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In today’s conversation, we speak with mentor and change maker, Chris Green.
Chris is the founder and director of the Guelph Outdoor School which is committed to supporting youth by providing opportunities to know themselves, grow rich relationships, and respond with care to a changing world.
Ten years ago when Chris started the outdoor school, he saw a possibility that not everyone saw. What if there was another way of educating our children that wasn’t just about reading, writing, and arithmetic? Something non-clinical and yet an effective method for children's health and well-being.
A true disruption in the making.
This is a conversation about raising whole, balanced, and resilient children through nature immersion. It’s about whole child education.
We talk about how allowing children access to explore our natural environment is an education that goes beyond just the mind. It provides them with a solid foundation for interacting with life both now and into the indefinite future. We talk about the possibility of shifting how we see and conduct education.
Chris and his incredible team of mentors are providing an alternative and complementary method to our current educational system.
As Chris and I speak about in this conversation, its hard to put into words exactly what the outdoor school is providing because it's outside the realm of language and falls into the world of experience. One crack as explaining it is "Learning about plants. Getting feet wet in the river. Playing games outdoors. Yelling. Climbing. Peeing in the woods. Making tea. Lighting fires. Carving. Reverence for the ideas of others in a sharing circle.”
It's sometimes quite difficult to describe experiences but what I do know is that the experiences children get from their time in nature will serve them in ways that go well beyond just their grades on a report card.
We talk about:
Learning: it doesn’t just happen at a desk with paper and pen and happens up in the head and off to one side. Learning is embodied and happens through all our senses.
Unregimented Play: and how it leads to a deeper understanding of our bodies, developing a strong sense of intuition, and hones children's natural capacity for curiosity.
Mentorship: The role of question-asking and the value of remaining curious
Attribute-Based Curriculum: focusing on “ways of being” as opposed to things that we know to help children take on many future skill sets.
Experiences: The deep inherent value of having experiences vs being told or explained to which helps to develop multi-faceted children.
About Chris Green
After 2 years of classroom teaching, Chris founded the Guelph Outdoor School in the fall of 2012, and has served as Director. A settler of Scottish and English ancestry, he loves to tell jokes and old stories and is drawn to supporting youth by providing opportunities to know themselves, grow rich relationships, and respond with care to a changing world. This comes in the form of supporting outdoor immersion and mentorship programs at GOS, as well as Rite of Passage experiences for adolescents in the out-of-doors.
He loves old beat-up things, stacking wood, and sneaking up on painted turtles.
Ami: Hi, Chris, thank you so much for joining me today.
Chris: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me. I mean, this is nice.
Ami: I'm wondering if you start by just telling me where you're situated right now.
Chris: I am a river of Guelph, Ontario, and a little spot called Eden Mills. It's on the Eramosa River, which flows into the Guelph and continues on to the Grand River, which empties out into Lake Erie. It's the traditional territory of many, including the Adewonron or The Neutrals, who, to my knowledge no longer live here or gather anywhere. And it's also considered and understood to be the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee down in Six Nations and also the minister of the Mississauga's of the Credit. Around here, this is part of the dish with one spoon covenant. And I also find myself answerable to the Two Row Wampum, which holds to all people in this area, both settler or indigenous. It's an agreement between the two. So that's a feel for this place.
Ami: Thank you so much for that beautiful acknowledgement. I really love asking this question at the beginning of a podcast because it's always so fascinating to see how people answer the question. But it's just a very fascinating way to start at so I really appreciate that beautiful thing.
Ami: I'm curious for you, how would you describe it, you know this podcast is all about creating disruptions and disruptions around purpose. And I'm curious from you, how would you describe a disruption?
Chris: Let me guess, let me take a shot, a disruption is will any kind of break or, you know, sort of side impact or something that comes along and I'm trying to find a word that is not "disrupt", that changes or alters our course, which has been somewhat set and entrenched, perhaps. It's the change that might alter a course, or perhaps stop it completely. It's my guess. It's funny you should ask as I talk about Guelph outer schools as a disruption in so many ways. Yeah, it changes up and it transforms something that's well-established and on its way, one way to say that.
Ami: I love that. Yeah, I really love that way of framing it. It's like, you know, things are the way they are. We're operating in the way that they are and disruption could be kind of changing course within that worldview.
