I realized a long time ago that I don’t get to pick and choose what lessons my kids learn from me or any other mentor that comes into their lives. We can’t possibly know what bits of information or underlying messages capture their minds and stick there or which ones will go in one ear and out the other. This is why unschoolers often say that it isn’t possible to teach, only to learn.

That being said, there are still some lessons which I wish to impart on my children. Whether they retain anything or how they interpret those lessons is up to them I suppose.

If I’m throwing out standard curriculum along with reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic (trust me, they’ll get those along the way), what should I focus on? What lessons do I think will actually help them in their future? Maybe a better question might be what lessons were lacking from my childhood that I had to learn later on? What lessons do I think that many adults missed out on?

When I started to understand our “connectedness” to the Earth, our place as being tangled in this web of life and existence, I often questioned what role I played in all of it. Western culture teaches me that we are takers, manipulators, controllers – but that role leads only to destruction. I teaches that we are the top of the ladder rather than integrated in the middle as part of life. Traditional indigenous cultures, on the other hand, teach that we are caretakers with a responsibility to maintain balance and help facilitate rather than control, that we should honour the land, that it is sacred.

This is what I wish to teach them.

Alas, how do I do this when I have no stories, no culture, no practice, and barely any knowledge on what it means to be a caretaker of the land and for those who live on it? Native culture is rich in stories and traditions that pass on the knowledge of how to be caretakers from generation to generation – a culture that settlers have tried to assimilate and erase for centuries. How do I, as the descendant a white colonial settler, learn this knowledge so I can put it into practice and then share it with my children?

I was out with my dogs on the trail the other day when I had a moment of understanding: if I want to care for this land, I need to know her. I need to know her inhabitants, native and invasive, her creatures, her weather, the way she moves and grows through cycles and seasons. How can you possibly hope to care and nurture something that you don’t understand? While I have a rudimentary understanding of ecosystems, ecology, and the wildlife that surrounds me, there is so much that I don’t know about how different species interact to create the natural biodiveristy that is required to ensure resilient systems.

So now I’m feeling committed to learn more about my local ecosystems and ecology. I’m seeking out ways to learn local traditional ecological knowledge. I need to learn more about how to live in harmony with this land and non-human kin so that I can share this knowledge with my children. It is more than just getting outside. It is actively pursuing this knowledge through mentorship. It is learning from community so that I can better protect and care for the world around me.