relentlessly inundates our children with the thoughts of people, people and more people. This sheer volume, the cacophony, wears them down, until eventually it settles into white noise they tune out or drudge through. They rarely have the space to hear the more-than-human voices of this world—of what is still wild.

My goal  for my own children and for all the children I work with is to find ways for them to experience silence. That could be as simple as sitting in a place with plants, trees, birds and animals to simply greet the day. We call this their Secret Spot.

Wilderness skills can also help. Shelter, water and food are found at a far quieter pace in the wild. Navigation lets kids silently (and safely) walk away from (and back to) the human world. Survival requires them to truly see the land—never missing an opportunity, or even a danger. Animal tracking is the quiet observation of the most subtle signs. Wild plants ask children to thoughtfully harvest, not as owners of the land, but as caretakers tending to its needs.

This all leads to a way of seeing, hearing and sensing that we at Trackers call Whiskers.

Whiskers is your peripheral vision and the edges of all senses.

The modern world teaches children to focus on one thing: chalkboard, TV, computer, the “right” answer. Through this tunnel vision, they miss critical information. They get trapped in the the busyness of their thoughts and can no longer listen. But when kids learn to quiet themselves this wider awareness comes naturally and a far more diverse world reveals itself.

Finally, if children get to experience true silence and slow to natural rhythms, they tap into the intrinsic social values we evolved with—the desire to create and care for healthy communities—values that helped our ancestors survive on this earth for millions of years.

Silence may have faded from childhood, but it is not completely lost. It can be rediscovered. But rediscovering silence does not simply mean sitting still. It can even begin with cultivating more adventure in the lives of our children through learning the deeper skill of listening to nature.

Below are a couple Missions that help cultivate silence. Remember, at the core of all wilderness skills lies Whiskers and silence.

MISSION – Stone Still
Find one place to sit. Don’t worry about it being perfect. Make it convenient and close to your house—the most wild place in your backyard is ideal. While sitting Stone Still, relax as much as possible. Use your Whiskers to see the entire area even though you’re not moving. Wait for the sun to move 1-2 fingers before getting up (about 15 – 40 minutes).

MODIFY – Half Speed Explorer
After sitting Stone Still, slowly and quietly explore at half your normal speed. Look for raccoon trails in hedges. Map the wild places. Move slower and slower until you’re back to stillness. Then start again.

MISSION – Whiskers
Place your hands together out in front of you. Focus straight ahead. While wiggling your fingers, spread your arms apart until you can just barely see movement on both sides. This is your wide-angle vision—your Whiskers.

MODIFY – Walking Whiskers
Walk barefoot along any changing terrain. Keep your head up and your Whiskers on full steam. Before committing your weight, feel the ground for a quiet place with the ball of your foot and toes. Then move forward. Do this coming in and out of your Secret Spot (see Half Speed).