Chris: I love talking about disruption in a way that disrupts how we use disruption. You know, I like to say disrupt as a positive thing and it is a positive disruption in so many ways or I like to use that word to disrupt. Disrupt.
Ami: Yeah, exactly. It was interesting when I was starting this podcast, I started it during the pandemic. And as I was kind of tossing around the title for it, I had a few friends that were telling me that you can't use the word disruption. We've just been going through, you know, two years of disruption. You can't use that term. And I'm like, well, interesting. Like, I feel like it is quite a great term to describe, what we are going through right now, both positively and maybe uncomfortably. So, you know, it's an interesting, interesting place to be.
Chris: Yeah, and I mean, it's also just not all about COVID, I mean, what happens in a context, in a place and a time, and there are so many things, 2021 North America that we would want to disrupt. Like, we can't just pretend that everything is great. Like I would want to disrupt so many things.
Ami: Well, I think that's a great segway into asking you about how you would perceive the outdoor school to be a disruption because, you know, how long ago did you start the outdoor school. Was it about seven years ago, Chris?
Chris: I'd say ten.
Ami: Okay, so around ten years ago, you started the outdoor school, and at that time you were essentially asking parents to take their kids out of school for the day, which is already at that time a disruption. Like that alone was the disruption to go play and hang and be and be in the woods. And then you are also asking at the same time to ask parents for the schools to be okay with kids being out of school for the day. So what is the outdoor school disrupting?
Chris: Yeah, I almost started making a list because it's such a long list that I admire, like every day. I mean, first off, I mean, it just disrupts this unconscious notion that learning happens at a desk with paper and pen and happens up in the head and off to one side. One particular side. So what, what learning looks like, we have disrupted? We've offered a living, breathing example of how learning wants to happen, cross-curricular like with so many things, with lots of things happening on what? So you can have experience in outdoor school which brings in all curricular areas all at the same time, geography, sociology, health, mathematics, pattern recognition, the whole thing. So disrupting the idea the curriculum is in segments and subjects disrupting that happens at a desk. We love to disrupt other things in an outdoor school. Your kids come and they're encouraged and reminded not to spend their time talking about video games or pop culture and pop politics. There's nothing wrong with talking about these things, but it's just the water they swim in elsewhere. So, of course, we want so much to disrupt that and by doing so, create an opening where we can cast our gaze and our attention elsewhere, like the more than human world, the things that are living and breathing and finding their way all around us.
Chris: And we're so, we have such a trajectory and such an organization around talking about certain things. Maybe it's just our way of socializing and it's what we know and so it's a lot of fun to disrupt those defaults around what we talk about. Movies too, get cut, but also things like territorial acknowledgements. You know, we disrupt how that is engaged by primarily like settler adults, which is a kind of this canned land acknowledgement that comes over the loudspeaker at some schools, not all. And I've asked around and it really is the same thing every time and one disruption at an outdoor school that we're working on is a living land acknowledgement where we are seeking to add a layer every time because really it's so complex, the history and our relationship to it and the potentials and possibilities around acknowledgement are vast and unknown and so to have one canned acknowledgement is a squandering of possibility. And so we try to just keep layering on new understandings each week, right. We do a weekly immersion program where kids join us for one day a week and so we have this opportunity just the way regular schools do to just keep layering on instead of being on repeat. So that's a big disruption that we're working on right now.
Ami: I love it so much. I love how, like, you know, now, ten years later, all the schools and the mental health programs and all they know, the outdoor school, they're like, well, you had to send your kids to the outdoor school. It's like it's started and now it's like a norm. In our area, it's like a norm. The schools know about it, the teachers know about it, and I told my teachers I was taking my kid out of school for the day the outdoor school, they're like, well obviously.
Ami: So why does unregimented play so important for children? That's something the outdoor school really focuses on, having rules or boundaries, and there are no rules really within the boundaries. Am I correct on that? Like you kind of have like your set of guidelines and like there's the place to play within that.
Chris: Yeah, I mean we do set some basic expectations, which are things that young people can make sense of themselves, but take care of yourself, take care of others and take care of this place, you know, and then beyond that, you know, they've got some free rein. Of course, we have some agreements around using knives and lighting fires and things like that. But, you know, within those basic expectations and framing that are offered by the adults, children do have free reign. And we encourage them to find their way. And find what is interesting to them and why do it like it? That's a tricky question and I'm going to give you kind of an answer that is just popping into my head right now. It's really hard to know or yeah, I would challenge anyone who thinks they know exactly what a young person needs from day-to-day, and so we encourage kids to use their body radar and like their intuition and to follow their curiosity and go find that thing that is intriguing to them or that they have a kind of natural curiosity.
