Where is the Wild Child?

Do we know children who have nature deficit disorder?

John Dewey stated, "Experience [outside of school] has its geographical aspect, its artistic and its literary, its scientific and its historical side. All studies arise from aspects of the one earth and the one life lived upon it."  (He was an American education reformist, philosopher and psychologist and not related to the guy who came up with the Dewey Decimal System-that was Melvel.)  I don't know if you have noticed this yet, but I am all about the experience.  Good, bad, ugly, beautiful, endearing, heartwarming, angry, puzzled, hot, cold, and 40 below...it's all about the experience and learning from that experience.  So why does the learning experience have to be from a concrete blackboard?  Why does learning have to end once that last school bell rings? Why can't we have more experiences with children outside?

Two articles came out this last month in Minnesota Monthly and Outside magazines; both of them speaking about learning by "doing" and "doing the learning outdoors".  It's ironic that the mantra, "I HEAR AND I FORGET. I SEE AND I REMEMBER. I DO AND I UNDERSTAND" had been rattling around in my brain for a while. (It's Socrates, by the way.) 

So...why aren't we doing and understanding the outdoors? I pulled out my book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Out Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by  Richard Louv and discovered that between the mid-90s and 2003 there was a 50% drop in the number of 9-12 year olds who hiked, walked, fished and even gardened.  There were 800 parents surveyed and only 26 percent said their kids played outside every day. I can see you all nodding. Some of those kids are now parents which makes me think that the percentage is much lower today.

Talking with a few mentors, there have been challenges in getting some kids outdoors.  One lives 4 blocks away from a park and the child grumbled that they have to walk and not drive. Another showed their mentee how to boil sap and the child's focus was on a smart phone and how there was no phone service. And still, another showed up for a bike ride and the child was engrossed in a new video game system with a sibling.  They didn't go anywhere that day.

Raising a Wild Child  in Minnesota Monthly  is by a Minnesota writer who tells a tale about his experience in an old WWII canvas army tent and how his dad disliked the whole camping experience. He's different with his own children and encourages his readers to get out. In Outside Magazine We Don't Need No Education the article touches on getting kids outdoors. Ok, this one is also about home schooling, but that wasn't portion that drew my attention.  In We Don't Need...the draw was that these kids played outside and learned by playing outside. Which tree has the best bend to make a simple bow? Is it true that if the bark on a maple tree in the fall indicates it's going to be a harsh winter? What type of soil should we look for if we want to go blueberry picking? What's that sound? 

Great questions, right?  We can sit down at the computer and do a little browser search and find the answers, or we can get the kids out there and learn the process of inquiry and then, sometimes, waiting.  Itasca County is a treasure box waiting to be plundered.  There are great trails all around town and if you are more that a 1/2 a mile from a lake, you must be out of Itasca County.  Take a look at some new places in Itasca County to explore HERE.  Or how about the Forest History Center? Oh, it can be so much more than a walk along a trail--bring a MN wild or native plant book along and try to identify the flowers and fauna. (Great way to learn research and referencing.) Go fishing and identify the type of fish caught. (The DNR has a great poster with all the local fish.) And if you happen to keep the fish and fry them up, it's a way to see where some of our food comes from. It doesn't have to be a school lesson. It's brought up in casual conversation between two friends.

In my office, I have a schematic posted that shows the professional indicator of pathways to mentor influence.  OK...OK I won't bore you with all the details but I do want to share the three outcomes of the positive influence of a mentor.

1. Socio-emotional: Well, they are spending time with you-A wonderful positive adult and learning more about acting decent in public. (I say this to my kids all the time!)

2. Identity:  This is a little tougher in that it could take some questions to draw out the confidence needed in some youth to help develop and nurture a strong sense of positive identity.  Check out some WICKED GOOD QUESTIONS.

3. Cognitive Development: The continual growth experience to gain more ability to think and understand and remember. It has to do with brain development and how a child sees the world and how that changes with more experience. (It means we put the first 2 together and watch them grow and mature while their view of the world changes and expands.) Some educators call this scaffolding.

And what better way to experience the outdoors.  1) They are spending time with you. 2) They are learning and interpreting new things through awareness that they are separate and unique individuals. 3) By expanding their knowledge of the world around them they develop a stronger knowledge which brings us back to 1)... and the cycle repeats in a upward spiral.

