When the brain isn’t stimulated enough to grow, it searches for a venue to engage in, or it goes into cruise control until it is needed. Many children are isolated, punished, or drugged for the simple fact that they want to learn through direct engagement with their environment. Too often it is an artificial construct that messages audio-visual communication skills and neglects tactile, emotive, and social methods of learning. Mechanics, carpenters, and arborists are geniuses at math and physics. They apply the principles of each every day to feed their families. The majority will tell you that their skills weren’t realized in a math class.
Loving what you do is a primary motivator for learning something to mastery. Schools and the media have whittled the attention span of the average american to three second scene shifts and forty minute blocks of time broken in to ten to twenty minutes units within the class room. “Focus” has become an abstract. When you get folks in the woods, the neural patterning they come in with needs to be recognized and patiently addressed through activities and experiences that slow down the internal pace. The external pace will soon follow once the person re-engages their awareness tools. We normally start folks off with a series of awareness exercises. We even invite them to take off their shoes and practice methods of moving silently and with more fluidity.
Slowing down and increasing awareness is a great start. It isn’t learning focus. It sets the stage to learn focus. To develop focus, in yourself or others, there needs to be an end result that seems obtainable and that would be obviously useful or “cool” to accomplish. Waiting with bird seed on your hat in a thicket is a great teacher of focus. Bow making, tracking, even staring in to a fire, are all good vehicles to exercise the lost and atrophied art of “focus”.
As we travel the compass rose, “Focus” sits solidly in the South. Focus, however, is not an end game or primary goal for outdoor educators. It is an important trait toward finishing long term projects or valuing hard earned skills. Our mantra here is “Focus, finish, breath”. This may mean stepping away from a project once your focus wanes, but only to be fully present once you bring your attention back on line. Kids do this naturally, and are too often punished for it in places that emphasize control, conformity, and a uniform product. In the out of doors, these same kids tend to flourish. Focus can be cultivated, developed, even embraced. Remember, it takes time, perseverance, and FOCUS! Focus, finish, breath.