Chris: And if adults are dictating that all the time and really scheduling every part of the day, then there's not going to be as many matchups between what's an offer and what is interesting to young people. I think of the magic that purportedly Einstein felt when a teacher just put compasses on each desk and young grade three, Einstein was taken by the unseen forces that were guiding the needle, and it wasn't a math lesson. It was just like this thing that he was presented with. And that, of course, informed his curiosity later. I want things like that for kids. I want them to find those mysteries and to be present to those unseen forces in a way that moves them and might inform their path going forward. And to the extent that we dictate what's happening for a young person, they're just going to like they're going to come into contact with that sense of wonder, far less. You know, kids know where they need to look if we give them a chance.
Ami: It's so interesting. It's like my little Ami child right now is just so envious of that experience. I just like wishing that that was more part of my schooling and my upbringing, and just like what you said, gave me chills around, you know, if the adults are always telling children what they should be curious about, it doesn't leave room for the curiosity to emerge and then they get out into the world after all these years of schooling, it's like, okay, go, go do what you're curious about, go do what you like. And you're like, I don't know how to, you've been telling me how to do it for the past, like twenty years. I literally don't know what to do.
Chris: Exactly. Yeah. And it's been a healing process for me. I mean I didn't have that either and I was regimented and told what to study and when. And I totally have some grief and frustration and anger around that. So part of my healing is working to provide in some imperfect way an opportunity for young people to have that for sure. And that does something for me, too.
Ami: One of the things that you guys really focus on at the outdoor school, and I spoke about this before, is that my upbringing as a child was very unstructured. I have a lot of free roam, lived in the woods like the closest neighbour was half an hour away. We have lots of free space. And I really developed a deep connection to my surroundings and I attribute my confidence in the world now to that, to having that space to roam. I really have this deep belief that the world is a safe place and I think it comes from that, like really being able to trust myself, to be able to trust my body, to listen to it when it's like coming down a tree or how far a branch I can go. And really developed like a knowing of who I am from that experience, it's hard to articulate, it's really outside of the realm of language. It's like an inner knowing. But one of the things that the outdoor school really focuses on is this idea of mentorship. And one of the books that you use quite often is The Coyote Guide. It's a book written by John Young, and it's a connection to nature. And the book's focus is really around mentorship and how to mentor and how to be a mentor. Can you talk to me a little bit about why is that such a crucial point for who you are and what you're doing with the outdoor school and what your teachers are doing?
Chris: Sure. Let's see, I've just recently been admiring that, you know, these mentors are caring adults in the lives of kids who come at outdoor school, and they're neither parent nor teacher, each of which has like their respective agenda, you know. And so there's like a kind of I won't call it neutrality, but like there's a kind of like lateral movement there for these non-teacher, non-parent caring adults who are showing up with energy to do this. They're there on the trail. They're doing detective work around what a young person coming out of school might benefit from or might need if they're showing up with anxiety for whatever reason, maybe there's a nice chance for a spot down by the river and they kind of make that happen. We sometimes call them facilitators, which if you want to just look at the word just kind of like means make things easier, you know. So finding a mentor at an outdoor school just might make it easier for a young person to find their way down to the river and let whatever magic is there wash over them by this. But in the same way, we might have someone who doesn't have that level of anxiety, but maybe they're just like majorly academic and identify that way and they're kind of just tripping over their own feet and not like in their body. And so we might you know, the facilitators, the mentors might offer opportunities in however many ways for that person to get into their body and try things out and work on that fine and gross motor, maybe split
Chris: Some wood if they're old enough, or just play a game that requires a level of agility and reflexes and all that. So that's what the mentors are doing. They're just on the hunt and keeping an eye as a team, not even as individuals, but as individuals and a team, just like getting into conversation like, "Oh, what could this person need? Hey, remember that time they did this? Like maybe we should try that". And it's a lot of troubleshooting, a lot of pulling for their brilliance and their strengths and trying to identify gifts and measuring those gifts against or with the world and experiences and then also be on hand to reflect those things back and celebrate them or acknowledge them or wonder about them. Like, "I wonder if you love doing this, you know, what's that all about?" Just getting into a question and asking mode with the kids. There's a lot of, you know, the art of questioning and not saying what is so, but just being available to hear stories and wonder about things with kids is also a big part of mentorship. We're not brokers of information, we're story catchers and question-askers, and people who make things a little bit easier. You know, I had to get used to the word mentorship. It sounds like it's from the fifteen hundreds as I mentioned to you earlier, you know, it's like something Arthur does with Merlin or vice versa.
