Teaching youth to be still

Youth can learn much about the outdoors and their surroundings by practicing being still. Read about the benefits and some practical ideas for teaching youth to be still.

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”- Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Leopold cautioned us long ago about this danger. We all should be aware of the origin of our resources. Youth, too, should have an understanding of where our basic materials come from in our everyday life. Not only should they be aware of the source, but also the entire “cradle to the grave” of the things we use.

Teaching youth to be still is a beginning point in this learning process. There are many distractions and commitments that divert youth’s (and adult’s) attention. Between electronic devises and their involvement in multiple events, youth can be as busy as adults. It is important youth learn to be still, become more aware of their surroundings and create a connection to the outdoors.

Being still can be taught and learned. Michigan State University Extension suggests asking your children to guess how much time per week they spend on electronic devices. Record that amount for a week. Then ask them what else they might do with that time. How much good could be done with those hours spent on a screen? Challenge the young people in your life. Try turning off the television and all other electronic devises one day per week. Start slowly; try one hour and then two. Have some planned activities to keep busy. Take a walk, go star gazing, climb a tree, throw stones in a lake or river or explore a new area. Other options can be to read a book out loud, tell a story, have a campfire or play a simple game.

A very meaningful way for youth to learn to be still is providing quiet time. Find a comfortable spot, preferably outside, to sit and relax. Did you have an outside quiet spot when you were a child? Don’t have any props or devises along that might cause distractions. Ask youth to lie down and relax. Have them feel the earth around them and welcome its comfort. Have youth close their eyes and listen for sounds they might not have otherwise heard. Look for something otherwise not noticed or seen. Above all, be very still and allow the environment to come to you. Be a part of it rather than a visitor.

Another way to develop this in youth is through nature play. This is an unstructured connection to outdoor play that serves to enhance values, attitudes and appreciation for the natural environment. There was a time when youth played outdoors regularly without structured programming and adult intervention. New worlds were discovered, inventions created and adventures taken that otherwise would not have been known. Now, much of what youth know about the outdoors is from a virtual tour online or from an app. Youth need to be outside exploring first hand, getting dirty and creating their own excitement!

Famed author and environmentalist Sigurd Olson had a spot called Listening Point where he would retreat to reflect and gain inspiration. He wrote that everyone has their own “listening point.” This spot can be anywhere that provides respite from everyday chores and challenges. Adults have these locales and youth should be encouraged to find their own.

Learning to be still leads to a better understanding of our surroundings. It also can entice us to ask questions and seek a greater purpose. Getting youth to learn this skill early will provide them a head start to developing environmental literacy and to one day function as environmentally responsible citizens. Take some time with youth to be still and enjoy the time.

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