Tuesday, 22 August 2017

What is it that kids like about Learning in the Woods?

For the past two weeks, I have been spending more time at Learning in the Woods and I have had a unique opportunity to observe more than engage with the children.  I found myself thinking, what is it that kids like about Learning in the Woods.  Here is what I discovered.

“No Have-To’s” or “Should’s”:  The kids are happy to be with us because they know they are not going to be pushed or cajoled into doing anything.  Our daily schedule is a welcome circle, FREE CHOICE, and a good bye circle.  Truly, the most valuable thing we have to offer kids is the freedom and space to pursue their interests, explore their feelings, engage with others, and just be.  This is an environment that cultivates mindfulness.  That is not to say that our time together is full of beautiful, calm moments…just the opposite actually.  It is the messiness and swirling chaos that produces moments of awareness.  That is learning.  Those moments of awareness help to fuel the next discovery and interaction.  

Supportive Caregivers: We have amazing facilitators.  We hire authentic people who value kids and understand about choice and freedom and self-awareness and respect.  The learning that happens in a schedule-free environment is not always easy to navigate, so believe me when I say, our facilitators are so very busy supporting kids the whole time. Having no schedule means that there are more occasions for children to directly or indirectly request support and our facilitators are there through every painful and joyful emotion.  Tanya once said about Learning in the Woods participant A, “I love her.  And I mean that.  I love her because I have sat with her through every emotion, the highest highs and the lowest lows and when you sit with someone through every emotion possible like that, you cannot help but love them at the end of it.”  Drop the mic.

A Safe Place for Full Expression of Who They Are: Kids like this camp because they can show up and express the fullest version of themselves.  There is no need to edit their likes or dislikes or interests.  We love nature AND Moana, Paw Patrol, Popular MMO’s and dancing to Bruno Mars.  We do our best to #nurturethewholechild and not just the parts that make for pleasing others and nice Instagram photos. 

A Safe Place for Full Expression of What They Feel:  Kids can be sad, angry, scared, or frustrated and no one will rush them through those feelings.  Have you ever been rushed through a feeling by a well-intentioned loved one?  It sucks.  It adds a layer of discomfort to a situation that already feels not so good, which is why you are expressing your discomfort out loud to begin with!  At Learning in the Woods, tears can roll, as there is no shame in crying.  Angry voices can shout or growl.  They can be noisy and rambunctious in their joy.  We are human and this is a place where we welcome a full expression of humanity.

Ultimately, we see kids as full humans.  Their requests and interests and worries and questions are treated with respect that the children CAN FEEL.  They know they are being listened to with respect and that sense of respect is what cultivates a bond and connection that allows the kids to feel safe. Kids feel confident to take risks and grow and learn in ways that ARE IMPORTANT TO THEM.  As an adult, don't you wish for these things too?

Hint Hint, the next blog is about Self-Connection in the Woods, our adult version of Learning in the Woods.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Camp beginnings

The first day of camp can be intense for parents, kids, and facilitators. On the first day of camp, more than any other day, facilitators have to be prepared to just go with the flow and slow the pace so they can effectively create a safe space for kids. Ultimately, we trust the kids will show us what they need to feel comfortable in this new environment, we just need to create a space where can express and we can listen.

Today I arrived at Learning in the Woods before welcome circle.  Kids were playing, things were quiet, and the mood was a bit uncertain as kids tried to figure out how things work in this new space.  Facilitators were extra busy, trying to meet all the needs.  FYI, all the needs on the first morning of camp seem to be expressed intensely and simultaneously from these young people who were trying to figure it all out. Luckily our facilitators are ready for this!

When there was a lull, the facilitators invited everyone to join the welcome circle. Suddenly there was a cry.  C, 4 years old, had tripped and she burst into loud tears. Grace spoke to her quietly and brought her back to base camp.  C got her special toy from her backpack and a friend who had attended Learning in the Woods camp earlier in the summer, offered to sit beside her.  She was crying quietly and little one-lookers listened as Tanya said,  “C got hurt.  She is crying.  She is hugging her turtle toy because it helps her feel better.”  Everyone looked at C.  “Would you like to tell us about how you got hurt C?”  C stood up and walked over to the spot where she had tripped.  The entire group jumped up to follow her. This was an empathetic response as much as it was done out of curiosity.  

They listened quietly, respectfully, as C recounted what happened. Some asked questions or made comments.  Others just listened. I suspect C felt heard by the group as she stopped crying and walked back to our welcome circle looking calm and peaceful.  I suspect the group felt reassured too, as they were calm also. 

And so, the morning continued. We finished circle. We explored the space. Whistles were blown a little too often when there was no emergency. “The Machine” was built with some disagreement and some cooperation.  Snacks were eaten with gusto when kids were hungry.  No one was rushed.  There was time for everything.  All feelings were welcome.    

C’s fall was the first group bonding experience for these campers and it was rooted in gentleness and care. It set the tone for the rest of the morning and probably the rest of the week too.  By caring for one member of the group, everyone else was reassured that they will be cared for also.  There is no rush.  We can all just care for each other and figure things out as we go.  That message is so reassuring, isn't it?  What a beautiful beginning.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The gift of discomfort

Yesterday I felt so insecure.  One of the great gifts of trying to do something outside of the "norm" is that there are so many opportunities for me to be humbled.  Yesterday I had a big humble.  I got to see how I fail and how I struggle. It's a huge gift to see that but it's also uncomfortable and difficult to live with. 

I experienced this humbling message right before I hosted a play date. There were new friends, old friends, and their kids all coming to my house for some fun on the beach.  Yet, minutes before their arrival, all I wanted to do was be still and quiet with my humbling pain. I didn’t tell my friends I was feeling raw and insecure. I wasn't fake with those around me because that might be denying my pain but I wasn't trying to connect deeply either because connecting deeply wasn't possible when I felt that kind of insecurity. So, I just sat with those feelings inside me and allowed gentle friendships to carry me for a bit. It was riding a wave and allowing other people to keep me floating for a while.  Keeping quiet but floating helped me to get me to a space that felt a bit calmer and safer.   

The safety didn’t actually mean processing the insecure feelings! Safety was connecting to a friend who “gets” it like I do.  It was nice to just by listen to her, something I enjoy doing, and feel as though I have something to offer. Safety came while fulfilling a commitment and realizing “I am feeling so sad, I’m just not able to fulfill this commitment the way I had hoped.” Being honest with myself while still honoring my commitment met my need for authenticity. Listening to another beautiful friend express her strength and self-awareness of her challenges made me feel thankful to get to watch her as she blooms. Feeling insecure kept me quiet and what I received in that quiet seemed more beautiful as a result.

Somehow, with those moments of safety, the insecure feelings just lived in me. I didn't try to understand them. I just went about my day and the humbling feeling gave me clarity to see the gifts that discomfort can bring. In that way, the discomfort and insecurity was honored.

I think this is sometimes the way life goes.  Sometimes we feel insecure and we get to choose what we do with that feeling.  Disconnecting from it, though it is painful, dulls me to the beauty of life. Processing it in the moment wasn't actually going to serve me either, it would have felt like I was rushing through the feeling or spinning it in my head.  Sitting with it, even though it was uncomfortable, gave me a new perspective which is maybe the point of that feeling anyway.

As a parent, partner, friend, and contributer to the world, perhaps you’ll be given the same gift I was yesterday; a gift that brings you rawness and clarity to see the beauty in this world with fresh eyes.