The Importance of Learning Alongside Your Child
by Jonathan Sherburne
There is no replacing quality time spent with your child, but it can be difficult to find the right avenues to explore as they get older. Learning a new skill together builds trust and a sense of equality that is important in the teenage years--and archery is the perfect skill to learn.
In the sloping woods of Rhinoceros Creek, the rhythmic hum of arrows cutting through the air and the joyous laughter of families can be heard most weekends. It’s a different sort of thing to see on an afternoon walk, a group of people tucked just off the path, the shunk of arrowheads hitting targets as they talk about life, happenings in the Hudson Valley and whatever else they come across in conversation. Some of them show up tired, some of the kids don’t want to get out of the car. But by the time class is over, they’re all smiling. They feel a sense of accomplishment. And the best part is, they did it together.
Archery is a unique skill to learn. It requires mental focus, physical awareness, and dedication to the fact that you will miss the target a lot while you get your feet wet. Still, it’s been around for longer than most things we interact with, and its history is as interesting as its practice.
As I sat down to write this, I had to ask myself: why archery?
I’ve been photographing the Rewilding School for a year, and the program has a completely unique approach to other programs I’ve seen within and outside of it. This is due mostly to the fact that it is based around the building of a skill, a particular goal that everyone there is working towards; that has a power of its own. Whether I’m watching the family classes or the child-only ones, everyone is focused on hitting the targets and working to better themselves. A mother draws her bow with two kids at her flank, watching her concentrate and learn. A young man furrows his brow in frustration as his arrow sails by the mark he was trying to hit while his father does the exact same thing the next time he comes up to shoot. I watch people working both singularly and collectively at this one goal, and it’s exciting. When someone hits their first bullseye of the day, everyone congratulates them and you can feel that moment of recognition. It’s impossible to not find a strong sense of community, a sense that feels increasingly rare and special as of late.
Drawing a bow and firing an arrow correctly is a lot like yoga. It demands steady hands, controlled breath, and a focus on one’s goal. Feet are firmly planted, spines are aligned, and when the arrow finally flies forward, you can’t flinch . It’s pretty difficult to hit anything if you’re stressed, worried, or nervous. And while that can seem daunting, it’s actually really important. Throughout the class, people get better at hitting the targets. Some of that comes from figuring out the mechanics of the bow and arrow, but a lot of it has to do with sinking into the skill and leaving the outside world behind. Clearing extra thoughts out and living in the present moment makes you a better archer, a better student, and a more connected family. It also translates into skills outside of the archery range.
The child classes are important because they get kids out of their comfort zones and around different people than they’re used to seeing. Gary, our archery coach, doesn’t just try and teach the fundamentals of the bow; he brings his personal experiences and energies to the class every minute. Between volleys of arrows, he’ll recount a story about the history of the sport or how different cultures strung their bows differently–but he’ll also move into territory of self-love, awareness, respect for the outdoors, and the importance of friendship. He uses the time as an opportunity to connect with the kids and give them some wisdom. If it takes a village to raise a child right, Gary is a great voice to have in your corner.
Despite the importance of the child classes, I love the family ones even more. They’re unique, because it’s one of the only programs in our area where you’re not simply dropping off your child and picking them up. With this class, you get to be a part of the action. It’s a great experience because not only will you build a new skill, you’ll also have the opportunity to show your child that you, too, are still learning every day. The parents that show up and shoot with their kids are always excited to be there. It’s nice because it’s an escape for them, too. They get to leave behind the chores and the stress and work and just go out in the woods and enjoy themselves.
Max and Mason have spent every season of the last two years coming to our Archery program. When asked about the reason he kept signing himself and his son up, he said “It’s a time we look forward to every week to take a little breather from the other stuff we have going on. There’s a peacefulness out here that you can’t get anywhere else.” He spent the rest of the hour talking with his son, taking turns shooting and building a relationship with archery and each other.
After the program, I asked his son the same question. He told me that “It’s [been] amazing. We started going in the middle of the pandemic and it was a great way to get outside, do some exercise. Before that we never did anything like that, but this is a nice activity because we love it and it’s a great way to be with a lot of people. It’s really fun.”
As I watched a father and son draw bows side by side, the true benefit of the program became obvious. It’s not about building strength or expanding a skillset; it’s about creating a bond that moves past the traditional roles that kids experience so much of the time.
Our children are faced with harder challenges, as they get older. Many of them are faced alone. Especially in those early teen years, it can be so difficult to talk to a parent about the stressful or embarrassing things that they aren’t sure how to approach. Creating pathways that help minimize that feeling are one of the key challenges that most parents face and this program is one small way to help bridge the communication gap between kids and their adults.
In watching Max and Mason, I noticed that the boy was actually a better shot. He had been coming for longer and he was showing his dad how to shoot, helping correct his father’s form. That is not an opportunity most kids experience, and it seems that the moment was not lost on Dad. Not only will the kids see their parents as real people and not just parents; it also lets them feel like they have agency and something important to give to others. It was powerful to see, and from what Gary says, it's a common sight on this range.
The Rewilding School has been teaching classes throughout Westchester since 2017, and our goals have remained the same. We want to bring people outdoors and teach them to love the woods. We do this because we want Westchester and the Hudson Valley to remain forested and for those forests to maintain all sorts of creatures and ecosystems. We are a part of that ecosystem. Bringing families out there and watching them learn and grow together is a privilege, and one we are happy to share season after season.
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