Recently I delivered some bushcraft workshops over two consecutive days to two very different groups. One was for an adult group as part of a community college while the other was to a group of 5-10 year olds at a community centre.
I was really happy with how each session went and judging by the feedback from both groups of those who took part and the organisers it seems everyone enjoyed it as well but obviously they were very different groups and I needed to adjust what I was saying and how I chose to teach the practical elements quite a lot.
Pedagogy, is the practice of teaching and something I always try to do with my sessions is sneak some science into them, with a background in chemistry and a love of life long learning I really enjoy just finding out things and gaining new knowledge and there is a lot of evidence that education can really boost your sense of self worth and general satisfaction with life but I know for many a traditional classroom and traditional subjects aren't always the best way to go.
Education has come a long long way since children used to sit in rows of desks scratching out Latin phrases on slates and there have been some amazing advances in using more interesting and innovative methods to get children to engage with subjects but by necessity a lot of this is still carried out in a classroom environment.
With my workshops I talk about friction and pressure and how we get fires, photosynthesis and hydrocarbon chains when we consider why wood burns and even go way back in time to consider the effect of our spinning iron core and how it helped create life but all of this is bound up in the practical elements of what we are doing. Solar radiation I think is more easily understood when you have a bronze age death ray that lets people scorch wood and our deep affinity to fire makes more sense when you understand that it shaped our evolution even as we harnessed it to create and name each of our ages of technology.
For me this is something that can rise bushcraft well above a useful skill and into something that shapes how you learn, how you interact with people and how you approach new situations and knowledge.
One of the themes I always come back to over and over in bushcraft is deep time and how evolution optimised us over many many generations.
As a species we have been around for about 350,000 and for the vast majority of that time we had language but not writing so all our knowledge and skills were taught directly and passed down in cultural practices and practical learning.
How to skin an animal, find clean water, shell a clam or identify edible roots was all knowledge which was passed along in a practical way by watching others and being encouraged to try it yourself. Joining family members at night as they tell stories and sing songs of a hunt or long journey around a fire or when groups come together to paint images on the walls of caves was how we defined ourselves and our culture. These were the classrooms of the day and was how we learned to be what we are for hundreds of thousands of years. From the flickering light of a campfire mixing with the smell of smoke and the sound of singing to the taste of ochre in the mouth as you spit out handprints on a wall with a "put put put" I believe engaging as many senses as you can into an activity deepens it within you.
With my workshop with the adult group we could look back into that deep past at how life on earth developed at all and how it took billions of years to have vegetation and free Oxygen which could combine into fires. Alongside this more mental side of things there was the physicality of combining as a team to work a bow drill and get smoke while also understanding that it is a further skill to build that smoke into a flame and that skill takes time, frustration and effort to gain but every failure is just a step towards more skill and eventual accomplishment.
With the children I really enjoyed getting them to talk about what was happening using all their senses, asking them when they could see the first tendrils of smoke coming from the bow drill and getting them to talk about what it smells like. Could they imagine the tick tick tick sound of flint being knapped in an echoing cave or how good a cooked meal would taste set against tough raw tubers.
For both groups I think engaging them fully and with all their body and senses makes the experience deeper and more impactful as well as memorable and is one more reason i love bushcraft and sharing the skills of it