How Archery Brings Families and Nature Together

an age-old sport has never seemed more timely
archery close up
© CanStock Photo

It’s an unfortunate truth we all realize at one point or another: we are continually being divorced from experiencing nature. Modern life has a wide range of incredible benefits, from dazzling mass media, to lightning-fast connections with the global online community, to the cozy in-home comforts that we enjoy every single day. Nevertheless, these all come at a price, as these amenities separate us from nature in ways that previous generations never experienced. In many ways, these and other technological advances seem to push us back indoors, further and further away from the very environment we evolved to embrace.

In this essay we'll look at a novel, yet age-old, way to get kids outside and engaged in the natural environment around them: archery. We'll describe how archery can be an incredible opportunity for family bonding, gets kids excited about the natural environment surrounding them, and can even be a boon to your mental health!

Let's start at the beginning.

Kids and Field Archery: A Natural Fit

teenage girl aiming field archery
© CanStock Photo

There are many different styles of archery, from indoor competitions using traditional bows, to "flight" archery with targets are hundreds of meters away, to skiing archery, where contestants trudge cross-country and shoot at targets around a circuit. Each has plenty of enthusiasts.

The type of archery that's best for getting children outside is usually referred to as field archery. It's a naturalist's delight, with archers moving through wooded terrain and shooting at targets set up at varying distances and elevations. Imagine a golf course, only smaller and wooded, and with participants sporting bows rather than clubs, and you've got the idea.

A typical field archery course has 48 targets, and archers shoot from odd angles, in varying conditions—sometimes windy, sometimes not, sometimes shady, sometimes not —and travel over hill and dale over the course of an hour or two.

woman with recurve bow
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There are two reasons that make field archery a great vehicle for family bonding and teachable moments out-of-doors:

  1. Kids are almost always curious about archery. Archery has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years, and with blockbuster films depicting heroic archers (think Hawkeye in The Avengers, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games movies, or Merida in Disney's Brave), it's on kids’ radar. Even more, there is their innate sense of archery as a "grown-up" activity. Kids seem to intuitively understand that bows and arrows are weapons, and therefore things they shouldn’t be allowed to use, but that they're OK to use if adults are watching them.
  2. Field archery thrusts kids into an environment teeming with flora and fauna. They'll be learning about the majesty of nature around them, even before they realize it (more on this in a moment).

Luckily, there plenty of field archery courses in Canada, from St. John's, Newfoundland to Vancouver, British Columbia, and you can learn about them all at the Archery Canada website.

Using Archery to Learn About the Environment

field archery path
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Are you starting to get curious about archery as an activity? Wonderful! Here are some tips to get your children giddy about the natural environment.

Slow down and observe

As you move from target to target, use the walk between to point out local flora and fauna. Earlier, we mentioned how field archery is a bit like golf—and that's true in terms of the activity. But field archery is actually unlike golf when it comes to sustaining the natural environment, because field archery courses are usually designed to enhance the habitat around it, making it a welcome environment for animals of kinds, from collared pikas to Eastern cottontails,to fox squirrels to marmots. And that's to say nothing of the insects you may see.

And, it should be noted, that it helps a great deal if you yourself know about local flora and fauna! If you don't know what you'll run into, do a quick brush-up to the plants and animals you'll find in the environment.

Zoom in

It sometimes seems like modern hiking has an obsession with movement—charging forth with backpacks, hoofing it over mountaintops, and covering as much ground as possible. We're always interested in seeing magical views, and then covering more ground to see more. That instinct gets embedded in us from a very young age. Try taking the opposite approach, and go from a "macro" outlook to a "micro" outlook. While breath-taking vistas can be spellbinding, any square meter of the forest floor is filled with bugs and grubs and seeds and spores—and that's fascinating to kids, too. After all, our little ones are a lot closer to the ground than we are! Make an effort to pay attention as you're going from target to target: your kids will appreciate it.

Use all five senses

We're usually so focused on sight—and archery is a sport that relies heavily on sight—that we forget to consider our other senses. Use your nose to smell different leaves and shrubs and even the soil itself, listen to the wind in the leaves, or (if you really know what you're doing, and *only* if you know what you're doing), taste local berries and mushrooms. If you've ever seen a little one re-orient their focus to a sense, it can be wonderful to see. They often seem spellbound at the chance to experience the environment in a new way!