I had the privilege of being host to my niece and nephew who are 7 and newly 4. We were at the lake with 3 buckets chasing baby fish. I asked them what are baby fish were called. There were some interesting answers. (I think the answer is fry.) We were engaged in this simple task from dinner time until after the sun set.  We first started on our own and eventually came together as a team to move the large group of fry from one person to another communicating which way they were heading. There were no words or plans made to form a team, it just naturally happened. We were able to catch a few, count them, look at them and then let them go.

We looked up quickly after about 2 hours to watch the sun set, blew it out as the last rays dipped behind the pines and were back to fish catching by bucket until we couldn't see.  Hhhm. Maybe next time we will bring the headlamps out...

Something this simple can engage kids. They can learn naturally through experiences and a few well placed question--all while having FUN! Of course, we still may get the grumblings about walking to the park or not being able to get phone service, but I am just optimistic enough to say perseverance will pay off.

What can you do to get your mentee to be a wild child? Share your comments below.


Raising a Wild Child  in Minnesota Monthly and We Don't Need No Education  in Outside Magazine are in the Bridges Kinship Mentoring office if you would like to read them. I also have a copy of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Out Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by  Richard Louv .


The List of Lists...

Lists have truly become a hobby of mine. I make lists for work, house cleaning, groceries, books I want to read,  knitting projects I need to finish (this is the longest) and the lists go on and on.


In my mind I have been making lists for mentors, too.  My two greatest parenting books are 1001 Things Yours Kids Should See and Do (Or Else They’ll Never Leave Home) by Harry Harrison Jr. and 1001 Things Every Teen Should Know (Or They’ll Come Back) by the same author.

With wit, humor and a bit of grit, Harrison hits a lot of points:

how to get a job

how to keep a job

how to live on a their own,

how to cook for themselves

read 100 books (I have a list of these, too!)

need to be good citizens

need to know what to do in an emergency

need Encouragement

need to Exercise

need to prepare for post-secondary training/education (when sometimes the only way to a better paying job is through some student loans)

Harrison’s list goes on.  Between the two books there are 2002 Things every kid should know. 

As you spend time with a young person, think about the life skills that could be introduced, honed and fine-tuned. Spend an outing checking out what skills would be needed to be a NASCAR driver or a DIVA and where those careers are on the reality spectrum.  Do some research on the fastest growing careers that may spark an interest with them.  This doesn’t mean that youth should hyper focus on a particular area, but dip their toes into it, expand their knowledge of the world around them. 

My kids roll their eyes when I start talking about what kind of job you could do…say…canoeing? Duck hunting? Fly fishing? Knitting? It is true, though, interests can spark motivation can spark ideas can spark goals can spark education can spark a life long learner.  Find their SPARK through all your fun times together and start making lists of what this young person might want to do when they grow up.


I have 1001 Things Kids Could Do and See(Or They’ll Never Leave Home) in my office to loan. 

Skeptics or Critics?

Caution:  This is some pretty heavy stuff. If you want the perusal form, just read the first paragraph and the last two.

I read an article from Psychology Today recently, published on June 5, 2012, entitled, The Art of Positive Skepticism. And because I am a keeper of words I dissected the title. Postive. Skepticism. Was that an oxymoron like Jumbo Shrimp?  So I was intrigued enough to dig into the meat of the matter. I was also excited the writer cites work from Everyday Irrationality: How Pseudo-Scientists, Lunatics, and the Rest of Us Systematically Fail To Think Rationally by Robyn Dawes (2001). I love that book, if nothing else ya gotta love the title.

It’s all about critical thinking, my friends.  Critical thinking is a matter of skepticism, which is a process using reason to find validity.  Sometimes people interchange the words cynic and skeptic so I am going to start with the definitions.  A cynic is someone who doesn't trust information they hear, especially if it changes the “way it’s always been” and they know there will be a negative result. (Derived from the Greek to mean dog. Really! Long story short--Diogenes and his band of Krytos scorned everyone else for their posh lifestyle while purposely living a life of poverty, thus virtuous. They then pointed their fingers at everyone else and said, shame, shame, I know your name!) Skepticism (derived from the Greek skeptikos, means, inquire or look around). Ii is the open-mindedness to accept something finding additional meaning or evidence.  Skeptics are someone willing to use an open-mind while challenging the current system.

So what does this have to do with mentoring? 