Ami: Well, I mean, I remember the story of this experience when I had my own personal disruption around the outdoor school, was when I went to a talk by a John Young and you have a little booth set up there and the facilitator was showing all these different skulls and I was asking, like, "So, what is this, a skull up? And he's like, well, like, tell me about like, what are you experiencing? What does it feel like? The big of the small is that hollow? Like, let's talk about it", and it was such a, I was so taken aback by the conversation because I like, "You're the expert and I'm not the expert, and you're supposed to tell me what this thing is", and he's like, "No, no, no, we're exploring this together. Like, I don't know the answer too, I actually don't know, let's see if we can figure it out". And at that moment, I was like, whatever that just was, I want my children to experience that because that was a profound moment for me to be like, oh my gosh, like I actually have the answers inside me too. Like, it was like a really brilliant moment of getting that the answers are within and if we just get asked the right questions, something can emerge from it. It's a really beautiful concept, I think.
Chris: Yeah, I mean, it distracted me when I first discovered that kind of methodology that kind of rocked my world as an educator as well, and it's such a tool to actually engage a young person in a question like that. I mean, it disrupts our relationship to authority and what it means to defer to someone and what it means to trust ourselves as you say. But the other thing is, like we adults primarily, especially like adults with white privilege or whatever, you know, we have a lot of assumptions and worldviews that we might not actually want to pass along. It's important for us to recognize our projections of educators and what we are actually passing along and so to get into question-asking and curiosity is one of many safeguards and checks and balances that we can have as we transmit information and perspectives to kids. Because the adult information set that we're working with here in North America is, you know, they're problematic and infused with assumptions and perspectives that are ripe for change and evolution and maybe leaving behind. So, to engage kids in that process of wondering and inquiry and not deferring to adults as brokers of information is an important step. There are some things we don't want to pass on.
Ami: Yeah. I love it that the adult can guide you but they're not the know-it-all. They don't know at all and that the child actually has truth inside them, they know it too.
Chris: Yeah. And it just sorts of disrupts this assumption of a child as a consumer of information and even an adult as a consumer of information. It's like you get to go check. We even talk about a kind of, excuse the word, like a kind of a hierarchy or list of ways to find out. And we've kind of put Google at the very bottom of that and it's like that you can go to field guides and then you can go to parents and then, you know, adults or aunties and uncles and grandparents or somewhere further up. So just disrupting where you go looking even. It's an important part of things.
Ami: That's amazing, Chris, thanks for that. And I want to know more about you, I would love to know about your journey getting to where you are right now, that is creating a school for children to be able to be fully immersed in nature and to be fully immersed in who they are. Can you tell me a little bit about your journey?
Chris: Sure, I would love that. Well, as I alluded to or suggested earlier like there's definitely some grief around, you know, my public education experience and It's not like there weren't great teachers out there. But by a large, the process itself had the effect of quashing these innate gifts of inquiry and wonder or interest as it exists at the moment. You know, maybe I had an interest in learning French, but maybe I didn't want to do it all the time and at 9:00 a.m. kind of thing. So all I'd have to say is like, I had some stuff around as many do around the experience of public school. So it has been a gift I've enjoyed giving to create this different space. The other part of it was, part of the journey of getting there was being a teacher in the public school system. But despite whatever stuff I had there, I did go to teachers college and became a teacher with the Upper Grand. And as part of that, of course, I was running into frustrations for the kids, you know, some kids who were athletic and physical and just wanted to run and jump and bounce and smell and feel things and try things on and take risks and all that. They were in the classroom and those frustrations and limitations were manifesting as behavioural stuff. I could really see the frustrations that they were having.
Ami: Yeah, sorry to interrupt you, but there wasn't a need that was being met. There is a need that the children had that was not being met.
