Nature is one of the greatest teachers our children can have. But they need our attention to help them make the connection. Here nature mentor Ken Clarkson shares how his six-year old daughter came to feed a chickadee from the palm of her hand.
I’ve known Ken Clarkson since we first met at an Art of Mentoring in Germany in 2005 and he is one of the most engaging, resourceful and naturally playful fathers I know (and a whiz on the slide-guitar). He lives in Santa Cruz, California, where he connects children and adults to the natural landscape through a blend of gatherings, activities and skill sharing.
A few weeks ago, I saw a video he took of his six-year old daughter Phoebe handfeeding a chickadee and I was intrigued: What does it take as a father to help our children be so still and focused that a small bird will trust them enough to feed from their hands? And what is the child learning in the process?
The answer, it turns out, is all about mentoring and presence–paying attention to what lights your child up, and creating some magic around those moments by applying some very specific tools that build trust, patience and self-confidence.
Watch the video
Watch the complete video, or if you prefer listen to the audio below, to find out what a child learn’s from moments like these, and how a father’s trust, playfulness and role modelling play a crucial role in making it happen.
Listen to the Audio
Ken and his wife visited some close friends who happened to have a family of chickadees visiting their back yard and feeding out of their hands.
A while after arriving, Ken found his six-year old Phoebe–a ”ball of energy who goes dawn till dusk revving her engines full throttle till she collapses”–sitting frozen on the front porch. She stayed like that for a couple of hours, a walnut in her extended hand from which the chickadees were feeding.
”These are the things that I’m always keeping an eye out for as a dad: What are the things related to nature that will capture her attention and lock her in?”
There’s a grab bag of tools that Ken uses, both intentionally and unintentionally, to facilitate these moments in his work as a nature mentor and as a father.Pay attention to what lights your child up, and create some magic around those moments Click To Tweet
Four tools that help your child to focus
Here are four specific tools that he mentions in this interview:
1. Child passions is a list of all the things that your child is really into. They can include carving with a knife, playing with fire, climbing a tree, throwing rocks on a tin can or playing with bugs.
How do you find your child’s passions? Be in nature, pay attention, be present, watch what they are into. Ask yourself: What gets my child going? What lights her face up? What can’t she get enough of?
”You can intentionally sprinkle these things out for the kids to fall into your trap,” says Ken.
You may find your child is into climbing trees. So you facilitate that as a dad, and go to a spot where you know there are some low limbs your child can reach. She won’t know you’re doing it, but she will climb the tree for an hour or more of focused play.
2. The Auntie and Uncle effect is about making sure your child has trusted adults in her life willing to guide her towards new discoveries.
For Phoebe this is Brian and Karen, a part of her extended family, who live by a creek where the chickadees feed. These friends know their surroundings and they know Phoebe’s passions. It’s enough for them to say: ”You want to see something really cool?” and Phoebe is off to explore and engage (and Ken can child with his slide-guitar).
3. Honoring is about helping your child recognize her particular gifts and skills.
A lot of friends and relatives have seen the video of Phoebe handfeeding the chickadees. Rather than speak to Phoebe about her experience directly himself, Ken read to her what other’s were sharing about her moment on the comment feed.
This allows Phoebe to connect more deeply to a diversity of voices in a wider social web, and see her magical moment of focus reflected through their eyes. This recognition is a form of honoring that helps her internalize the significance of the moment.Nature is the third parent–home to humans for thousands of years and the original playground Click To Tweet
4. The Art of Questioning is the skillful use of questions that help your child harvest deeper insight from her experiences. It requires that we are present and attentive and truly curious about the moment. The art of questioning is about revisiting a special moment through a series of engaged questions that draw out her awareness.
There are three layers of questions that you can explore to deepen the experience.
The first is a question your child can easily answer. What bird was that? A chickadee! These kind of questions builds confidence and certitude.
The second level is a question that looks for the edge of her experience. What did it feel like? Have you ever felt anything like it? The child has to stop a moment to consider this. The answer requires some reflection and recollection.
The third level of questions takes her beyond her current reach, building a sense of magic and awe. If the question is well placed, it will stoke her curiosity enough so she will return to the woods and seek the answer. Where did the bird go after you fed her? Where does she live?
Nature is the third parent–home to humans for thousands of years and the original playground where children deepen their appreciation of themselves and their sense of belonging. For more ideas on how you can support your child in connecting to nature, self and community, I highly recommend Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature.
About Ken Clarkson: Ken grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, U.S., hunting and fishing with his dad. A former backcountry ranger in the Arctic and an endangered species wildlife biologist in Hawaii, Ken now restores another critically endangered species: humans. Ken specializes in playing with kids (and adults) in nature and lately is enjoying supercharging this play by co-leading groups of ninjas in nature.
Question: How do you spend time in nature with your child? What are you learning from Ken that you want to try the next time you head out? Share your thoughts below.