I believe there are ways to teach positive skepticism to just about anyone.  It’s pretty much a huge part of critical thinking. We have to ask ourselves this question--

Do we want a chance to prove our opinion and what we think is right?

Or, do we want to develop a healthy level of skepticism which questions-- “That study that proves 4 out of 5 dentists approve…”, or “All the cool kids are doing…”

As a mentor, if you model healthy skepticism, and ask skeptical questions you could actually help create a positive environment of critical thinking and good judgment.  Everyone should have the capability of questioning the reliability of what they think, see or hear.

The article states, “How we adults model the art of positive skepticism not only helps us make better informed decisions but also shows our children how they think for themselves. And, if kids learn for themselves, they learn to believe in themselves!”

THEY LEARN TO BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES!  So how can we help our kids?

Here’s the primer.

The statement is “Math is dumb”.

(The following is paraphrased from and sometimes imitative of the Psychology Today article…)

1. Be a deception-detector: Ask the questions... What makes you think this way? What assumptions have you based your claim on? What facts or research support your ideas? What disputes your claim?

2. Doubt: Recognize the limits to anyone’s claims of truth  And, is this a fact or an opinion?

3. Play devil’s advocate: View from the other side.

4. Use logic AND intuition: Most of us rely on one type of thinking. Logic or intuition. “We become better thinkers when we deploy doubting and believing more consciously through the use of logic and intuition rather than by chance.”

5. Be a Bias-Detector: Is the information set forth impartial or are they trying to persuade us?


I know, I know, this is pretty heavy stuff.  If you just felt like skipping down to the last 2 paragraphs-here it is in a nutshell.  Get your mentees into the habit of asking questions about EVERYTHING! Not always, “But why?” or “How do you do that?”  Be a role model by asking skeptical questions to them. “Why do you think we need to know math?”  "What does it mean to be a friend?" For some pretty cool critical thinking and skepticism questions go to CRITICAL THINKING QUESTIONS page.  There are some pretty general examples.  There is also a list of WICKED QUESTIONS that I use in Kinship Connections, our after school-peer to peer mentoring program. This one gets into real life situations.  There usually isn't one answer to the question.

To tie this all back in to your fun, casual times with your mentee, Morgan Freeman said, “Literacy is the ladder out of poverty. We just need to be fit enough to climb it.” Literacy isn't just reading. It's comprehending which brings into play--critical thinking and the ability to analyze something using logic and intuition. Let’s get those kids “fit” enough to overcome the obstacles that could impede them from becoming successful adults. Let’s start asking questions.



Mentoring: Crutch or Catapult

When you think of youth mentoring what comes to mind?  Is mentoring an opportunity for a child to indulge in playing, eating, fishing, watching sports? Or is it an opportunity for growth and steps towards successful adulthood. I like to ask, “Is it giving a child a crutch, or offering a child a catapult?”

Ultimately, Bridges Kinship Mentoring hopes beyond all hope mentoring is an action that assists children and youth into becoming independent, successful, “contributing to society” adults.  As a supporter of the  Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success we see the role mentoring plays in the development of a child.

 (Click image to enlarge) 

 (Click image to enlarge) 

So every student should have access to 7 areas (as seen in the image to the right)...and mentoring, in its perfect state, covers 5 of the 7 components.  It doesn't necessarily mean that every mentor covers every area. If we remind ourselves what the definition of mentor is we will see - A positive individual who shares time and interests with a young person to offer guidance and opportunities to advance the child successfully. Mentoring gives access through opening doors to new experiences, building self-esteem and the benefits of a caring individual. 

Should mentoring and the friendships developed be fun? Well of course!  

Imagine introducing a 9 year old to the art of fly fishing. What are the skills needed?  Patience, acute awareness of the flying insects, the persistence to become adequate at casting and to reach, as author Norman McLean wrote in A River Runs Through It, “…an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o'clock." It takes half the summer on dry land for the kid to keep the line and fly out of the tree but you manage to keep your patience with the child and muster up enough energy to keep arms in a steady rhythm hour after hour.  Now imagine the first time wading into a stream and encouraging your mentee to cast into a specified area.  A few failed attempts and then…ta da! A tug, a fight and there you have it; the first fish caught on a woolly bugger fly.  There are smiles, pictures, and a woot woot.