Chris: Yeah. And I could see that really clearly. I just didn't know exactly how to, well, meet it, like in a kind of a programmatic be a legitimate way. So the Coyote Guide limited and flawed as it is, really helped frame that up. And then the other one that I just can't help mention, to this day keeps me going and kind of gives me chills as well, a talk by Ken Robinson who is no longer with us. But in his later years, he did a TED talk called How Schools Kill Creativity and it's like one of the most viewed TED talks out there. And in it, he, I think rightly points out, he says, if you look at the trajectory of our technology and our economy, kids going into kindergarten this year, we can't even imagine what would be expected of them when they're finishing high school or college. You just look at the rate of change. Some people say the rate of change has changed and that things are speeding up and changing fast. I think he would, I don't speak for him, but I think he would also add climate. So if you look at the trajectory of our economy, our technology and our climate, we can't know what will be expected of our young people by the time they're adults. And yet we're meant to be preparing them for it so that for me, that called into question the specific academic skill sets are academic weighted skill sets that we're offering kids in the public setting.
Chris: And outdoor school is an attribute-based curriculum. We're not going for subjects or a specific knowledge base with information that you either know or don't know. We run our programs to develop attributes, ways of being, as opposed to things that we know. And that, for me, makes all the difference, because if you focus on these ways of being, they can take on any skill set that might be required of them in this kind of unknown and perhaps perilous or harrowing future. So these are attributes like quiet mind, a service to the community, self-sufficiency and cooperative teamwork, awe and reverence, caring and tending, aliveness and agility, common sense. So these are things that we want to foster in kids, and when they have these attributes alive and well in them, if they need to be fantastic programmers and coders, I bet you they'll be high-level just with those capacities, those attributes. And if they need to fend for themselves in a time of flooding and forest fires, then they've got something to draw on as well. You know, I really had to give a sideways glance at this specific set of very academic and theoretical training that kids are getting by default in the classroom and, well, disrupt that and say, well, maybe we need to be seeing things instead of knowing things in this world.
Ami: So many things right there, just so many things, so just like in what you said, it's like there are so many things, what I'm really taking from that is you're building like a really strong foundation on which to build the house. It's like if this foundation is strong, the house can withstand the storm. It can withstand the UV and withstand all of the things that come with it. But if it's built on a foundation that is weak, not weak, but built on something that's not grounded, then it has a hard time actually weathering the storm. And there's like a real strong resilience there where it's like at the forefront. Like what you're building is resilience for children and for their families, really.
Chris: I hope so. I just painted a picture of like a bit more broadly, like about an unknown future and whether we're equipped to that or at least somewhat equipped. But the Scandinavians know this, too. Like, if you just want to zero in and talk academics, like there is a strong body of knowledge that's come out just in the last ten years, scientifically and developmentally, physiologically, there's a strong body of evidence that is now indicating that sensory integration and meaningful and sustained experiences in a dynamic environment like the natural world gets our physiological systems kind of online. Like if you imagine children as little switchboards like if we're just like flicking them all on and getting the green light across that board, then they are primed for the higher executive and cognitive and academic success that is so valued in the public system. So we can still meet the needs of families who are like, "My kids suck at school. I would love some help", and we can say, "yeah". You know, they don't have to be dooms-dayers or be wondering about 40 years from now. If they want better grades, too. It's as simple as that. If you have sensory integration and your various bodily systems are actually speaking to each other in a way that's required when you're walking on uneven ground and, you know, noticing that little turtle in the river and listening to the birds over here, when those systems are speaking to each other, which is called sensory integration, not just experience, but when they're actually working in symphony, that is what has to come first. And the Scandinavians are all over this and we're sort of still humming in Holland. But I say it's a crawl before you run things.
Ami: Totally. And I think, like what you're actually saying is in a nutshell that, like, we are nature and that we've kind of forgot, we've forgotten how to be natural and we've removed ourselves from it. It's kind of just like coming home as like coming home to who we are. We're like, "Okay, we can actually be here and operate well because this is actually what we are supposed to be". And I think what you're speaking to, too, is not one or the other. I don't hear from you that it's like academia, the outdoor school is actually a balance that we just need to balance. Both are great and they're just out of balance right now. But, you know, the academia is so stuck in the head and left the body and like what you're suggesting and I'm hearing it, you're suggesting that we need to balance it again. Because you don't I mean, just so the listeners know, the outdoor school isn't you know, it's not an academic school where you go every day. You bring your children for one day a week or you can go to summer camps for a week. So it's you're getting an immersion and which is balanced with the academic studies, which I think is brilliant, which is why I think like the school systems and the parents can all really get behind it.
