Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why Teach Outdoor Education?

Here it is 2012 and it seems like there's an abundance of outdoor programs to choose from.  There are more than there was ten years ago.  That's probably because of the educational studies that have come out in response to what's now known as Nature Deficit Disorder.  Are more individuals and families participating in these programs because of this child malnutrition of outdoor experiences?  It doesn't appear to be the case.

Something is still keeping the kids inside, and parents don't really seem to care - for the most part. The result is a host of youth not having a thorough knowledge and appreciation of wildlife, living in the outdoors or how crucial it is to preserve our nation's natural resources.

When I was a boy I loved being outside, mostly because there was nothing to do inside! In 1967 when I was eight we didn't have home computers, video games or more than six channels on the black and white TV set. Even the channels we did have came in fuzzy. Occasionally I did go down to the creek and catch crawdads. Photo credit

In order to keep me from driving my parents completely nuts, they enrolled me in Scouts. Of course I didn't have any real opinion about it, I'd just did as I was told because I was eight, but I did have fun. In Cub Scouts we did mostly crafts with the occasional outdoor event. When I became a Webelos Scout (age 10), we started to camp, but then as a full-fledged BoyScout we were outdoors most of the time, especially in summer.  Out of the 20 some-odd merit badges I received, a good portion of them were in skill areas of hiking, camping, canoeing and similar.  Through the merit badge program, I learned real outdoor skills some of which I can still call up and use even to this day!
When I was 19 I attended the Brigham Young University, YouthLeadership 480 course (now managed by B.O.S.S).  That was my one and only BYU class.  YL480 was an evolved course originally designed by the great survivalist Larry Dean Olsen, to help reform troubled youth offenders.  In the class we spent 30 days in the southern Utah desert living off a pocket full of minor supplies and gathering the rest from a less than abundant supply of plants and an occasional aquatic critter from a creek bed.  On one segment of the survival excursion, we were granted 1 red shiny apple, and to this day I still eat ALL of the apple but the stem.  I am also still known to eat a bug now and again.  I digress.

In my later associations with 4-H, we  had a good share of outdoor activities, but no hard-core outdoor programs in "roughing it" type camping in that sense, at least in my geographic region. 4-H environmental and camping programs such as fishing, shooting sports and kayaking were (again, in my experience) are mostly day activities with cabin lodging or going back home in the evening.  In that job, I was a paid Youth Development Agent and we did teach some really neat skills, but the focus was more on developing well rounded leaders and citizens, and less on the skills.
I think people trying to answer the question about why teach outdoor education will mostly come from a philosophical perspective like, "giving an appreciation of the outdoors, or of what it’s like to…”, etc.  In my honest opinion, the value of learning ONE outdoor skill really well, will give a child something they can use later, perhaps as a necessity.  For example, if a child learns to start an outdoor fire with natural (local) materials, and just one match (or no matches!), that skill may come in handy later in life.  Now add to that skill another, like building a woods shelter, or purifying water, a child will begin to gain a sense of self-reliance, and confidence that they will carry on for the rest of their lives and probably build upon themselves.  In the meantime, while learning these specific skills; they will see deer and other wild animals, and unspoiled land and appreciate the setting.  They’ll remember and know why our forests, wild lands and waters are important and will naturally grow an attitude of ecological stewardship that they hopefully will try to pass on.  So I guess, the bottom line for me to teach outdoor education, is to impart new skills primitive to them, to teach self-reliance and connect kids to our ancestors by stories,  people who did this out of necessity, while building self-confidence and esteem.

I think I’ll sleep outside sometime this week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Gentle Reminder of the Classic Books for at Home or the Woods

Last night I was surfing for free books to read in iBooks, and there are tons of them available!  Most of the older classics are at places like Gutenberg eBooks, but there are many outlets.  From an iPhone, the best way to hunt for them is install the free iBooks app, and then search the library.  They separate the books by author and whether it is free or to buy.

I was in kind of a hurry, so I was looking for small files sizes for a quick download.  That's when I ran into Aesop's Fables!  I knew they were on the web, not not available as an ebook.  Here is one of my favorites...

The Lion and the Mouse
Once when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down upon him; this soon wakened the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon him, and opened his big jaws to swallow him.  "Pardon, O King," cried the little Mouse: "forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but what I may be able to do you a turn some of these days?"  The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him, that he lifted up his paw and let him go.  Some time after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters who desired to carry him alive to the King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a waggon to carry him on.  Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts.  "Was I not right?" said the little Mouse.

The Moral is - Little friends may prove great friends.