Get off the beaten path

trees changing colors
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Remember that archery is just the framework for getting your kids outside. If you find something noteworthy, forget the targets, and refocus on your child's point of interest. If your little one finds something that captures their eye, break your momentum and stay with it.

Also, don't be afraid to follow their lead. That can be difficult, especially if you've researched certain plants or flowers you know you'll see. But allowing your kids to command the pace allows them to follow their interests and find elements of nature they truly find magical.

Ever-present changes

One of the joys of nature is that it is constantly changing, and the same environment can look dramatically different between visits. Flowers grow, berries ripen, and the color of leaves will change. That ever-present change can be an incredible opportunity for guided learning about the seasons, the life cycle, and the development of plants and trees. Kids find it fascinating that nature has a life of its own that goes on while they're not watching!

But there's another great reason to note how the environment changes: it gets kids excited to revisit the outdoors. After a trip, questions such as "What do you think happened to the asters we saw?," "Do you think the mound of chestnuts will be there when we return?" or "Do you think the snow will be there when we return?" inspire kids' curiosity about the natural events that occur in their absence. Children have remarkable memories for their natural environments, and asking questions can be a great way to get them excited to revisit familiar outdoor locations. Plus, it can be a great opportunity to find the answers to those questions!

parent and child archery
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Remember that they're watching

As a parent, you're the star of a reality show that your child is constantly watching. All the best-intentioned lessons about nature will fall on deaf ears if you, yourself, are not also paying attention. When you speak with wonder about the environment at your archery course, your child eventually will, too.

Make your own archery course

There are some great field archery courses out there, but they may be far from where you live. If that's the case, don't be afraid to make your own! A backyard field archery course can be an incredible opportunity to introduce your children to the flora and fauna around your very house.

archery targets distance
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It's easier than ever

Parents are often dismayed at the prospect of getting their kids into archery, but luckily, it's a lot easier than it used to be. Youth bows are mostly sized for age, rather than height (which is not the case with bows for adults!), and many of them are adjustable, so your child can use it throughout their growth spurts. Wouldn't it be nice if sneakers were like that?

Youth bows are also much more reliable than they used to be. You may remember trying archery as a kid and being frustrated at how difficult it was, but bows designed for children have come a long way in recent years. They make it very easy for children to use them accurately—and more importantly, SAFELY.

If you still need a little help, a trip to a local archery range can have your child sized for gear that fits them properly, along with a quick lesson in safety procedure.

Archery as Mindfulness and Meditation Practice

field archer at sunset
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We've talked about the benefits for children, but before we wrap up, there's one other aspect of archery we should mention: its potential to bring you, the parent, some peace of mind.

Our culture at large has learned about the incredible value of meditation, and it's almost difficult to remember that meditation used to be a "fringe" idea, which many misunderstood as some sort of religion. All that's changed in recent years, and people are well aware that meditation can decrease anxiety, lower blood pressure, and create feelings of stillness and joy.

What we haven't learned, however, is that meditation doesn't always need to take the form of sitting cross-legged with folded hands. In fact, there are plenty of meditation practices that are very active, and archery is chief among them: it's been practiced throughout history by cultures all over the world. The most well-known form of archery as meditation is Japanese "kyudo," or "kyujutsu," which translates as the "art of archery." It encapsulates all the mindfulness of meditation— letting unwanted or intrusive thoughts pass by, steadying your breathing, and focusing on the task at hand—as an integral part of the activity itself.

As is usually the case with any meditative practice, the first couple of minutes will feel like "business as usual," and it probably won't feel much different than a typical archery excursion. With time and focus, though, the result is the same as a meditation session: calmness, tranquility, and stillness. So if you plan to use field archery as a meditation, be sure to slow down and enjoy the natural environment around you!

Parents—especially parents of younger kids—learn pretty quickly that it can take some creativity to get little ones outside, and it makes sense to use whatever tools you have at your disposal. Archery is an age-old activity that children find fascinating and exciting, and it can be a great reason to get everyone outside and engaged with the great outdoors, time and time again.

Interested in learning more? Check out more EcoParent, including how to cultivate your child's inner naturalist, what makes orienteering a family-friendly nature activity, and the value of non-competition in children's sports.