Chris: Yeah. We used to host a lot of kids who are struggling with school and so we would get those parents who are just, "We need something, you know, anything that our kids won't be kicked out of". But, we've since, you know, continued on and we do our school and also parents are really getting that. Like even if your kid is doing great and academically successful, this is a great place to round that out, to complement it. A lot of our open-ended, sort of timeless segments of our program can simply serve as a way to integrate what you're already learning. So if you're already learning academically at a high level, this is just a great way to see those understandings and new and emerging worldviews and understandings in play. It's like, oh, I just had a physics lesson and look at this river go, you know, so I know. What was it like? Someone like Kurt Vonnegut just said, time for integration and reflection is key to academic learning, and so that's a big part of it, too. It's not just a sensory thing, just like a little bit of time to reflect and put those things, let those things nestle their way into you.
Ami: I love that. Thank you for that. So curious I'm from you, what is the message that you are received from your parents growing up as a child?
Chris: Well, we had privileged enough to be out in the country and I grew up in one spot on the river till I was eight. And then we moved to another natural place. So there were two homes when I was young and they were both very nature rivers. There were ponds and rivers and fields and forests and the places that we went to were also like that. My dad took me on a fishing trip and into the woods and back and there were places to visit and they were always just big and bold and wild. And I get that that's such a privileged position but they did immerse me. They put me in scouts where beavers, cubs and scouts and, you know, say what you will about that organization. You know, it's limited and flawed. But, you know, they were definitely some values there that were being transferred. And I might not have those same ones, but they certainly did. You know, mom and dad certainly made decisions that placed me in those places and I see readily, you know, it's valued and like you, while I came to this work, not being a naturalist and knowing a lot of biological names or Latin names or anything like that, I did have a deep and abiding comfort and affinity with like outside.
Ami: Yeah, lucky, I mean, we are similar. I was also on Girl Scouts, and got to live in the country and was in brownies and I mean, they did actually. Yeah, I mean, yes, flawed in its own ways and it also really brought me a lot of, a lot of awesome, like I got to sing songs, Chris, I love singing songs.
Chris: That's a big part of the outdoor school, we love to sing.
Ami: I know. Yeah, it's so great. So what does living a life guided by your purpose look like for you?
Chris: Without, like, leaning on old adages and one-liners about never working a day in your life?
Ami: No, not that that can be there because that's what it is for me.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. You know what? Yes to that. Day's go flying by and they are joyous and fun and I feel good about it and the whole bit. But one thing I'll say is like the outdoor school because we were hiring people who are in love with life and hot on the trail of evolving education and evolving language and all those things, we're hiring these people and working with these people. But inevitably they're in our lives and so on a given day, you know, my two daughters have access to like all these great people who are moving in and out of our lives. And, you know, there's this sort of built-in community that comes from doing this work. I am immensely grateful for that. They're both, especially my young one, is cared for by a lot of people who, you know, I've hired because they're great with kids and now it's just sort of rubbing off. So that's a big thing and I feel the other part that's just like I don't feel like my job is interwoven with my activism. You know, I've been reflecting lately. My dad calls it the thin edge of the wedge, the first step towards decolonizing and healing this place in our minds and our hearts is a kind of developing and blossoming love and understanding of the natural world and the value of more than human and extra-human life.
Chris: I know that the modern capitalist system, for the modern capitalist system and its residents there, it can be a bit of a stretch to wonder about the value of plant life, the value of animal life, the possibility of consciousness in previously unsuspecting places like rocks or planets or our entire Earth. We have a history of sort of brushing that off as like, weird animist stuff and even get ourselves to a place where that's possible, where we might actually hear the messages of our indigenous brothers and sisters, we have to have this basic level of experience and immersion where we're caring at a basic level because there's a relationship there. We create relationships, then we create care, and then we create an understanding. And then maybe we would respect and integrate the teachings and understandings and worldviews of indigenous communities in the past and present such that. Maybe, maybe there's a possibility of healing ourselves or our anger and bias and healing the world around us, it really does require a relationship first, and so we're trying to build that into the basic level. So for me, it feels like one of the most effective ways to actually transform things by just offering, you know, one day a week for a young person to commune and build a relationship with more than the human world and themselves.
