Imagine yourself as a young child attending a community festival on a warm summer day. The smell of barbeque and fried desserts fills the air. You’re eager to see friends and neighbors as you wonder the grounds and gather an assortment of fun knick-knacks from the mysterious colorful booths scattered across a field of green grass. You’re determined to get the coolest goodie from the shaded, name-tagged strangers no matter what it takes. So you start your exploratory trek to collect the prizes, laugh with friends and perhaps to learn a thing or two.
And now it’s up to you, the educator, to be engaging and get your point across. Can you do it? Yes, you can! - But not without the right approach. And as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. So unless you were born with the creativity of Dr. Suess, the educating talent of Mr. Rodgers, and the warmth of Mother Nature, then you’re going to need to practice and research ways to make lasting and informative impressions on kids.
The Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers Team West have had the chance to do just this, practice that is, a lot these past few weeks. On back-to-back weekends Team West has attended Kids focused events – The first annual Dungeness National Wildlife Refugee Centennial Kid’s Day, in Sequim WA and The eleventh annual Wallowa Resource Watershed Festival in Enterprise, OR. Each festival had interactive booths where kids could participate in hands-on activities to explore and learn. As the Traveling Trainers waved in a continuous stream of kids, they tested their knowledge about Leave No Trace, and kept note of their most successful interactions.
Here are the five tips and tricks they came up with for teaching kids:
1. You’re tall, get small.
Humans have evolved to understand that if a subject is bigger, it will either provide protection or eat you for lunch… If you want to scare away a bear, you’ve got to get bigger. The same concept needs to be applied to working with kids. If you want a child to feel welcomed and not threatened by you, then it’s best to get small by lowering your horizon. Being on the same level as the child makes you are more approachable and likeable. Step 1.
Sam lowering his horizon to show how a bear can works.
2. Relevance is everything.
Relate the topic to their life right out of the gate. If the child cannot see how Leave No Trace matters in their world, then they’re not likely to practice any of the principles. A good example for teaching Leave No Trace is to start by asking the child, do you like to play outside (some children do actually say no!)? Then ask the child if they like to (insert activity) where the ground is covered in garbage. This gives them a relevant reference frame for two different pictures, one in which Leave No Trace is utilized and the other which is a Less than Leave No Trace picture. Since the child will feel personally connected to these pictures, he or she is more likely to become engaged. Step 2.
3. Keep it simple, stupid!
Have you ever found yourself trying to communicate with someone who speaks a different language? If you weren’t fluent in the other language, chances are it was hard to make a connection, much less get your point across. This is why it’s important to use words, activities and comparisons that children can understand. But don’t water down the message. You want to give them all of the information with words they can understand; otherwise you are doing the child a disservice. And you don’t have to use a lot of words, just the right words. Step 3.
4. The power of doing.
Don’t be boring; learning NEEDS to be fun! A great way to engage with kids is by using props, activities and games that are hands-on. Get them carrying out physical activities, rather than listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations. Essentially, you need to get them playing. Play is the work of children – through play and interaction children learn. Step 4.
Jenna teaching the Rule of Thumb.
5. Lead by example.
“Actions speak louder than words.” This classic quote says it all. You must walk the talk if you want to instill trust and inspire the people around you to push them to greatness. We can’t count the number of times that people have come up to us and said “my grandpa wouldn’t let us leave the campsite until it was spotless of trash and litter. And now I have taught my children the same diligence.” Point being, impressions matter and children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate, building a sense of stewardship along the way. Step 5.
Keep the hunger monster at bay. Habituate your child to learning. Feed the child, feed the mind through incentivising learning with food. We like to reward the new skill of opening a bear can by stocking it with Clif Bars for the taking.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a mythical creature costume on your side. Bigfoot draws the crowds!
Bigfoot joins the Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers at Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.
With these tips in mind, take a step back in time to when you were a child and think about the moments where someone ingrained in you an ethic or taught you a skill that you still remember. What was it about that moment that still resonates with you? Consider these thoughts when teaching.
In other news related to teaching minimal impact outdoor recreation education to this important demographic of outdoor and future outdoor users, The Center is proud to bring you Leave No Trace for Every Kid. The goal of this initiative is to extend Leave No Trace education for every kid who spends time outside. What this entails - The Center is: 1. Developing and delivering comprehensive, standardized curriculum for outdoor youth programs (camps, YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl/Boy Scouts); 2. Creating and delivering Leave No Trace Certification that increases the collective, positive environmental footprint of the youth and camp experience. Once implemented this will increase the number of children AND adults that learn vital Leave No Trace skills and principles, ultimately improving the care and quality of our natural world.
For more information about Leave No Trace educational materials and resources for kids, check out our PEAK and Teen curriculum.
See you downstream!
Jenna and Sam
Leave No Trace’s Jenna Hanger and Sam Ovett are part of the 2015 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, Deuter, Hi-Cone, REI, Smartwool, The North Face, and Yakima.