The Not-So Lost Art of Being a Kid

My family and I recently returned from a trip to Ireland.  It was the first time we had undertaken a vacation all together since I was a reckless little boy (although some members of my family would dispute that this has changed). Those carefree times were little Patrick’s glory days, filled predominately with tree climbing, various ill-advised entrepreneurial ventures (i.e. selling sand at the beach), elaborate building projects, and a major obsession of mine for many years, attempting to perform a front flip and land on my feet. You will note the choice of word: attempting. Alas, despite hours spent launching myself head-over-heels into snow banks – the process was significantly more painful in the summer months – I was never able to master the skill (except of course for that one, glorious, time when I set up a series of mattress launch pads and just barely managed it – but that didn’t really count, what can I say, I’m a purist).

Outdoor education poster boy

My mother was particularly intrigued with this unique passion of mine, perhaps because it reminded her of her own youth. Always up for a challenge, she enlisted my expertise in teaching her the lost art of being a kid. We entitled these sessions “Kid Lessons” and I was quite thrilled to have a captive audience to pass on what I did best: living carefree, finding unabashed joy in things that were mundane for adults, and above all, my accumulated wealth of knowledge in the front flip department. Sadly, my mom was also never destined to complete the front flip, despite what I recall now as a fairly impressive attempt or two during a snowy walk through the neighbourhood one evening.

At the time, I loved the attention of being able to instruct an adult in my esoteric interests and was made to feel listened to and important. When I look back now, I can better understand my mom’s desire to see the world through the eyes of a child. While I thought she wanted coaching in various acrobatic manoeuvres, what she really wanted was a bit more abstract: time with her son, a break from grown-up worries, and a reminder to enjoy the simple things.

Like how to stuff your face with beets – in style.

While in Ireland, we happened to be staying in the popular surfing town of Lahinch on the west coast. With the temperature soaring into the mid-teens, the prospect of getting in the water, much less enjoying oneself once in, seemed like a far-off possibility. But while my dad and sister discussed the various circumstances in which they would consider going for a swim (i.e. when hell freezes over), Mom and I caught each others knowing glances and I knew there was no stopping her. My mom has a particular weak spot for swimming in oceans, and, living smack in the middle of Ontario, the opportunity rarely presents itself. Shivering already in my sweater and rain jacket, I knew I was going in as well. It seems my ‘lessons’ had worked.

Not your typical beach weather

We ended up spending two afternoons together enjoying the waves, her on a body board and me surfing (well, trying to surf). Despite the ominous weather, and with the help of wetsuits, we were both pretty convinced that we were actually warmer in the water than out of it in our jackets. Those few hours were by far some of the highlights of the trip, it had been months since I had laughed so much. In a wonderful way, we were able to have another “Kid Lesson” together, both equally sharing in a sense of awe for the ocean as we forgot all about our grown-up worries.

So thanks mom for giving me a “Kid Lesson” of my own!

Zen and the art of fairy hunting

Mysteries, legends, myths, and even the odd unabashedly made-up story are all important tools in an outdoor educator’s repertoire. I have long known the value of a good, ridiculous, story to maintain the attention of young people, to kill time, or to simply have some fun.

I swear I was making that stuff up about the monsters. Go to bed.

Indeed, last night while staying at an outdoor centre in Strathyre, and facing the prospect of two electronics-deprived teenagers with not even a pack of cards in sight, Stevie (the Mobex staff member) and I successfully fended off boredom for upwards of three hours using a variety of tried-and-true tricks and games that all involve attention to detail, careful storytelling, and a generous portion of flat-out deception.

I bet you guys didn’t know that Stevie and I have actually known each other since we were little kids,” I begin as I settle into the classic opening line of the game Black Magic. “In fact, we know each other sooo well that we can actually read each other’s minds…do you want to see?” And thus begin the lies.

Thou shalt not bear false witness… unless tricking a child.

Photo:Wikimedia Commons

But mystery and deception have a greater purpose than entertainment, I believe. One of the main reasons for our trip to Strathyre was to film a short movie that the kids, um, planned, about fairies.  Our set could not have been picked better by a Hollywood director, the famous land of the fairies featured in Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies on Doon Hill in Aberfoyle.

Creepiness: This way.

Before heading up, Stevie gave us the whole story about the fairies that live on the hill, including fun biographical details such as: how they like to murder people, and the purpose of the big tree on the top (to store souls). We were also warned that if we tripped on the way up, the fairies didn’t want us there, and if we tripped on the way down, the fairies didn’t want us to leave. With my senses (and imagination) fully engaged, I followed Stevie and the boys up the slippery path to the top of the hill. Not 100 metres from the start of the trail, I stepped on a slick stump and properly wiped out. This was no innocuous stumble over a fairy, this was the fairies constructing ramparts and trenches to keep me out.

Apparently I didn’t meet the dress code.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Not only did my trek up to the fairy hideout start out ominously, I was also tasked enthusiastically by the kids with the role of, and I quote “The guy who gets killed first.” As such, I had to steal something from the multitudes of offerings to the fairies and loudly proclaim my disbelief in their existence.

If the fairies don’t get me, the weirdos who put this stuff here surely will.

But as I walked back down the hill, clutching my ill-gotten prize and furtively glancing about in the bushes, I noticed that in addition to a) the afternoon flying by and b) being entertained for the better part of two hours, I was also paying much greater attention to my surroundings. Because of my heightened awareness, I found myself noticing small things and really seeing the beauty that was around me. So perhaps a bit of fantasy, mystery, and deception is all that’s needed to stay in the moment. Fairies or not, the real mystery is more to do with our own ability to notice the beauty in the mundane.

Not that fairies aren’t real, of course 😉

What helps you to stay in the moment? Where do you see beauty in the mundane?

Goats, Castles, and Outhouses…the many sides of outdoor education

One of the requirements of the MSc. in Outdoor Education program at the University of Edinburgh is a four-week work placement. The experiences of my teacher friends would indicate that practicums tend towards borderline exploitive work conditions whereby the fresh teachers college student is pounced upon by the harried classroom instructor and given all manner of tedious tasks, all without pay. Luckily, with the exception of the lack of pay, my placement so far has been quite different.

Day one of my placement: point in case

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