Ami: I so just love what you said about how your work is also intertwined with your activism, it really sounds like, I mean this for me, this project, this podcast, is literally a curious investigation. Like, I'm very curious about purpose. It's something that calls me a lot. I'm very interested in people living their purpose, whatever their purpose is, whatever their calling is, whatever they care about, what's important to them. And it's an experiment, I'm like a detective and I'm trying to understand the various perspectives and having lots of conversations with people. And I find it so fascinating what you just said there around your activism is aligned with what you do with your work, and there's something there, an interesting place to look there. Because of what it sounds like to me is like you have a deep care and something that's really important to you that you care a lot about and you're willing to go and look there and now you've built your livelihood off of something that you care about, it's important to you. Because, you know, a lot of the work that I spend my time with is is helping people understanding and uncover what their purpose is. Because we talked about it, this whole entire conversation is not something that we were really taught in school. It wasn't really taught to us like how to actually access that part of us. And so it's a lot of work for a lot of people to get close to what we care about and what we're here to do. And we find ourselves doing a lot of work that we don't love, spending our days doing things we don't love because we just don't we don't know how to look anymore. We can't get in there and look deeply. So I just really appreciate you sharing that.
Chris: It is a purpose these days in this economy, technology is a slippery fish. I feel like I got really lucky in finding this and noticing how it really just fits with my internal state. I can only say that hopefully, that's also the work of mentors. You know, it's not just like helping kids understand that this planet has three leaves and that one has four. Like hopefully there's some nice little question asking happening around the fire, waiting out a snowstorm or it's like, what do you want to you know, what feels good to you?
Ami: Oh, man, Chris, that's so good. I think that that is why the idea of mentorship is so fascinating to me because it goes back to before around, like we all know, we all have a deep knowing inside of us. We know what it is that we care about and that we just necessarily haven't had the questions asked for us to reveal it and that the space for the mentor, which is something that I didn't necessarily have so much and maybe you did or didn't in your life, I'm not sure. But being able to ask us the questions that we can access ourselves, it's just kind of mind-blowing, actually.
Chris: I had a great time. So I do one major immersion and mentorship session a week between September, June, and I work with 10 to 14-year-olds and we do an opening circle every day where we give gratitude, sing a song, acknowledge where we are, what our responsibilities are and all that. And then we sometimes throw on like fun, question further consideration in a circle, and we just go around and sometimes it's something as simple as like what are you a part of? And we might get answers like, well, I'm a part of a family, I'm part of a hockey team, I'm part of outdoor school, I'm part of a biotic community, whatever like you get lots of funny answers. And then another question asked was like on a different morning was, if you could be assured that you'd be successful, you know, what would you kind of fix-up around here? You know, and I mean, some of the answers might have just been sort of parroted what they've heard from their parents or whatever or something like that. But the answers were still telling and it really showed the brilliance and kind of inner workings of kids minds. And some were saying, well, they should be paid just as much as teachers because they're doing just as much work. And others were saying, you know, fewer parking lots. You know, we have too many parking lots, too much paving. Other kids said wider bike lanes, you know, and just like even if that's the thing, this whole question-asking thing, it's not about answers, it's really not. It's about being on the on the trail, being a detective and knowing that this case might take a couple of months or years to solve.
Ami: Still being in the place of inquiry.
Chris: Exactly. Yeah. And like just inviting these kids into that type of conversation so that it might take root in, like maybe they'll bring it up amongst themselves. You know, if Chris keeps asking for a couple of years, maybe they'll finally just, you know, keep doing it. And that's what I'm into as well, like changing the expectations around what we talk about and just helping kids just be on the trail beyond always asking that question, like, what is it, what do I want to tidy up around here? What do I want to change?
Ami: I love that because it also gives children like, oh, I can actually type something up. I didn't know that I had the autonomy to do that or the trust to be able to. Somebody cares that I think.
