Survival of the Fittest: Nurturing Independent Children

Todays guest post is by Laura Potts.

Can your kids live without you by their side? Survival camps let them grow strong and learn how to get along

Photo credit Strange Ones

People generally roll their eyes if I tell them I had a pet bear cub when I was a kid. I can see they’re trying to come back with some smartass retort. Then I produce the pictures and watch as the snarky remark dribbles down their chin.

In my mind, the bear and I were roughly the same size. That’s because I was 4 years old, and with three bullying older brothers, I immediately cottoned onto the idea that the bear and I would be allies against the forces of evil, together in all things. After all, the bear was at least as articulate and probably smelled better than my brothers. Imagine when I got it home and found a little tutu for it!

But it was not to be. In truth, the bear was not so much a sibling or pet as it was the best-ever fodder for Show and Tell. Once you’ve produced pictures of a bear cub hanging out with you on the sofa, you pretty much ruled preschool.

In case you’re still thinking Claudia (the name given to her when she was rehomed at the nearest zoo) was just a figment of Photoshop’s imagination, let me explain that when I was a kid growing up in Michigan, in the USA, we spent nearly every school holiday at our cabin in the great north woods. It’s a lovely place, as long as you appreciate living the simple life. But the cabin in late March is not for the faint of heart, since the waning days of winter in northern Michigan can swing wildly from bitterly, inhumanely freezing to really quite chilly with hulking drifts of snow. And this, it seems, is how we came to inherit a bear cub.

I don’t remember how the bear actually came to be in the cabin, drinking milk from the finger of a washing-up glove and sinking its considerably sharp claws into the upholstery (and the occasional shoulder of an over-zealous child.) Over the years the tale of the bear’s journey from tree and/or abandoned den has morphed into increasingly far-fetched recollections, though the central theme remains that my eldest brother was stupid or gullible enough to do the actual retrieving once it was discovered she’d been orphaned.

My own kids are unimpressed by my bear tale. They’ve seen the pictures, the newspaper piece about Claudia’s journey from abandonment-to-liberation-by-frenzied-children-to-zoo. They quite like the notion that someday they might go to visit grandma and grandpa and come home with their very own bear, but the odds aren’t good. We don’t live in the northern United States, and the kinds of wild orphaned animals they may find clinging to a tree here are more likely to mug them and run up a huge mobile bill.

But that doesn’t mean my kids can’t experience the thrill of life in the wilderness, the confidence boost from learning self-reliance and survival skills. Who needs a pet bear cub when you can learn to navigate using nature; build a shelter; find, cook and prepare food over an open fire; and sleep under the stars? I can send them to any of a half-dozen Camp Beaumont courses where ‘Survival Zone’ sessions are held, and I can test their skills (and probably learn something myself) when the ordinary summer holiday activities have lulled them into a comfortable, 21st Century urban existence.

Much as they and their father would love it, we are not going to go off-grid and live in a yurt somewhere in mid-Wales. I’m not denying there may be benefits to such a lifestyle, but in my experience kids I knew whose hippie parents dragged them along to live the eco dream did not fare so well later in life. Even a pet bear is no substitute for interaction with other humans of your age group.
But I’m more than happy to find some middle ground where my kids can play out their Robinson Crusoe fantasy – I’ve no doubt the experience, if not the skills, will serve to open their eyes to different possibilities. They might even find an orphaned hedgehog.

 

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