Greg Traymar, Director of Sharing Nature North America, explains his new program in which high school students lead younger students in nature discovery.
If you want to get through to an 8-year old, find an inspired 16-year old.
That’s what I’ve found in an extraordinary experience I had during the 2009-10 school year in which I trained a group of 16 high school students in Sharing Nature® games. These students, in turn, taught close to 300 elementary and middle school students in California, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. The results were astounding, as exemplified one day when the elementary teacher told us that her class was one of the most challenging groups of students in the school.
We knew we were the ones going to be tested! We had prepared well, and our program was based on the highly acclaimed Sharing Nature with Children and Sharing Nature with Children II books by Joseph Cornell—groundbreaking books that sparked a worldwide revolution in nature education. Under my guidance, this training gave the high school students the leadership skills, techniques and inspiration needed to effectively guide others in deeper, more meaningful experiences of nature.
Nevertheless, it was very obvious my high schoolers were nervous, to say the least!
The kids were truly like a pack of wild wolves when we arrived, so the high schoolers started with “Owls and Crows,” an activity to awaken their enthusiasm and show them we were going to have fun. By the end of this activity, nothing much had changed in terms of their scattered energy, but at least we could see they were enjoying themselves.
Gradually as more sensitive and calming activities were introduced, a miracle occurred and their wolf like quality began to subside. By the end of the session the overall group energy was completely changed. They were calm, attentive and eager to share their nature experiences. My high school students were completely stunned by the changes they saw occur in their students. It was at this precise moment we saw the power of this training for leader and participant alike.
This program which was launched at the Living Wisdom School, a private school in Nevada City, California. I first led them in direct experiences of nature and then had them develop their own nature sessions which they would share with each other and children at other schools. The high school students were continually inspired by how simple and effective Sharing Nature was in focusing children’s energies and giving them memorable experiences of nature they would never forget. Here is the basic outline of their training:
Awaken Enthusiasm (Sept-Oct)
The class began by first giving the high school students direct experiences that awaken their enthusiasm and love for nature. As Bulwer-Lytton says, “Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm . . . it is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it.” These experiences gave them a tangible understanding of what they would be arousing in others. After a few classes of instructing the students in Flow Learning™ and the nature activities, I then hand the class over to them, to practice leading each other in the nature activities.
Supportive Leadership (Nov-Feb)
While in the first part of the class I was the “leader,” now the high school students led. I stayed on the sidelines as they led their classmates (and me) in nature experiences. As Sir Antony Jay said, “The only real training for leadership is leadership.” I supported them and gave tips when I felt they were needed, but mostly I let the students work things out for themselves. By this method they understood things more completely and were able take ownership. I can’t recall a single instance in which I had to discipline or take charge. This approach takes the willful energy that teenagers usually have, and channels it into a positive outlet where they can feel a sense of accomplishment.
Share Experience (March-May)
Now that the students were fully trained and inspired, we went out and shared nature programs with the larger community. As Joseph Cornell says, “sharing clarifies and strengthens our own experiences of nature.” It was during these visits that the high school students were able to see firsthand the effectiveness of Flow Learning and the Sharing Nature activities.