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Backpacking 101: Reconnecting Youth to Nature in the Digital Age

My project will be devoted to creating an informational handbook that incorporates lessons on how to teach youth skills that would be useful for interacting with nature and ultimately give them confidence when participating in backpacking expeditions. This informational handbook will include tips, tricks, what not to do’s, hands-on activities, discussion topics.

It will be a one-stop shop type of document that will be an easy-to-find (and follow) guide on how to take green scouts, scouts that have never been on more than a mile long hike, how to nurture their self-confidence and independence, and give them the tools to be prepared in the wild. This handbook will be available to any scout leader that needs additional ideas on what a scout, new to backpacking, might need to know to keep themselves not only safe, but prepared.

Topics will range from how to use each of the 10 essentials to survival skills such as how to read a map/use a compass, fire starting methods, and shelter making skills. Discussion topics about what it means to be a guardian of the woods, specific Timberwolf badge requirements that will ultimately help scouts build their self-confidence, and stamina building exercises such as practice hikes and stretching will also be included.

I chose this project because the idea of backpacking can be scary. Especially when you are a human that has had very limited interaction with the outdoors.  Or limited hands-on knowledge about the outdoors and what “be prepared” truly means.

One of the opportunities for 8 to 11-year-old Timberwolves, is backpacking. They learn how to carry a pack full of gear and food and shelter that will give them the ability to survive in the wilderness. But the items in that pack – are only helpful and useful, if the person wearing that pack – knows how to use them.

One of the main reasons I chose this project came about from spending many hours scouring websites and reading books. I spent an indeterminate amount of gigabytes watching YouTube videos. I often became frustrated. Finding resources that will help teach scouts life-long skills that could prove a life saver in an emergency situation, should not be this hard.

My first year as Akela, was only my second year of participating in any thing scout related. I was 30 when I sparked my first flame without a match or a gallon of lighter fluid. And it was not until half way through my first year as Akela, that I did any sort of backpacking which required many hours researching and preparing. The topics that this handbook will be covering, include lessons and skills that I learned while on the trails – that I have found beneficial to not only myself, but what my scouts would find beneficial as well.

I am going to spend the next year, August 2019 to August 2020, teaching my Timberwolf Pack a variety of a variety of different skills that any person with a spark, a yearning, a desire to explore nature – will be able to learn and ultimately use to explore without any unnecessary stress/anxiety of not knowing what, or how, to be prepared for any scenario, should any arise. And what I learn from spending the next year teaching 8-11 year olds, will go in to this handbook.

This will be a one-stop shop type of document that will be an easy-to-find (and follow) guide on how to take green scouts, scouts that have never been on more than a mile long hike, how to nurture their self confidence and independence, and give them the tools to be prepared in the wild.

As I tell my children, and my scouts, “it is better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it”. Except for when it comes to packing their backpack – in which case less is more, because “every ounce matters”.

But what is so important about reconnecting our youth to nature? Aren’t they already pushed to be outdoors? How do youth interact with nature today? The youth of modern times only knows a world in which the answers they seek are only a few finger strokes away. They use terms like “google it” and “isn’t there an app for that?”.

The world we are living in, is dominated by technology. Very little in our day to day lives, is not assisted in some way by technology. We have smartphones that cause us anxiety if we do not check them constantly and panic if we forget where we put them

Youth of today, and adults, seek validation and acceptance via their social media pages. The ability, the reward, of looking inwards to seek happiness, or learning patience and perseverance when it comes to something hard, is being slowly forgotten. But who can blame them when the youth of today are given tablets during preschool to play educational games on them?

The way we interact with our families, friends, communities – is changing at a speed few of us want to acknowledge. Breaking news is accessible around the world, 24/7/365. The ability to disconnect is a goal worthy of achievement, but harder than you think. Technology has become an obsession; an addiction. Even for preschoolers.

While it can be our downfall, we have also benefited immensely from technology. We have witnessed medical miracles today that would never have been a possibility 20 years ago. We can connect to, and learn from, people from a culture unlike ours, thousands of miles away. From our living room, in our pajamas, we can go get an education online, virtually tour museums,  or we can type in “virtual tours of national parks” into any search engine, and nature is just a click away. Technology has provided those without easy access to the world outside – the ability to access the outside world in a way that was not possible 10 years ago.

Technology has changed how we interact with our world. It has given us all an opportunity to see faraway lands yet has affected how our youth today interact with the land outside their front door. Technology does not need to be the demise of our relationship with nature. In fact, we can live in a world where we peacefully coexist with technology. it is never too late to power down and step/crawl/hop/roll outside.

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Breathe in the fresh air. Close your eyes. Tune out the humming of the computer fan. And listen. Count how many different birds you can hear. Crickets? Buzzing of bees? Breathe and smell the roses. The rain after a long hot summer. Feel the wind pass through the hairs on your arm. Can you tell what direction the breeze is blowing as the hair on your head moves, as if previously choreographed.

Take a moment. Open your eyes. Is that what you expected that bird to look like with a call like that? How close is that bee? What color is that flower? What color are the clouds full of rain?

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Generations before us instinctively knew how to survive, hunt, cook, with very little. They knew when they needed to sleep, how to use the stars to find home. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we will never be able to rid ourselves of technology. As much as we try. The era of Technology is here to stay, and will continue to rapidly advance faster than that rose you smelled can grow.

As we learn how to reconnect to nature, our relationship with technology does not need to be tossed away. It is possible to find a balance. We just have to take the time to find what that balance in our own lives mean.

And for the youth of today – that means helping them see that a world exists beyond the screen in front of them, and that they too, have a place in that world.

 

Adventure On!

Yours in Traditional Scouting,

Akela, Timberwolf Pack Leader, 971st Great Blue Herons

BPSA-US.org

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