Our creative mentoring approach honors individuality, encourages self-sufficiency in learning, and awakens a kinship with nature. It trains youth to blend the awareness of a native tracker with the knowledge of a modern naturalist. Our curriculum draws on traditions from indigenous cultures world-wide, emphasizing nature as teacher, and offering skills development, ecological knowledge, and awareness practices that inspire and empower students to continue their learning adventure beyond the program and into the landscape of their lives.
Coyote Mentoring is the name given to our instructors’ creative mentoring approach. It is a distinctive and highly effective nature-based educational approach developed by Jon Young and Wilderness Awareness School. This model honors each child’s unique learning style and way of being in the world. It also strives to encourage and cultivate the natural gifts and true selves of each student. VWP is proud to be one of 50 schools world-wide offering this powerful approach to deep nature connection.
At the heart of Coyote Mentoring, is the conviction that, given the right opportunity, each child will instinctively seek a meaningful relationship with the natural world. One job of the instructors is to look for the magic of the moment, coax the child more deeply into the moment, and then let nature take over as teacher. Another task is to set up activities and opportunities that inspire the student to actively engage in the learning adventure.
Various practices and creative tools are utilized by our instructors to support both of these processes, including Core Routines, Invisible Teaching, the Art of Questioning, and Trickster/Transformer.
Core Routines are disciplines for learning nature that are routinely practiced to cultivate sensory awareness and a way of being in and with nature. Indigenous cultures worldwide make use of them, and they seem to be almost instinctual to humans. The respectful qualities inherent to these routines translate easily to perceptive ways of being with one another. There are numerous core routines utilized in our youth program including Sit Spot, Fox Walk, Owl Eyes, Thanksgiving, Story of the Day, Field Mapping and more.
Invisible teaching is the art of connecting with the child’s passions, and using those forms to carry the specific learning that the instructors wish to convey. Often, games are used to convey the core routines. For example, any games that convince a child to be still and silent in one place for a long (for them) period of time, such as hunting and sneaking games, helps build the capacity to be at one’s Sit Spot for progressively longer periods of time, with full sensory awareness. With games and other forms, an instructor passes on knowledge, and opens a line of wondering and thinking that is completely invisible to the child. The child doesn’t know he or she has learned anything, but by the end of the program they have developed capacities and learned a quantity of material in a way that has spoken individually to them.
Art of Questioning
The Art of Questioning is a teaching style that leads the student on a path of discovery. Starting with shared curiosity, the instructor offers a series of questions that serve to focus perceptions. For example: The instructor notices a child watching a robin. He might say, “I wonder why that bird is tipping its head to one side each time it takes a few steps? What do you think?” By musing over possibilities and further questions the instructor and child work together to interpret their observations. The Art of Questioning follows a trail that hones in on the areas where the child feels confident and knowledgeable, and moves outward to stretch perceptions, and works to create a ‘need to know’ in the child—a drive to find out more. The answers themselves are less important than the process of wondering, the array of ideas explored, and the comparisons and contrasts made.
The “Trickster” embodies surprise, mystery, and outrageous play. “Trickster” antics serve many purposes—to enter into the child’s world, to break one out of one’s assumptions, to capture imagination, and to redirect energy. “Trickster/Transformer” liveliness also serves to welcome children into full expressions of their own bold, mischievous, or mysterious selves—who they are as children in and of nature.
Within Coyote Mentoring, all of these practices—Core Routines, Invisible Teaching, the Art of Questioning, and Trickster/Transformer—interweave to form a ‘basket’ of intent, possibility, and a variety of teaching styles to engage with a child from as many directions as possible to create a satisfying, exciting, and deeply meaningful learning experience. Stories, Trickster antics, and other offerings from the instructor’s teaching may surprise a child into new levels of insight, or spark an interest in areas that the child had previously been closed to.
