The Natural Cycle in an After School Nature Program

Nature is both within and around us. The only separation is in the mind. By arriving in the moment, we can experience this oneness, without the distraction of past troubles or future concerns. In this way, we can relax, re-charge, shed the stress of daily life, and embrace that which is real – we can get into the greater flow of Life and bring our unique gifts into each moment. We can get there by fully embodying our senses – and then we realize we’ve been there all along, we just had to remember.” Josh Lane, Deep Nature Connection Mentor, 8 Shields Institute

At the conclusion of each and every program, the Nature Connection Mentors at Educated by Nature gather for a process of debrief and reflection. We allocate time to honour the process which allows us to delve deeper and unpack the experiences of the program that has just occurred. This assists us in developing the program further in preparation for the next time we meet.

Bush Inventors’ Club JOY!

The past two weeks at Bush Inventors’ Club (across our multiple locations and sessions) the celebration element of our debrief (the West Shield in the Natural Learning Cycle from the Art of Mentoring) has been a resounding collection of reflections on the joyous energy of each session.

It feels like the program has settled into an incredibly wonderful rhythm, a groove, natural flow! In fact, many of us have commented that the two-hour sessions have felt like a mini version of our KIN Village program that runs for 7 hours a day during the school holidays. This is quite a profound revelation!

The JOY of the Natural Cycle at Bush Inventors' Club

Delving Deeper

This has led to the question… ‘but why?’

What is happening in these after school sessions that’s causing this reaction from the children?

What are we seeing, witnessing and sensing about the energy at these programs that reminds us of the electric energy and engagement, balanced with the deep calm that we see at our whole day programs?

The conclusion we have come to relates to honouring the natural flow of energy and consciously supporting the natural cycle to occur within the children (and Mentors) at the program.

To explain further, we need to go back a few steps to acknowledge the ‘social technology’ that we utilise in our programs and delve into the ‘container’ we aim to create. This supports the process of Deep Nature Connection.

Both the Natural Cycle and Flow Learning share one primary assumption: people aren’t necessarily ready for focused learning when they show up, such as at the start of a day.” Coyotes Guide to Connection with Nature

The Natural Cycle

We draw inspiration from the Coyotes Guide to Connecting with Nature, written by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGowan, when it comes to planning every experience and activity we deliver at Educated by Nature.

Specifically, the tool referred to as The Natural Cycle provides a template or ‘container’ in which to develop our planning and to structure experiences. The tool provides a sense of direction and an orientation for designing and facilitating the learning experiences we embed within our programs.

The context and timing of learning is equally, if not more, important than the content. A Coyote Mentor always has his or her eyes on both—presenting good information and lessons and activities but doing so in contexts timed and set up for success. Going with the flow of the Natural Cycle of Learning is critical.” Coyotes Guide to Connection with Nature

The tool provides an outline of eight directions (or shields), each referring to cardinal and sub cardinal direction (East, North East, North, North West, West, South West, South and South East). Each direction links with a time of day, a season of the year, the life cycle of a plant (the concentric rings of connection are numerous). Ultimately, at its core though, is the idea that we follow a natural flow of energy through our day or even a lesson, and that by following and honouring (and not fighting against) this flow, we allow children to find peace and harmony and engage in experiences much more naturally.

“Native cultures are oriented to the four compass directions and they cultivate a powerful awareness of the spirits of east, south, west, and north. With sun in their faces and air against their skin, they felt every day and season turn. It’s in their building codes, where their doors always face the east. In architecture, art, ceremonies, names, everywhere, there was an embedded awareness of the cycles of day and season and corresponding transitions of human life being cultivated all the time. Growing up in these cultures, it was impossible ever to be “disoriented.”  Jon Young

The after-school flow

The flow that we’ve identified at the recent sessions of Bush Inventors’ Club have all had similar elements. The children have arrived at the session after a full day at school. They are tired, hungry and have been in a state of ‘focus’ for far too long. Their energies are high, some are irritable, and their brains struggle to do any more ‘listening to instructions’. In this moment, we facilitate rest time, time to snack and simply sit down. For those that need to move after a long day of sitting, we join them in a Wilderness Awareness Game (one they already know so they don’t need further instruction). When the facilitators sense it’s the right time, we gather together and share the focus for the session – the aim, the specific activity, the skill or theme – and there is time to ‘get to work’ using tools, building hammocks, creating and exploring.

It is at this point the magic happens.

There is a joyous energy around the group and individuals as small groups flow in and out of spaces. There is laughter and the noise indicates deep engagement and interest. Our team of Mentors drop into a space of skill support, questioning and wondering and playing alongside the children. And, as if on cue, the energy drops, calm comes over the group and people rest. Children lay in hammocks and ‘hang out’, others sit in shelters or cubbies they’ve made or found and some decide to join a carving circle (meditation with a tool).

This time of rest, relaxation and peace resembles that of camping. Children have developed a sense of belonging and ownership in their space and feel acknowledged and ‘seen’. Their minds and bodies have had a chance to cycle through the natural flow of energy and they are connected. Nature Experience and Nature Connection transitions to a place of Deep Nature Connection.

Gratitude

There is a sense at this stage that the two-hour session is not long enough, the children (and Mentors) feel a sense of sadness that this moment has to end. Acknowledging these feelings, the group gathers together and moves through the final elements of the natural cycle – we gather and celebrate the afternoon, we honour gifts within the group and reflect through the sharing of stories.

I can personally say, that this cycle is something that needs to be felt to be truly understood. It is through the experience of being utterly exhausted leaving the office, driving to a Bush Inventors’ Club program and ending a session completely energised, alive and buzzing that I truly understand the power of honouring the Natural Cycle.

“And yet, again and again we see this simple approach work miracles. Coyote mentoring brings children alive; their internal armour dissolving as they open to the world, step into the truth of who they are and all that they can be. There is such magic in watching a child experience what it is to be a human being who is fully connected to themselves, to others and to the word at large.” Bluegum Bushcraft

Celebrating the Natural Cycle at Bush Inventors' Club