NATURE-BASED PROGRAM CONNECTS KIDS AND WORLD: Home school starts third year on Salt Spring
By Frank Burnaby
Special to the Driftwood
A nature-based home school program on Salt Spring has been operating for two years and is looking to expand this year.
Wilderness Awareness Salt Spring (WASS), which previously included children aged eight to 12, hopes to open up to a more diverse range of ages in the upcoming season.
Although nature-based learning has been fundamental to the development of children through the millennia, it has been pre-empted only recently by industrialized culture. Now with the importance of our relationships to nature renewed, wilderness awareness movements have come into their own.
The Salt Spring program is designed to vitalize a child's intuition and instinctual intelligence, which guides and connects him or her to fulfilling relationships within the community and our world.
"Our approach to studying nature," says David Krieger, one of the instructors and program director, "combines modern scientific understanding with more first-hand connections that ancient cultures had with the natural world. Students may become skilled naturalists and master trackers in our program, yet ultimately our goal is to create centered, healthy, self-motivated young adults, able to think critically for themselves. Then they will have the confidence and inspiration to dream a vivid vision of their own future, and have the skills and enthusiasm to pursue that vision."
The wilderness curriculum focuses on many topics including: survival, mammals, tracking, bird language, plant uses, aidless navigation, native cultures, ecology and community, with plans to coordinate mature mapping programs with the University of Washington and Wilderness Awareness School Kamana.
"The learning is fun and profound. When young people expand their awareness of the natural world, they engage their inner voice, intuition and heart. It is truly remarkable," says Krieger, "how they begin developing into physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually centered people."
Krieger and fellow intstructor Tashmyra Crowe consider themselves mentors rather than teachers.
They say the mentor's role shies away from lecturing and downloading students with curricula of facts and information. The emphasis is upon students discovering their own gifts and interests. The mentor does not give answers, but guides the innate curiosity in every child to further question, investigate and find meaning in the natural world around them.
"We call this method Coyote Mentoring," says Krieger. "It's a technique that encourages creative thinking, rather than providing answers. This results in a deeper learning experience, and stimulates the growth of problem-solving skills. We are seeing a dramatic expression of self-sufficiency in our children, as well."
One of the school's goals is to be supported by the larger community of amateur and professional naturalists, artists, crafts people, teachers, elders and other young people.
"When young people expand their awareness of the natural world, they engage their inner voice, intuition and heart."
"Having volunteer days enables people, plants and animals to serve together as the real teachers of our students," says Krieger. "This is crucial for successful mentoring."
Krieger and Crowe have studied for over 10 years with renowned naturalist Jon Young and The Wilderness Awareness School in Washington and with Tom Brown Jr. at The Tracker School in New Jersey.
They have been teaching outdoor and environmental education for over seven years in Canada, the United States and Thailand.