As a Scout, I loved every chance my Troop and I got to spend time in the outdoors. I even loved studying different topics related to camping. Nevertheless, there was always one section of outdoor books that I flipped through as quickly as possible: wild plants and animals. I loved the idea of being an expert in “nature lore”. I could vividly picture myself walking through the woods identifying every plant and bird call along the way. However, when it came down to actually studying all the different leaves, plants, and animals… I never could muster up the motivation. Just about everything I learned about nature in Scouting was either through a specific, memorable experience or because I had to learn it in order to accomplish something else.
I don’t think this Boy Scout experience is unique to me. When I teach Scouts, I find nature to be one of the most difficult subjects to get them excited about. It’s often hard for us Scouters too, even though we can see the bigger picture. Being familiar with the different types of plants and animals in one’s local area is a vital part of becoming at home in the wilderness. That kind of knowledge and familiarity enriches every Scouts’ experience and helps them to develop a love for the outdoors.
That is why I’m convinced that the best way to teach knowledge of nature to Scouts is through incidental teaching experiences and casual observations. You can describe the different calls of owls, but nothing will help a Scout remember as much as that quiet moment around the crackling embers of a campfire when a lonesome call splits the silence. You casually observe that it is a barred owl and how it’s easy to remember it because it always sounds like it’s complaining about your cooking.
The key to this approach is to have a knowledge of nature at your disposal whenever the teachable moment arrives. That is the call to action of this article. If we expect Scouts to get excited about this sort of thing, we need to lead the way. Train your insatiable curiosity towards the riches of nature. The next time you’re out camping and see a new plant or hear an unfamiliar bird call, look it up when you get the chance. Only then will you be able to take advantage of all the little moments that come up when you’re out with your Scouts.
If you have any tips about teaching nature to Scouts, please share them in the comment section below for everyone’s benefit.