Let’s face it, today’s homeschool family is faced with tremendous pressure to involve their children in everything from soccer, to art, to basketball, to gymnastics, to every other conceivable type of extra-curricular activity that we can dream up. And, while those activities are not necessarily unwholesome in their basic state, they do tend to undermine the basic tenant of why most people homeschool to begin with, which is to be THE guiding influence in their children’s lives as they seek to impart their beliefs into the nurture and upbringing of their children. Almost everyone of the extra-curricular activities that are offered out there are by their nature exclusive of at least one or more of the members of your family, which means that while one member might be getting the learning and physical experience that is desired, at least some, if not all, of the other members of the family are forced to spend their time in a waiting mode for the completion of whatever activity is taking place. That’s when the vicious cycle can begin as parents become chauffeurs for their children, moving them from one place to another, while trying to coordinate the rest of the family’s lives with conflicting other arrangements. The end result of all of this is usually exhaustion, frustration, disappointment, and a general disruption of what should be a day spent learning, growing, and edifying one another as a family. Too much time is usually spent developing one person while precious opportunities to grow together as a family are missed. When faced with this growing dilemma, most people just shrug their shoulders and say “what else is there to do?” Fortunately for all of us, there is at least one solid answer to this question. There at least one activity out there that cannot only be physically challenging, and requires mental skills, but it is also inclusive of the whole family. That activity is the sport called Orienteering.
Orienteering originated in Scandanavia around the beginning of the 20th century. It was originally conducted on skis, but was soon adapted to foot, which is the most common, and popular method of conducting the sport. Orienteering was brought to the United States in 1946, by Bjorn Kjellstrom, one of the great Swedish pioneers of the sport. Orienteering, as it is practiced today, is a competitive for of land navigation suitable for all ages and degrees of fitness and skill. It provides the suspense and excitement of a treasure hunt, with the mental challenge of determining solutions to problems and computing mathematical equations, and the physical exercise found in many aerobic type sports. It is more demanding than running a race, not only because of terrain, but because the orienteer must constantly concentrate, make decisions, and keep track of the distance covered Orienteering challenges both the mind and body; however, the competitor’s ability to think under pressure and make wise decisions is more important than speed or endurance.
The standard type of food orienteering is point-to-point orienteering. A course of controls (checkpoints) is laid out in a specific order. Course lengths vary from a few kilometers (1-2 miles) for beginners, up to 10-15 kilometers for experts. Beginners courses usually follow existing trails, whereas expert courses are set-up cross country with very detailed navigation challenges. A variation on the basic point-to-point orienteering course is to conduct score orienteering, in which the competitors have a fixed amount of time to find as many controls as possible, in any order. There are also some long-distance orienteering events, and short “sprint” events. Long distance events are commonly called ROGAINE events, which originally started in Australia. This is a score orienteering event in which teams of two, or more, navigate over extremely long distances, and rough terrain for period of 12-24 hours. Teams eat and sleep on the clock, and are graded by the amount of points brought back.
The best thing about orienteering is the fact that your involvement in the sport can be as simple as you taking your family to a local orienteering course at a park on a sunny day (or even setting up your own), to participating in local, regional, or even international competitions. Orienteering is a sport that allows everyone from the most inexperienced youth, to the veteran competitor to interact together in the same sport, something that is almost unheard of in other types of outdoor activities. In my following articles I will detail the benefits that can be derived from Orienteering, how it can be incorporated into a homeschool program, and sample Orienteering projects.