Big Lessons for Little People – Great Plains Young Explorers Program

A childhood initiation into the African wild…

A long time ago, humans were on a great voyage, crossing countries and continents and ever-changing habitats: deserts, jungles, snowy peaks, savannahs, rivers… Life was our school, our work. The world, wherever we lay our head for the night, was our home. Boundaries were non-existent or were shifting. As we moved and altered and took over new tribes and clans and lands, there were different lessons that we learnt, survival skills we had to develop. This knowledge, these skills, got us to where we are today, to the modern world. As individuals, depending on where we’ve put down our roots, we may no longer need to know how to build a shelter, make fire and tools, purify water, or read and understand the weather, landscape and wild animals, because we have technologies that can do it for us. But these skills have something crucial to offer us even today.

In our Great Plains Young Explorers Program, little travellers can learn life-changing survival skills in Botswana: local Bayei essentials like animal tracking, crafting a traditional bow and arrow, cooking a meal over a fire made from sticks and dung. They can hop in the boat or canoe and cast a fishing rod while learning how the Bayei people live off the land in this part of the world.

In Kenya, they can learn how to bead traditional Maasai bracelets and necklaces with Maasai ladies at a nearby village while learning the cultural relevance of the beautiful artwork. They can hike the Chyulu Hills and track the land as the Maasai do and learn traditional Maasai livelihood techniques, from fire-starting, shelter-making, cooking and catching water to jumping high like the young Maasai in traditional ceremonies. They’ll find out the meaning behind this formidable jumping, the traditional dress and the celebration that accompanies both.

The importance of learning from nature

These ancient skills helped the people in these regions, from the Okavango Delta to the Maasai Mara and foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, to flourish for thousands of years. And they can help us in our own lives, at home or when we head out on adventures in the wilderness, on hikes, safaris and other explorations in nature.

Survival skills can prevent us from getting lost or help us if you do, they can comfort and protect us in natural disasters or accidents and help us to help others in need. They boost our confidence and self-esteem as we grow older and more independent in life. They prepare us to better handle any adversity that comes our way and enable us to ready our reflexes. They prepare us not merely for the wild, but the world in its infinite diversity and unpredictability.

For our little ones, these are essential lessons that can also teach them about life’s beauty.

About the natural environment and wildernesses that need protecting. They help kids to develop skills through lessons from masters of guiding and traditional leaders in tribes who live or have lived closely to the earth. People who understand the vital world of plants and animals, mountains and rivers. Learning about the behaviours and habits of animals makes us fear them less, as we learn how to and how not to approach them.

Survival skills and time out in the natural world is also fun! It engages us on a deeper level. We disconnect from technology for a moment and connect with the people who came before us and their wisdom, with the earth and its wisdom. Afterwards, life is never quite the same.

Survival skills taught in an exciting adventure like our Great Plains Young Explorers Programme are a rite of passage, an initiation for little ones growing in an ever-changing and confounding world. They offer a hand to hold, a rock to lean on, a pathway to guide children through life.

Childhood unplugged

Africa has always provided an essential wildness in ways so much more vast and pure than many of us can imagine. The Great Plains Young Explorers Program hopes not only to inspire little explorers with fun adventures, but to also teach them about conservation and give them a chance to learn about other communities and ways of life. There are so many other benefits nature endows to those who seek her out: better health, energy, curiosity, creativity, connection, concentration and problem solving and less stress, anxiety, depression and muscle tension. More kindness, patience, understanding, more meaning and purpose. The more time we spend unplugged in the wilderness, the lower our carbon footprint on the world too.

Bush babies in Botswana

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences.” – Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

At the Great Plains Conservation camps in Botswana, little ones step into a world of African bush legends, which they can hear all about during campfire chats with hot cocoa and marshmallows. They’ll play ellie dung soccer, go on a Survival Skills course, try tasty Papyrus root, get fancy with a water lily necklace, test their knowledge with Game Drive Bingo and become Conservation Ambassadors.

