Deep nature connection in the modern world: Coyote Mentoring

By Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator Kirsten Dallimore

There are two worlds: the modern world of science and technology, and the ancient world where we use our wild instincts to survive and understand what is happening around us. In our modern world, many of us have lost the deep nature connection our ancestors had. It’s time to ignite our wild instincts once again.

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv wrote about nature deficit disorder. Louv expresses concern about our quality of life in the modern world on all levels—emotional, spiritual, mental, physical, cultural, and ecological. We are starting to understand that nature is fundamental to our overall well-being—and so we should all be getting some daily Vitamin (N)ature.

Snow Bunting

Snow bunting

However, in our busy modern lives, it is difficult to fully understand that deep nature connection is more than just a walk in the forest. Although this is a start, a deep nature connection must take place over the long term. Deep nature connection is about how we humans connect to nature, to other people, and to ourselves.  It is about the knowledge and connection to place that is ingrained into a culture.

Deep nature connection is not on the radar for many of us because we don’t actively learn it from a young age. So how can we humans living in the modern world integrate a deep nature connection into our lives and our children’s lives through education?

Coyote mentoring is a unique educational approach that has been developed over the past 25 years by Jon Young at the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington State. It uses children’s passion and excitement for nature as a catalyst to actively engage them in their learning process. Deep nature connection through coyote mentoring is an approach I have started to incorporate into my nature teachings at Sierra Club BC.



Deep nature connection through coyote mentoring is full of storytelling and music. It follows a child’s passion, incites awareness, and follows a natural cycle. Experimentation and play encourage adventure and fun. Children stretch their curiosity to the edge of nature learning—and through this comes healing and empowerment.

When there is a bird or an animal in the forest, do you hear it? Do you see it? Or are you too distracted and disconnected by the modern world to even notice it? Do you know what is happening around you? Are we so disconnected in the modern world that we are missing out on the natural things that surround us in our lives?

Coyote mentoring calls on us to stretch our awareness and become trained to see what is happening all around us each time we are in nature. As a mentor, my role is to help train kids how to listen and observe nature. I provide them with the support they need to break from old habits and create a fresh awareness about nature.

As Jon Young explains, our ecological footprint tells us we can’t afford not to be aware of things that are happening around us in nature. It’s quite simple: if people don’t connect with nature, they won’t love it. If they don’t love it, then they likely won’t support conservation efforts. If we don’t have a population of people who care about the earth, then we don’t have the capacity to create change.

White Tailed Deer

White-tailed deer

Coyote mentoring is a journey of self-knowledge and a bond between humans and nature. We meet people where they are on their journey. When my students are afraid of experiencing something in nature, I do not push them. I wait until they are ready to explore. Kinship with the land must be established first—then first-hand experiences with the natural world will happen. People break out of their comfort zones and old habits and begin to have a fresh awareness.

Much happens below the surface through this type of mentoring. This is called the invisible school. The invisible school is a place where mentors pass on knowledge and provide a place for deep connection. It enables that connection to become ingrained into a culture to the point where people connect with nature without even thinking about it.

Deep nature connection was a feature of ancient societies for thousands of years. It can still take place in our modern world. I believe this journey is a very valuable one if we want to see a bright, healthy future in our modern world.

Recommended resources on deep nature connection:

Video: Jon Young Speaks About the Role of Deep Nature Connection in Culture Repair

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Evan McGown and Ellen Haas

Oak and Orca Forest School

Forest School Canada

Victoria Nature School

Fresh Air Learning

Soaring Eagle Nature School

Wilderness Awareness School

GreenHeart Education