Most people I meet are pretty enthusiastic about our travels on the BNT. But I realise that not everyone agrees with essentially taking a child out into the bush for a year. Here are the three major points people raise when they question what we did, and why I think they are irrelevant.
1. She should be in school!
I can safely say that despite what many parents assume, 6 hours of the school day is not spent studiously poring over the books or learning valuable life lessons. Much of the day in mainstream schools is taken up with crowd control, moving between time fillers, or some fluffery that someone along the line has decided that it is imperative for children to learn. A worrying number of kids today come out of both primary school and secondary school feeling disengaged, disempowered, barely literate and struggling to work what were once considered basic maths sums. And I am sorry if this offends, but many of the lessons and activities in mainstream schools are a total insult to a child’s intelligence. As a teacher, I know this from first hand experience. And of course there are always exceptions and some great schools out there ( like ours!)
Okay, I’ll stop ranting now. But I really think a year away from the classroom, out learning real things in the real world isn’t gunna do a child any lasting harm.
1. It’s too dangerous to take a child on the trail- anything could happen out there!
Sure. But even getting out of bed can be dangerous. Tragic accidents and unforeseen events can and do happen anywhere and anytime. On the trail, we met a woman who had sadly lost her son to a freak accident in their own backyard. The truth is, we never know how many days we have left, so I reckon we should teach our children to live large while they can.
2. She needs her peer group!
Yeah, I reckon this one I’d pretty much agree with. Which is the main reason I’m taking a year rather than a more manageable two years to do the BNT. I can tell that Z is starting to hanker after a bit of good old 11-year-old gossip, and is looking forward to diving back into the social side of school. But I would like to think that a year away from it all, with plenty of time to ponder, dream and reflect on who she is and would like to be without being surrounded by the pressures and expectations of a peer group, will stand her in good stead for the tough teen years ahead.
In addition, I believe an extended trip on the BNT or indeed any long-distance trail can help a child to develop:
Problem solving skills
Every day, you are confronted with a unique challenge on the BNT. How to get around a gate? Put a fence up with nothing to attach it to? Repair a broken halter with minimal equipment? The BNT teaches you to think outside the box and call on your own creativity and resourcefulness.
On the BNT, Even if you are dead tired, and can’t go another step, you still have to keep going until you can find water and a suitable camp. Sometimes the BNT throws things at you that you think you can’t handle, until you realise that you can.
Developing an appreciation for the simple things in life like fresh air, clean water and green grass is easy on the trail.
A sense of responsibility- looking after others
When animals form part of your trail team, their needs always come first.
Basic Survival skills
The trail will not by any means equip your child to be the next Bear Grills, but it’ll teach them the basics- like how to find and purify water, prepare food, how to recognize important features in a landscape, and how to stay warm and dry.
It’s a long way to go, and the only way to get there is to keep going…
On the trail, we traveled on roads we would never dare to at home, tackled hills we thought were impossible, and traveled distances we never thought we would. Each time, we came through just fine in the end, giving us the confidence to try similar (and even more challenging) things in future.
Respect and reverence for the Earth
At uni, I remember one of my favourite lecturers saying, ” We can’t expect children to heal the earth’s wounds unless they first develop a love for it.” What better way than to hit the trail for a year?
Learning to deal with ‘boredom’ and being comfortable in their own company
These days, It seems that we crave constant stimulation- always wanting some new drama, toy or distraction. Some days on the trail can be pretty monotonous, where there is no one to talk to and only hours and hours of plodding separating you from the end of the day. Nothing for it but to zone out and enjoy some peace and quiet in your own company!