In all our interactions, we strive to begin with thanksgiving, to cultivate peace in ourselves, to appreciate what others share, and to communicate honestly and clearly. When we act through peace and appreciation, we can come together to make decisions with the strength of unity for the good of our community. In this way, we steward the earth and our children toward peace and well-being of body, mind, and spirit.
The Peacemaker Principles are a bundle of teachings about communication, conflict resolution, and creating powerful communities through unity. They were first brought to the Wilderness Awareness School (our “parent organization”) by Jake Swamp, former subchief of the Wolf Clan of the Haudenosaunee people, and are based on traditions of the Iroquois Confederacy, including their story of the Peacemaker and their Great Law of Peace.
These teachings have formed the basis for how we connect as an organization and with our students and parents. They shape our culture and guide our communications enabling us to “do business in a sacred way.” All staff and board members at VWP conduct themselves in accordance with the Peacemaker Principles. We invite our Parent and Volunteer Communities to practice these principles at VWP and beyond.
The idea of this principle is that external peace (the absence of conflict or tension) rises from internal peace within each and every member of the group. To the best of our ability, we come to a place of peace before communicating. We begin meetings with a version of the Thanksgiving Address so as to always begin with peace and good intentions in our interactions together. We enter discussions with compassion for ourselves and others, take ownership for our own part, and communicate needs and requests in a centered manner. When grounded in this peaceful state, all parties are able to bring their minds together in decisions that are truly for the common good.
We cannot have truly peaceful interactions with each other if inside ourselves we are caught up in personal agendas, distrustful, angry, agitated, or embroiled in conflict, that is to say, not at peace. If you are not feeling peaceful, this may involve “cooling off,” going to one’s Sit Spot, or excusing oneself from discussion temporarily. It may include getting some counsel with the intention to eventually take the issue to the person directly involved. Essentially, the idea is to be as free of agitation as possible and to have developed one’s perspective.
Appreciation, also known as Good Message.
This principle is based on the idea that everyone, and everything, has a wish to be appreciated. We come to discussions with awareness of and openness to all points of view, with compassion and “soft eyes” for the shortcomings we all have, and with appreciation for the gifts and good intentions of all individuals. They are very likely good people trying to do good things, who may have inadvertently crossed a boundary. Appreciation and kindness helps create receptivity for the message being communicated.
This is especially true during conflicts, where the principle reminds us that whatever communication we have is intended to appreciate and to improve our relationship with the person. It calls for the courage to speak disagreements or grievances honestly and openly with the intention of coming to a respectful mutual understanding.
Unity, also known as Power of Unity of Mind.
The idea of this principle is that real power comes from creating a group mind. This is sometimes expressed as “power from” or “power with” as opposed to “power over.” Unity of Mind means coming to an understanding — hearing others’ views, agreeing to a shared intention, and then choosing a course of action.
Coming to Unity of Mind on decisions that affect our VWP community is an ideal we strive toward. To the best of our abilities we seek transparency and inclusiveness in our deliberations, and invite members of our community to have a voice on issues that affect them. If you find yourself disagreeing with a decision made at Vashon Wilderness Program, the staff, Executive Director, and the Board of Directors, are committed to hearing your dissent with a peaceful and compassionate ear and working toward an understanding.
Condolences, also known as Tending Grief.
Every human being experiences grief. The loss of a loved one is a common cultural gateway to feeling this powerful emotion. Grief can also arise when we experience loss of connection to a part of ourselves, or to a way of life, that was once nourishing. Grief can occur when we empathize with another who may be disconnected from something or someone they hold dear.
When we tend to grief – by way of offering compassionate attention (or condolence) to oneself or another who may be in sorrow, we encourage our feelings of loss to move, and clear the way for a return of (or rise of new) feelings that are life-affirming. From this place we restore the feeling of pleasure in our lives, and can take in the world, feel healthy, and enjoy a sense of freedom and flow.
This principle reminds us to be responsible to our own learning, healing and growth in order to best serve the VWP community and co-create meaningful and successful relationships.