I just can't wait to read the rest of the stories again, to myself and my grandchildren!  Here is where I found this story. About Aesop the author.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Maintaining Equipment in a Youth Shooting Sports Club

I speak here specifically about archery, but the same is true of all similar youth shooting sports programs, so shotgunners and muzzle loaders, please read on...

As a youth archery instructor, one of the greatest challenges is to make sure the young people always have ready quality, safe equipment.  On the surface it doesn't seem like it would be that hard, but when you consider all the things used in archery, it gets to be quite a challenge.  One archer alone will use a bow, that has a string, multiple arrows that will have a quiver, the safety equipment of an arm guard, finger tab or glove, and will shoot at a target that has paper held on by pins, at a fixed distance that is laid out on a range with safety lines, perimeter rope and signs.  Right there I named about seven items, now multiply that by 10 to 20 shooters in a club.  It takes a virtual warehouse to store all these things, and each of them are wearing out, if only just a little bit, one practice after another.

It can be justified to have a youth shooter and a dedicated parent to take charge of all the equipment, because if not, it soon becomes more than a club leader can handle under the job description of a volunteer archery club leader.  Let's for a minute talk about cost.

Is your 4-H, Scout or JOAD program free of charge to the children?  It better not be.  A free program cannot survive, plus children must learn to pay to play.  Where in your adult life can you have a free hobby? It is sending the wrong message of value when we run a program that is free of charge.  It says to the participant that some sugar-daddy person or organization is providing a charity program, which gives an unjustified sense of entitlement, or it says that your program is not worth much.  A quality program can have maintained equipment if even a token amount is charged, say $3.00 to $4.00 per shoot.  One quality archery target is about $70.  Nowadays virtually every family can come up with that fee, which is about the same cost as candy or two bottled sodas.  When I was managing a youth archery program a few years ago, I did have some kids that couldn't afford that.  I worked out a deal with them to bring in aluminium cans at every shoot, and provided a barrel to put them in. Did that pay for the wear and tear on the equipment they were using?  No, but it helped, and gave the children a sense of ownership in the activity, and that even by collecting aluminum cans they were paying their own way for the enjoyment of shooting.

If you are leading a youth shooting sports program, God bless you and thank you for your service.  Every kid needs something like this to learn and reinforce safety, leadership, responsibility and build their self worth.  Please remember though that keeping equipment ready, properly cared for and safe will make the program run smooth and will indirectly teach and remind us all to be good stewards over the things we have.

In researching this topic, I ran into a Hunt Chat forum post by a fellow archer and Dad, in Wisconsin with the username Rancid Crabtree.  In his very detailed July 2008 post My Latest Longbow, he shows how to make a longbow bow, bow stringer, inset medallion and tip guard (see photo), in a way that is very easy to understand.  Check it out!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Honoring a Hero, Malala Yousufzai

I just cannot help but depart from my regular outdoor stories to honor a hero among young people and fellow blogger, Malala Yousufzai.  Malala is the 14 year old girl who was shot in Pakistan earlier in the week because of her cries, to among other things support a woman's right to an education.  I work with young people daily and admire the tenacity they sometimes have, to stand up for what they know is right, like a dog on a bone.  May our thoughts and prayers be with her - but more than that, let us all take a stand in our own way to support the rights of others.  Photo Credit © 2012 Associated Newspapers Limited (Picture: Reuters)

From Metro UK - They fired on Malala Yousufzai on her school bus in the volatile Swat valley.  Doctors were  struggling to save Malala, who suffered head and neck injuries. Two other girls were also wounded. 

Her classmates told police the gunmen had arrived at school and asked for her by name. They attacked her on the bus after she came out of class. 

Malala was known for speaking out against the Pakistani Taliban and had a blog published by the BBC when she was 11. 

The Islamist group called her work ‘an obscenity’ and claimed responsibility for the shooting. A spokesman said: ‘She was pro-West, she was speaking against Taliban and she was calling president Barack Obama her ideal leader.’ 

The attack in the city of Mingora followed a number of threats against Malala for her activism. She is also famous for her work promoting the schooling of girls – something the Taliban strongly opposes – and was nominated last year for an international children’s peace prize award. Read the October 9, 2012 story here.

Malalal is expected to survive, and if she does, she'll have a long road to recovery.  For the latest news (as of 10/15/12) see, "As teen recovers from Taliban hit, Pakistanis demand answers" by By Shaan Khan, CNN.  This article also has links to petitions to arrest her attackers and other worldwide outcrys for justice.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Are you a Safe Hunter for life?

