- Education & Catastrophe
- 5 Days In Nature With City Kids
5 Days In Nature With City Kids
Education & Catastrophe 60
Playing in the river in Karuizawa
Hey y’all! This is John.
This newsletter is about human flourishing. Ostensibly it’s about better parenting and fixing education, but ultimately what I really care about is helping young people flourish.
This week, I’ll be sharing my experience spending 5 days in nature with a bunch of city kids from Singapore and Tokyo. Covered in this issue:
Let’s dive in!
I spent last week in Karuizawa, Japan with twenty two kids between the ages of 4 and 12 from Tokyo and Singapore. Saturday Kids Unplugged Karuizawa is an outdoor camp that helps kids learn from nature and build confidence. We first did it in 2019, then Covid hit, so last week was only the second time we did it. A number of kids from 2019 joined again, and everyone had so much fun we are doing it again this October. Early summer is beautiful, but autumn will be spectacular with a thousand shades of red, orange and brown.
Kumoba Pond, Karuizawa. Image credit: Tsunagu Japan
Nature-based learning has many benefits, especially for city kids who hardly spend time outdoors, much less in nature.
City kids need it (nature-based learning) so much they don’t even know, regardless of how they participated.
Outdoor experiential learning helps kids forge a personal and meaningful connection with the natural world. This connection can instil a sense of wonder, curiosity, and a lifelong love for nature. Early morning on the first day of camp last week, two kids came across a kamoshika, a goat-antelope native to Japan. They had never seen anything like it before, and kept looking at it until the animal trotted away.
Kamoshika. Image credit: Ken Hashi
When we brought the kids to the river bank where thousands of tadpoles live, they shrieked in delight as they put their hands into the water and touched the tadpoles. We let them catch some and put them in their little tanks, but before we finished river play for the day they had to release all the tadpoles.
Kids playing with tadpoles by the river
By engaging with the natural world firsthand, kids develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the environment. This fosters a sense of responsibility and encourages sustainable behaviours. When one of the kids realised back at camp he had inadvertently left two tadpoles in the tank, he filled the tank with water to help the tadpoles survive and released them in the river the following day.
Nature-based learning also promotes the development of cognitive, emotional, physical, and social skills. It offers a multi-sensory experience that stimulates creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making abilities.
One of the kids’ favourite activities is playing Sharks and Minnows every morning. It is a simple game with straightforward rules, but kids often found creative ways to get to the opposite boundary line. A great way of getting kids to develop physical, cognitive and social skills.
Another game the kids really enjoyed is this human weighing scale game where they have to figure out how to make the scale balance. Kids were learning the 4Cs - creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking - playing in nature. How awesome is that?
One of the main activities at Rising Field Karuizawa, where we ran the camp, is a high ropes course called Owl Adventure. Some kids were a little afraid of heights. Other kids lacked confidence. What we saw over and over is kids overcoming their fear, completing one level, and challenging themselves to attempt the next level.
One ten year old boy August wanted to turn back several times when he was attempting the four metre course, but with a little encouragement, he completed the course and was so happy about it he thanked me about ten times 😄.
August attempting the four metre course
At Owl Adventure, we also saw bravery and selflessness. When four year old Daichi fell and couldn’t get up, ten year old Kellen and seven year old Enyea went to his rescue and eventually got him back up on the platform.
This year, we added tree climbing to the programme, so kids got an extra opportunity to challenge themselves and build confidence. Kids as young as four attempted the tree climbing activity and had a lot of fun doing it.
Another way we helped kids build confidence is by teaching them how to use tools like saws and drills. As part of an art & craft project, kids had to saw off a piece of wood and drill a hole in it. We showed them how to use the tools safely, made sure there were always instructors around when they were using those tools, and trusted them to handle the tools.
4 year old Quinn using the saw
On the last day of camp when we did a bbq to celebrate the end of camp, we got the kids to use the skills they learnt during the week to start a fire. No fire, no bbq, no burgers, no marshmallows.
It took the kids a while, but they got the fire started in the end.
This is the first time Helen spent significant time away from home (Singapore) and from family.
I believe this will help boost her confidence and definitely increased her independence.
We had great weather mostly, but it rained pretty hard on Thursday. Despite the pouring rain, the kids finished a 2 hour trek without any complaints. In fact, they had a lot of fun jumping in the puddles, catching rain water with their tongues. When you give kids lemons, they will make lemonade.
We ended the camp with a parent and child trek up river. The water was so cold your feet hurt, and some parts of the river required a bit of a climb. Again, the kids showed their resilience and completed the river trek.
Reward at the end of the trek
August said it’s the best week ever!
Unplugged Karuizawa is my favourite programme at Saturday Kids, mainly because Karuizawa is so beautiful. We have done it twice now in June when everything is verdant and green. This October 16-18, we will be running Saturday Kids Unplugged Karuizawa in autumn during PSLE marking week for kids ages 6-14. There will be more confidence building activities for older kids, especially beneficial for 12 year olds transitioning to secondary school next year.
I visited Japan in autumn a few years ago and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I’m looking forward to seeing autumn leaves in cool weather this October.
Being a city and covid kid, my son (4 yrs old) has not connected much with nature and has the association of it being hot and uncomfortable.
This camp gave him a new perspective of nature and we were pleasantly surprised at him being able to trek more than 3km in the rain, and to complete the river trek.
He was proud to be able to complete the difficult treks, even if he thought that he couldn't and wouldn't want to at the start.
This is a great win to start building his self confidence.