What has happened here?  Is this the crutch that props a child? Indulges a child? No. This is the catapult that has projected this child into a new understanding of nature, water, fish, patience, rhythm and reward.  This child has been shot out of the current existence into a new world with new skills made by this experience. On the Student Success Pathway, this catapult covers:

                The Arts & Physical Activity (Fly fishing IS an art)

                High quality out of school time (Enough said)

                Meaningful connections to the community. (Nature, caring adult outside of family)

                Relationship that supports mental, emotional, physical & spiritual well being. (Take your pick...I would go with the spiritual.)

                Guidance and Direction of a caring adult (That's you!) 

 As a mentor, you can imagine the possibilities a young person can experience.  Keep doing what you do because the power of mentoring is the power of the catapult.


For more information on Student Success go to http://www.itascastudentsuccess.org/ .

This blog entry is based on the article found at http://blog.bbbsmb.org/BeingBIG/bid/74650/Mentoring-Isn-t-a-Crutch-It-s-a-Catapult

...We Dont TLK NEMor!

There is no denying that today's young people are far different from any that we have seen.  They are exposed to fast evolving technology, information at their fingertips and a social culture that challenges post-modern thought.  With so many advanced technological opportunities, it's no wonder that we don't talk anymore.

As a mentor, what do you do with all this technology? Anything from video games, to texting, to social media, snapchat, twitter...what do you do?

Recently, a mentor was concerned that since his mentee got a smartphone, he was more interested in playing a game of FLAPPY BIRD than he was the planned activity.  The mentor even said, "I could have just left you home with your phone." 

What do you do? This is something that people haven't really had to confront in previous generations. We may not know how to approach a young person about technology etiquette; we may not have those social experiences with technology to say, "Hey. What you are doing is...(fill in your own frustrated 'no-no' statement)." 

But...you are the positive and influential adult in the room and I am giving you permission.  It's ok to set those boundaries to make the most influential impact on your time together. Trust me, I am a techie junkie, and I find myself entrenched in catching up with all my feedly blogs left to read when activities around me turn south. If I were a kid, I would be completely distracted with a shiny, moving, object on a digitized screen.  I confess, I would need an adult to set my limits for me. (Kind of like Girl Scout Cookies for me today.)  

Technology isn't bad, by any means.  I argue that there are a lot of careers in the technology field--anywhere from the a statistical/algorthm programmer to being a gamer. Really, folks, I have two friends who make more than decent wages as gamers and game reviewers. This still blows my mind and it's a great gig when you can find the right games!  (One really, truly does work in a dark room in his basement!) I also think a lot of problem solving and team building skills can be honed by playing certain types of video games and an appropriate mentor/mentee activity when played as a pair.  No, technology isn't bad, but it should have it's limits, right?

So, what do you do when you find yourself shut out from your mentee by technology?  Well...you set limits. "Hey, why don't we leave your phone at home when we are together today?" "You know what? I think you could play this video game after we are done with our time together. We planned on doing this today, we should really stick to the plan" 

Sometimes that's all it takes.  Caregivers can be helpful with this, too, and in my experience, they are looking for nontechie activities for their child, too. A great list for adults and kids on technology etiquette can be found  in this article at huffington post.  A lot of the suggestions are for parents and caregivers, but can be adjusted slightly for mentors. Check out suggestion #5, though.

Remember, it's ok to set limits and be frank about cell phones, media and technology.  Like a lot of life, moderation is a beautiful thing.

TLK 2 U l8r



MENTORS...Join us at Bridges Kinship Mentoring on April 3rd - 12 noon - 1 pm for lunch and a frank chat about social media, techie rules and cyberbullying.  We will meet in room 102. (Right next to the Bridges Kinship office.)

Please RSVP at bridgeskinshipmentoring 

so we can provide enough food and Mentor Connects materials.




Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

I recently read an article about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in the Boston area.  A graduate student in sociology did a study on the end of mentor match relationships. The results were pretty typical with no surprises and was easily comparable to Bridges Kinship Mentoring programs. Some matches ended with a final meeting and saying goodbye, some with options of keeping in contact, some "it's been great" goodbyes.  However, some matches ended and nobody really knew what hit them.  The possibilities are endless, but a few of the common reasons were that the young person no longer wanted to meet or communication stopped and everyone was left in the dark about why this match didn't succeed.

These results fit nicely into the studies out of the University of Mass-Boston: Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring that stated...if a young person knows when the end of a match is going to occur, the likelihood of having positive outcomes is greater.  If a match ends with no final "goodbye", if it just dwindles, or someone leaves suddenly, the affect on the young person could actually be more detrimental than not having a mentor at all.

