A trek, by virtue of its nature, is a life changing experience. In our years of running a trek organisation, we have seen how adults undergo an internal transformation during their time in the outdoors. In children, this transformation increases tenfold. All in the course of a regular, week long trek!
In the same environment, what happens when we bring in structured activities? We found our answers to this question when we started running exclusive Family treks. These exclusive treks have structured activities that we have designed to maximise learnings from the outdoors.
“The idea behind these structured activities is that we bring out the latent positive qualities present in children” says Izzat Yaganagi, Head of Experiential Learning Programme. “These activities lay special emphasis on team work, observation skills, and cooperative work.”
How do we go about it?
Family trek begins with special briefings
“Before we start the trek, we hold separate briefings for parents and children. We instruct the parents to not help their kids in day to day activities and just letting the small inconveniences be,” says Izzat.
“Getting accustomed to hardship, taking care of their own day to day activities like pitching tents, setting up camp, helping with cooking, serving and washing utensils, is all part of their learning experience,” she adds.
Children are given a separate briefing where they are encouraged to take care of their parents on the trail. They are specifically asked to check if they are hydrating well, encouraging them if they are tired.
“This brings a change in dynamic between parents and children. When children are asked to take on the responsibility of seeing to their parents well-being, it brings out qualities in children that parents are often astonished to see,” adds Izzat.
“They see independence, decision making and that their children can take care of themselves. The kids check up on their parents, call them out for meals, keep time, pitch tents, serve food. This is the first time parents are fully present for their kids for the entirety of the day. On a trek, they are not burdened by their job or work commitments. This fosters a different kind of intimacy and bond between them.”
“Interestingly, a lot of parents come to us and say that their kids are doing far better on the trail than themselves,” confesses Mukta, our Trek Leader who has led numerous family batches. “When they allow their child to explore, they see that they can trust in their child’s decision making ability. They are not constantly afraid or trying to shelter them.”
Then, there is teamwork
In our family exclusive batches, we divide the children into three teams: Green Trails Warriors, Helping Hands, and Masterchefs. Each of these teams are responsible for different aspects of the trek. The Green Trails Warriors try to make sure that no trekkers litter the trail and they all pick as much waste as possible. They dig toilet pits, set up toilet tents and even call for segregation activity each day.
Then there are the helping hands – the team who acts as assistants to Trek Leaders. They encourage everyone to trek well, hydrate on time and make sure no ground rules are broken. They even check oxymeter readings once a day – with Trek Leaders by their side, of course.
The Masterchefs help the kitchen staff in cooking and serving meals. These teams change roles each day of the trek. Not only do they learn how to take on responsibilities assigned to each member and execute it, they also learn how to look out for each other and work as a team.
“In one of these batches, it started raining quite badly in one of the campsites. I was prepared to take charge of the situation. To my surprise, I didn’t have to! When it started raining, one of the kids took lead of the situation, rounded up the others and instructed that they have to make sure the mats in dining area don’t get wet. They worked together and crisis was averted” says Vijeet, one of our Trek Leaders.
What else do they learn with these activities?
Understanding what is necessity vs what is luxury
When they pitch their own tents, cook with a small gas stove for large number of people in a small cramped space – they understand that there isn’t much needed to survive. It is a big realistion at a young age. Away from the consumerist setting of urban life, a trek introduces them to minimalist living.
“Understanding the difference between need and want is brought up naturally during our reflection sessions. More often than not, children voice it out themselves. This is a very valuable life learning and has a deep seated impact on the child’s psyche” says Izzat.
They learn natural consequences for their actions
They learn this in many small ways. “Children help in cooking their own food. They eat what they make. Or if they haven’t pitched their tents properly, it is up to them to figure it out and fix it. As weather is unpredictable in the mountains, there is a fixed turnaround time on summit day. So if the team leaves late and if anyone is not fit enough to trek, then they don’t make it to the summit” Izzat says. “This experience of natural consequences is another valuable lesson learnt at a young age”.
“Kids often don’t know their potential” says Mukta. “In the process of figuring out how to do things, they gain confidence!”
Each team also has to submit a comprehensive route map by the end of the trek. Which means each member of the team has to take responsibility of observing different aspects of the trail. One traces the trail, one observes different trees and is responsible for finding out their names, one observes the birds and insects on the trail, one observes the peaks and so on. The children also ask the Trek Leader and other adults, gather the information and put it all on their map. Each team submits their map at the end of the trek.
“This helps them be present and really engage with different aspects of the trek” notes Izzat.
Then there are cooperative games
If the weather is kind and the children are not too tired after the trek, we play cooperative games. There are no winners or losers in these games but everyone has a lot of fun. “These games build cooperation and the ability to overcome personal goals to focus on the team goal.” says Izzat.
“In the beginning of the trek, on Day 1, the kids are very much in themselves. These activities and games open them to others, little by little on Day 2. And by Day 3, they are all instinctively with the team and learn to take care of each other. By the fourth day of the trek, the team bond is so strong that you know that it will last beyond the trek. In some way or the other” says Mukta.
And finally, there are reflection sessions
We conduct reflection sessions every evening. These sessions are focused on the learning of the day. Kids are asked to reflect on what their learning was from the day’s activities. What did they see in the outdoors that day? What were they good at? Where did they struggle?
Their struggles, as an individual and as a team, are evaluated and their solutions are discussed. What this leads to is building of trust between the team members. With repetitive reflection sessions, the teams begin to understand themselves and each other better. Subsequently, they start working as a whole unit. The reflection session often acts as their growth chart as well – bringing about unique learning from each day.
“The most universal learning on these treks is that you are stronger and more resilient than you think,” observes Izzat. “It is a big thing for a child to learn.”
Mukta shared, “I remember two 11 year old girls on Dayara Bugyal. They couldn’t go to the highest point. Usually, this is a very disappointing thing for most people. But they were very happy with how far they came and whatever they achieved. Their yardstick is, of course, themselves.”
Says Izzat, “We had a couple of teenage boys who had done a regular trek with us previously. I was a little apprehensive about how they would be around younger kids in a family batch. But they were absolutely wonderful young boys. They took care of the younger kids and encouraged them throughout like true big brothers. It was so interesting to watch. “
“At the end of this trek, these boys confessed that they liked this kind of hands-on treks more than the regular trek,” Izzat says proudly. “It brought certain things about themselves to their notice and they inevitably learnt quite a bit that they will take back”.
On a family batch, we facilitate and enhance, with the help of structured trek related activities, learning from the outdoors. It simulates a hands-on environment, forcing the children to face hardships and adapt. This resilience, this strength and ability to face difficulties and work together make for great life lessons to take back into their lives.
This is why we believe children should be in the outdoors.
If you have questions about the Experiential Learning Programme, write to [email protected], or drop in a comment below.