Last weekend I helped teach Florida Hunter Safety at the Titusville Rifle and Pistol Club in Mims, FL, my local gun club.  It was a great class as usual, with about 38 students.  We spend time in the classroom reviewing the different parts of the course such as Safe Gun Handling, Ammunition Types and Wildlife Conservation.  We also get to hear about the Florida Hunting Regulations from a real-live Game Officer.  That part is pretty cool. Finally before the students get their card, they have to show their safety skills with a firearm.  Last weekend we shot .22 rifles and shotguns.  Sometimes we shoot muzzle loaders and bows.  If the students can shoot safely and score 80 out of 100 on the exam, they pass.

It dawned on me a little while back that the Florida Hunter Safety Certification cards have no expiration date!  That means that if I certify a young person, the youngest I've had is age 8, that certification will be good FOREVER.  All my other certifications including those I possess as an instructor, and even a Drivers License all expire within three to five years.  When that time rolls around, I have to take a written or practical exam and sometimes both!

After I calmed down from the shock of a person never having to show their hunting safety skills ever again, I felt a very heavy burden as an instructor.  I realized that every word out of my mouth should be carefully chosen, and I should pay close attention as an educator to make sure the students realize the great responsibility they have.  I also have started to encourage the students to participate in other courses and programs to sharpen their skills, and reinforce the safety knowledge they possess.  I urge parents to take their kids out regularly and practice safe skills.

In my last class, I called up a 12 year old young man and told him, "Bud in 50 years you'll be 62 and still have the same hunter safety certification that you get today, and I'll be long gone.  Make a decision now to be a safe hunter for the rest of your life."  He gulped and said okay.

If you're an instructor, keep this all in mind next time you teach.  If you're a parent, always always always be an example of a safe, ethical hunter to your children and fellow hunters.  If you're a kid or a teen, make a commitment while you're young to be safe forever, and encourage others to do the same.  Be safe, and take the time to enjoy the incredible privilege of hunting we've been given.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ash Cakes. An easy way to make bread

I made these on my 30 outdoor survival class, and again a minute ago. Ash Cakes have been an outdoor staple from the eighteenth century. Try them!

I'll never forget the month I spent in the southern Utah desert with my friends in the BYU Youth Leadership 480 class.  Our class number was D12, and it was from the first part of September of '79 until the first part of October.   The course is now owned and operated by B.O.S.S. or Boulder Outdoor Survival School and it has maintained the rigor and integrity that Larry Dean Olsen first used when he designed it. There were 30 of us on that 30 day trip, and we hiked about 450 miles in all kinds of terrain.  The food we had (besides finding it) along the way was a little bit of wheat or corn seeds and some honey.  About the only thing we could make was Ash Cakes.  

I found this recipe, but to this day I do not use baking powder or any additives, even salt.  I like to savor the memory of a plain ash cake...This super simple recipe is the Traditional “Mountain-man” breakfast food, no utensils, pots or pans required. Ash Cakes consist of equally simple ingredients… make sure you use ‘Baking Powder’ though (rather than Baking Soda). You can also jazz them up by adding toppings or fillings of other things you have handy that are in abundance, see ideas below.

You will also want to use hardwoods any time you cook directly in or on a fire. Hardwoods do not contain resin like your softwoods do, such as pine. Softwoods can impart their resinous flavor into food, which may not be desirable.
You will need:

3 TBSP. Flour, from any type of wheat or grain
1/4 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Salt
1/8 tsp. Salt (optional)

Mix all ingredients together, then kneed into a smooth dough.
Tip: add a touch more water if the dough is too dry, or add a touch more flour if the dough is too sticky.

Press the dough into a flat pancake, the thinner the better!
Place the dough pancake on ‘hot’ white ashes in your fire.

Here is a similar story of BYU YL480 from an other participant. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Outdoors in the classroom!

For the past three weeks I have been substitute teaching in the art classroom at Astronaut High School, and have been having so much fun! NOT being an art teacher has been the greatest challenge. I was trained in education yes, but Agriculture and Natural Resources, not Art. So what do you do in that situation? A good teacher improvises and goes with existing plans and curriculum as much as possible. The lessons cannot just be about anything, they must tie in to what the students already know, and then built upon that.

One of the first things I taught the 9th and 10th graders is to appreciate other, less obvious or popular forms of art. We discussed outdoor topics, and I led the kids into knot tying. We watched the movie Master and Commander, and I led in from there. Tying knots has been part of our culture for the last 5000 years or so, but knot (lol) so much in our modern, urban situations.

I brought in some rope, and we learned a few knots like the overhand and figure-eight and then gave a sketching assignment. The one in this story was done by one of my best female students named Chase, but there were many that were just fantastic! I'll scan a few more and try to include them. After the sketching, my 3-D art class learned to make para-cord bracelets which are very popular among the outdoor kids now. For a great website that teaches the para-cord bracelet, be sure to visit ITS Tactical, and their SkillCom/Knot section.