5/14/2012 - Asheville offers many opportunities for children to learn outdoor skills
by WNC Parent - Paul Clark
Maybe you can show your child how to create a spreadsheet with Excel. But can you teach her how to build a fire in the woods?
Learning outdoor skills and becoming self-reliant in the woods helps children in many ways, boosting their self-confidence and teaching them to use their minds and muscles in new, exhilarating ways. Children are never too young to start learning how to use a compass and map, instructors say.
"It's really empowering for them," said Lena Eastes, director and a counselor at Earth Path Education, a primitive skills institution near Weaverville. "It builds their confidence and helps them feel comfortable in who they are. They begin to feel safe in the woods. Our culture teaches children to have a lot of fear about the unknown in the woods. But our kids begin to see the unknown as a great mystery that they're excited to learn about."
"When I was kid, my mother couldn't find me. I was out in the woods splashing in the creek and catching bugs," said Richard Cleveland, founder and director of Earth School, a wilderness skills school between Asheville and Candler. "Now, if you want to find children, all you have to do is find the nearest electrical outlet.
"Kids need to know how to take care of themselves. Teaching them how to pitch a tent or make a fire, you see them glow."
Unless parents have spent considerable time learning how to build shelters or purify water, they may not be able to teach the skills that they want their children to know.
Where to turn?
There are several places in Western North Carolina that teach outdoor skills.
Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are excellent places to learn the joys and disciplines of being outside. Scouts learn knots, knives, fishing, archery, fire-building, outdoor cooking, water purification, camping safety, wilderness first aid and how to stay dry, among other skills.
Possibly most important, they're taught respect for the outdoors and its caprices.
Cleveland has taught survival and self-reliance skills to Navy Seals and civilians. From time to time at Earth School, one of his instructors is Victor Wooten, bassist for Bela Fleck & The Flecktones and an avid naturalist.
Cleveland's Earth School has a "Back to Basics" class recommended for ages 8-17 accompanied by an adult. Students will learn fishing, first aid, survival skills, nature awareness, wild edible and medicinal plants, archery, hunting, outdoor cooking and more.
Earth School also offers its Family Adventure Camp that shows participants how to build fires and emerge ncy shelters and collect drinkable water and wild edible plants, among other skills. Included in the instruction is teaching children how to avoid getting lost in the woods.
Earth Path Education in the Reems Creek Valley near Weaverville holds its Roots Day Camp during summer to teach children "nature awareness" skills based on Appalachian folk wisdom, ancestral skills and plant lore, among other disciplines. Instructors will highlight plants that can be used as food and medicine, as well as show forest products that can be used in basketry, cordage, clay vessels and natural paints.
"We focus on what's going on around us in the woods -- bird language and how to recognize plants as teachers," Eastes said. Earth Path Education also does rites of passage for girls 11-16 via nature awareness and primitive skills.
Events to consider include the Firefly Gathering on June 21-24, a weekend at Camp Pinnacle in Hendersonville of wildcrafting classes for adults that has a children's component. Young naturalists will learn things such as fire by friction, first aid and survival basics and woodcarving.
The American Adventure Service Corps is an all-year after-school program for students ages 8-18. Students meet once a week to learn outdoor skills that prepare them for wilderness activities that include navigation, camp-craft, cave exploration and rock climbing. Students and instructors go out one weekend a month on adventure trips, as well as for a 10-day (or two five-day trips for younger students) expedition during summer.
In all these programs, students will learn much more than the outdoor skills. They'll learn to love being outside.
"Nature speaks to us in a different language," Cleveland said. "Looking at the moon on a starry night, you can't help but feel that you are a part of it."