Whether it’s a 10 week session throughout a season or a 1 week summer camp, when we reach the end of our scheduled time at Learning in the Woods, everyone experiences a bit of a “high”. When it’s time to say good-bye, connections are at their strongest, so it’s only natural to look back at our time together and reflect.
Despite being very pregnant, I happened to be on site for the first morning of camp. It’s such a vulnerable time and not just for the kids! Facilitators want to help bridge the gap between home and camp but with no prior connection, they really don’t have a choice but to be patient, grounded, and present. Parents have signed their children up for this nature camp thing but suddenly, uncertainty lingers in the air. I think the strongest impression for me was witnessing how brave the kids were, venturing into the unknown! It reminds me of the first days of school as a kindergarten teacher. With no solid prior connections to draw on, everyone digs deep and pulls from within the best they can. I have so much love for these brave little souls!
Even kids who know what to expect, still have butterflies because they know the dynamics have changed. My son, who is certainly a regular at Learning in the Woods, was feeling anxious Monday afternoon when we arrived for his session. While sitting with him as he rode out his nerves, some of the kids who participated in the July camp arrived. They were excited to be back to their familiar space again, flying down the hill, backpacks bouncing on their backs. Can you picture it? Read that line again, if you need to because it was that excited energy bouncing past, that lifted my son from his nerves and carried him down to camp. And that’s sometimes that’s just how it goes. You spend time building a connection to yourself, so that you can build a connection to others, and somewhere along the way there is a connection to nature too. There is an ebb and flow that works in this triad and we don’t really think much about it unless we give ourselves time to reflect.
Tanya, the Learning in the Woods Director, and our facilitators Claudia, Soren, and Laura all did an outstanding job this week, keeping themselves grounded and present so that the kids could walk away with deeper connections. It was a challenging week though. To start off it was HOT. Morning temperatures in our city were often hotter than correlating morning temperatures in Mumbai. Plus, we ended the week with thunder and rain. With any kind of intense weather, the facilitators feel pressure to keep kids safe and to fully consider parental concerns. It’s always a challenge to balance those concerns with what we know of nature connection. You see, most forest schools do not make weather cancellations and we understand why. In those weather challenges, the possibility for connection intensifies.
In the heat we can observe how nature adapts; the bugs burrow into the moist soil to stay cool and hydrated. Small creatures and birds conserve their energy for cooler times of the day and spend the hottest times in the shade or in the spot in the forest that catches a breeze. As we observe and connect to nature, we can apply that learning to ourselves. My son arrived home yesterday after a week in the heat and didn’t feel a need to come into our air conditioned house. His sister and I retreated after 20 minutes of playing outside but he continued to play and create in our backyard, soaked in humidity. He had adapted, he had overcome. He learned to take his cues from nature, listen to his body, adapt, and in the end, he found a new sense of peace in the challenging heat. What a gift!
And it’s not just the physical stamina that grows. We talk about how when we are experiencing discomfort with our feelings, we don’t actually want to hide them, change them, or rush past them. The feelings are there for a reason and if we can sit with them, they bring us depth of understanding. The same is true when experiencing nature. To get a depth of understanding, it really is best to stay with nature. That means visiting the same location in different seasons and weather conditions so that you can truly understand how it flows and your fit in the natural world. We looked into making our last day of camp at a location that had something new to explore and some water to splash in (our little stream was completely dry with this drought) but we were so glad that we stayed put! By staying put, the kids were able to reflect on how comfortable they felt in the forest, even exploring the familiar paths “alone”, thus raising their confidence and their sense of inner peace. They were also rewarded with RAIN! With water gushing up to the kids’ ankles, our little stream had the appeal of an exciting new toy! The played and rejoiced in their new wet forest and their new friendships. It was the kind of ending that we could not have predicted but we’re so thankful to have received. By staying put, we are able to experience the complete triad of joyful connection to nature, self, and others.
It was tempting to alter our location or respond to the elements by retreating somehow but we are really glad that we didn’t. We don’t want to be fearful of nature or the elements because we know that our fear can be passed onto our kids. We want to instill a respect and appreciation for nature, not a rejection of it when the elements bring us discomfort or don’t fit our vision of the experience. The human oneness with nature is so ingrained in our very core that sometimes it seems our connection with nature can mirror our comfort level with our own feelings. We are a culture of of people who often resort to retreating or displacing. But if we sit with ourselves, find peace in ourselves and in our environment, then, with enough practice, it becomes possible to find peace with others. And that is the motivation behind this whole thing, the possibilities that come with connection. We don’t want to reject that which feels uncomfortable; those are actually the moments we want to dig deep and connect. So, that’s how it goes at Learning in the Woods. There is an ebb and flow to all things and as we finish up our camp season, we are left feeling really thankful for the experience and for this time to reflect.