At Trackers, the entire point of a day in the woods is not for our teachers to teach, but for nature to lead the way. It’s a chance to learn, as uncontained by the human world as it can be. Too often, that is not the case in the day-to-day world our kids live in.

I don’t have a problem with video games, except that I’m really bad at them. I was the kid that went over to my friend’s house, promptly died on my first turn, and watched them play for the next 2 hours… until I died again. I’m fascinated by their innovative storytelling and technical scope. I also understand many games are altruistic and educational. Nevertheless, when my 9-year-old son goes to a friend’s house and plays video games, I sometimes troll him when he returns.

Dad: Why don’t we play video games at our house?
Robin: (sighs) Because they are other human’s ideas.
Dad: Bingo! I give you 1000 power up points.

We continue the debate about how his brain is growing and patterning, and what things could influence the person he will become. I stress that I don’t mind occasional exposure, just nothing structured in a way that can lead to addiction. Please note, I find it useful for every 9 year old to be well versed in behaviorist theory and evolutionary biology, just to make such conversations practical.

My primary concern is less about the medium of games, and more about where kids spend the majority of their time learning (which they do every second). Robin and I don’t stop at his obligatory family coda (which both annoys and amuses him). We discuss how games are designed to reward a particular course of behavior, for better or worse. Eventually, he brings up the point that TV does similar things (we like our Gravity Falls) and even books are “other peoples’ ideas”. Though, of course, he recognizes none of those possess the same fully-reactive experience of video games.

But nature is a very different teacher than human-produced media. And it builds a very different kind of empathy. When you play a video game, you have to understand human thought. When you track a red fox, you’re required to address an intelligence far more foreign and less domestic. The video game programmer wants you to eventually complete their puzzle. The fox, with the entire forest and seasons that hide it, is not so generous. Social media reinforces us to always be seen—it’s how we collect our “likes” denoting approval. Meanwhile, the Pacific Wren, a small brown bird, will aggressively scold you, alarming for the rest of the forest to run away, if your presence is even mildly obtrusive to their day-to-day foraging of spiders in the sword ferns.

The best rewards in the forest, in nature, come when you are seen less—not more. The lesson learned is never narrowed to one person’s programming objective, philosophy or set of ideas. That does not mean a Tracker is unsocial or avoids learning from their human community. On the contrary, they are often far more open to new ways of thinking because most of the trails they follow are naturally open-ended and mind-blowingly subtle.

This is what I mean by kids learning with nature, and not with teachers. We are guides who keep kids safe and help them overcome any limitations they may have in following the fox. Sure, sometimes those transitions into a more wild place still looks like a program—our camps, after all, have a schedule and curriculum—but they only have enough code to bring us to the freedom of the other side.

Also, of note, my kids are much better at video games than me.

Keep On Tracking,
Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

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