Our guides and staff are each trained by Botswana Government-approved trainers in a one-week children awareness programme tailored to Great Plains Conservation’s conservation principles. Communicating conservation principles to children is critical as they are our hope for the future of Africa’s wildlife and wilderness

Botswana is an ideal family safari destination as the private concessions and low guest numbers allow us extreme flexibility to exploring by foot, canoe and vehicle, day and night.

Activities to look forward to:

TAKE A ‘’WALK ON THE WILD SIDE’’: Learn local Bayei survival skills including animal tracking and how to make traditional bangles and rings from grass.
PLASTER CASTING TRACKS: It’s easy to miss Africa when back home, so these plaster casts of favourite animal tracks are a perfect memento to share with friends.
TOOLS & FIRE: Craft a traditional bow and arrow, and cook a meal over a fire made from sticks and dung.
CONSERVATION SAVVY: What is this word “poaching”? Why is it so bad and how can it be stopped?
GET GLAMOROUS: Just because we are in the bush, doesn’t mean we don’t have flair! Make jewellery from local beads, and share it with new friends.
ENJOY THE ‘’NIGHT LIFE’’: Look up, look down, there’s lots to see by moonlight. Bring a flashlight and see what happens to a scorpion at night!
ART ALL AROUND: Nature is full of resources for loads of art projects.
BUSH BREAKFAST WITH THE BIRDS: Test your bush cooking skills and make your folks breakfast over an open fire under the guidance of a bush chef!
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS: Link with the Cause an Uproar campaign, interacting with kids around the world on conservation issues.
GONE FISHING: Hop in the boat or canoe and let’s cast the rod while learning how the Bayei people live off the land here.
BINOCULARS: These handy devices take a bit of learning; our guides will share the tricks.

Little explorers in Botswana

A kid’s-eye-view of Kenya

At the Great Plains Conservation’s Kenyan camps, youngsters can learn the way of the warrior, from Maasai warriors, explore the land on bicycles, watch elephants and zebra at the hide with cookies and juice, stretch those travel legs on a bush walk, learn to make shelter, fire, bows and arrows from local materials and traditional jewellery with Maasai ladies, and cool off at the pool watching animals at the waterhole.

ol Donyo Lodge is the consummate family safari destination; hosting children aged 5 to 15 and modifying the level of activities according to age.

Activities to look forward to:

BIKE RIDE ON THE PLAINS: Safari Cycling! Cycle across the plains among animals such as giraffes, zebra and impala.
PAINTING: Picasso Painting! Paint on canvas and easel in ‘the hide’ with wildlife and Mt. Kilimanjaro as the inspiration.
MAASAI BEADING: Bush Beading! Bead traditional Maasai bracelets and necklaces with the Maasai ladies at the nearby village while learning the cultural relevance of the beautiful artwork.
KITE FLYING: Let’s go fly a kite! The plains in front of ol Donyo were meant for this fun activity.
ANIMAL TRACKING: Hiking the Chyulu Hills! The volcanic soil provides the perfect medium for tracking. Hike with a guide to discover what has been sniffing around.
BUSH SURVIVAL SKILLS COURSE: The Warrior Way! Living and thriving in the bush is no intuitive task for a city kid. Learn the Maasai’s traditional livelihood techniques, from fire starting, shelter making, cooking, catching water to making bows and arrows.

LIVING LIKE A WARRIOR: Putting survival skills to the test! After the in-depth training and completion of the Bush Survival Skills Course, try it all out including the opportunity to sleep-out in the bush, whether it be on top of the kopjes, at our tree house or in tents on the crater.
DANCE LIKE A WARRIOR: How high can you jump? Time to learn the impressive ceremonial traditions of the young Maasai. Discover the meaning behind their formidable jumping, the reason behind the traditional dress and the celebration that accompanies both.
SCHOOL FOR A DAY: Ever wondered what it might be like to attend school in Africa? Here’s a chance to visit with local kids, and even maybe a pick up soccer match.

A Quest of any kind is a heroic journey. It is a rite of passage that carries you to an inner place of silence and majesty and encourages you to live life more courageously and genuinely.” – Denise Linn

Join us for your own family’s heroic journey and discover more about the Great Plains Young Explorers Program here.