Chris: Yeah, and we have real-world examples of this, so the force that we're in, you know, when we first got there, there were tires and old ironing boards and batteries and, you know, that place has really been healed, I think, through our being there, and it's so fun to actually have conversations around, you know, we've been talking about like social evolution and changing the way we relate to each other. But there are wonderful opportunities to reinsert conversations and words around stewardship. What does it mean to actually take care of a living place? And we get to see actual examples of that in the outdoor school or even like what does it mean to care for the dead if we find a rabbit that's been hit on the road? I mean, the default in North America is to just keep on driving that, that's a shame. But we disrupt that, too, and it's a lot of fun to take that rabbit that was hit on the road and dig a hole, sing it some songs, put some flowers on it, and both access a kind of level and conduct around respect and reverence. And simultaneously evolve our relationship with that, because that's the thing, too, in North America. You know, we're kind of, I mean, do your own homework, prove me right or prove me wrong. But there might be some death phobia going on here where we just kind of put death over there and or we try to extend life at every juncture, so burying a little dead rabbit might help. But also, when you're out in the woods, you're surrounded by death all the time so that there's a disruption right there. You know, things are decaying and growing and life is growing from death all the time in a non-morbid way. You know, it's just all around us. It is emersion. So that's just like reason number four thousand and two why I love nature emersion and the lessons that are implicit and unspoken, but like powerful as they add up.
Ami: I love that so much because it is so much not about like the talking to, it's about the experience, so much about this is outside the realm of language. It's not in language, it's experience. It is an experience. It's about being in the body. It's about having something that you can't ever, I mean, I'm sure it's sometimes hard being in podcasts where you're asked to explain what it is that you do, because it's not in words all the time, you know.
Chris: Yeah, it's very validating. Sometimes I when I talk about outdoor school, I feel like I'm clubbing it over the head. I try to describe it because it is totally emergent and iterative and unknown to me. You know, I am often surprised at what happens by accident.
Ami: Yeah, exactly. It's kind of how I feel about my life. It's like when someone asks, what do you do for work? I'm like, can you see Patrick first? Because he's going to give you the one word answer. Like he's like the electrician. And I need like I need thirty minutes of your time to be able to explain to you what I'm interested in and what I care about, because that's what I do with my life. And I'm sure it's a similar thing. It's like, how do I answer this question succinctly?
Ami: Okay, this is just another rambling here. I'm curious, is there anything else you want to talk about before we start wrapping up? So it's kind of left hanging or anything you want to share?
Chris: Well, you know, it was coming out for me when you were asking me about my, you know, my childhood and what my parents might have conveyed to me explicitly or implicitly. And I noted that it was a childhood, a privilege to be able to be in the woods and in the fields, and it's as obvious as day that that is not afforded to us all. For thousands of reasons and I'm seeing a lot of traction out there, but like one thing I have to actually just keep coming back to and I need support and coming back to it is like the will and the intention and the drive and representing myself to the sheer obvious need and duty to make this available for everybody and so, well, outdoor school began as a kind of a fee for service sole proprietorship, and now it is a nonprofit which offers upwards of one hundred k in financial assistance to dissolve financial barriers. I used to think of financial barriers as like the barrier, you know, but it's actually like number 10 and there's just so many other sort of cultural barriers spoken or unspoken, that prevents us from from having a seat at the fire for everybody. And so that's the trail I'm on. And, you know, if a school could evolve truly to be a service organization, that makes us available to everybody, both programmatically and non programmatically, if we could actually start changing the water that we swim in and affect the way.
Chris: We all relate to wild places, I would be glad and just making sure that this is not, I want to disrupt what a quote-unquote, "private school" might look like. And also like sometimes I used to wonder if maybe outdoor school could put ourselves out of the job in four hundred years, if we're successful, maybe we've conveyed to every adult that it is their job to take care of young people and that we don't farm it out to educators and social workers. If we all simply understand that when we're adults, we take care of each other's children and take responsibility towards their well-being and their blossoming of their vision and gifts, if we can have that happen and if we could evolve our relationship to wild places as well where everyone gets to them and it's not just a matter of developing it or keep it off to the side and conserve it. I would love to see a kind of a third way where we understand that we can actually be stewards of a place and take responsibility for ecological well-being. In a way, that's not just confirmation, you know, where we all take responsibility for that kind of thing, maybe plants some fruit trees in the back or whatever it is, I don't know. But if we could just diffuse the responsibility of education and taking care of wild places to us all, I would be glad. And I would love for outdoor school to be a part of that.
Ami: Thank you so much, Chris, this has been such a beautiful, insightful, profound, amazing, I don't have the words because it's not again, I'm having an experience conversation. So thank you so much.
Chris: For doing it. So much too. Thank you, Ami.
Ami: You're welcome.