On a much smaller scale, I think about when I go on vacation and my mentee doesn't know that I am going to be gone for a week. (We see each other in passing at least 3 times a week and get together about every 10 days.)  Does she think that I have dropped her like a bad habit? I know it's oversensitive and I'm thinking too much about the end results, but there's an uncertainty-a gap- if I do not communicate my temporary absence. This leads to instability in trust that we have developed in our relationship that comes with time.

I think the same can be said when mentees are dropped off at the end of a wonderful mentoring time together and the door shuts.  Was there an opportunity to say goodbye until next time?

So it comes down to intentions and communications. When we do not pay attention to endings we can contribute to negative experiences with mentors, youth and families. Then we miss important opportunities for learning in relationships. When we do not pay attention to the signs of early endings, disconnects or anxiousness, we are doing more harm than good.

So...whether you are ending your match with a young person, going away for a bit, or dropping the kid off until next week, goodbyes are important. 


Student Pathways and Mentoring

The Itasca Area Student Success Initiative has been hard at work and is on the brink of some wonderful things.  Area schools and organizations working with children have come together to support every child by giving them a clear pathway and access to the assets needed to be successful in this ever changing world. This means no barriers, such as: education gap, poverty, transportation, out of school time, etc. Take a look at the PATHWAY for a concise look.

I have always looked at the 40 Developmental Assets for children published by the Search Institute to see where the children in our mentoring programs may need a little extra boost and you can look at them here (Ages 5-8) (Ages 8-12) (Ages 12-18).  (Here's my trade secret...shhh...As a mentor, when you ask me about a specific issue, yup, I usually go to the Assets list.)  This doesn't mean mentors are responsible to ensuring their mentee has access to everything on the list but there are a few that mentors are really, really good at and can introduce activities that would cover the assets without it being too much like a lesson. This information is also on our mentor "tips" page, along with other useful items about and for mentoring.

An item that is new to the mentor "tips" page is the FRAMEWORK Poster which is a wonderful guideline for you that sums up the developmental assets for adolescents on one sheet.

As an organization that connects caring people with young people through mentoring, we are a part of the Pathway to Success. One of the support assets is for a young person to receive support from a nonparent adult.  That's it.  That's what mentors are doing.  How are you mentoring someone today?

Let us know by commenting below. (And remember to share this blog with others...)

Two great articles by Christina Brown about the positive happenings for youth are:

Poised for Success

Early Childhood Ed


Why we do this...

I always have stories that relate to what I'm trying to say.  My children roll their eyes when I say, "So..." But I have a story about why we do this...why we mentor.

So...let me introduce our children.  The 6 footer, the 5 footer, and the used to be 4 footer.  The 6 footer was getting ready to take her first major trip for school to Washington DC.  We set her up with a debit card connected to her savings account.  She got the card in the mail and I was so excited to hand her the envelope and gushed about how this was a milestone in maturity, etc. etc. She looked at me kind of puzzled and opened the envelope. "How do I get cash with this? Is this like a credit card?"  I was momentarily silenced. What do you mean how?  That's when I realized we had never talked through the process when I got money from an ATM or neither one of us were paying attention to the moment of credit card purchase and the lesson to be learned. This simple task of using a debit card was a milestone in itself.  These are tasks we do in our lives not even thinking that there are those who may not know about it. These everyday experiences are what builds the skills in children to guide them on the pathway to successful adulthood.

THIS is why we do it.  

It's the experiences, my friends. The positive connections with another individual with the intent of lending your experiences to enhance the life of a child.  

We connect by experiences going to-- the beach, the hockey game, the coffee shop, to your home to bake cookies, the park, the YMCA, take the dog for a walk, change the oil in the car, the baseball game, watch the marching band, using the ATM...the list is endless.

The deal is this.  

You do what you do and you bring someone along for the experience, right?

The secret is this.

You feel like you are doing everyday activities, yet you are offering life experiences to children and youth.  


There is a book in the Bridges Kinship office that you can borrow...

 1001 Things Every Teen Should Know Before They Leave Home: (Or Else They'll Come Back) by Harry H. Harrison, Jr.  

Some of this relates to what we are trying to do while mentoring. It's a quick and funny read, none the less. Click here for a smattering of suggestions.