Skill building is an important part of making a dream happen. We olders know this and have worked this cycle a number of times: youngers are in the process of learning what it takes. They are learning how to commit to something, and then prepare to achieve it. I talk about this with my own grandchildren and recently had the privilege of working with 100+ eighth graders who are preparing for an end-of-the-school year camping trip that is a rite of passage between middle-school and high school.
This trip will represent the culmination of a year of studying Washington state history, earth science, and emotional and social communication. The 8thgraders in our local school district have participated in some adventure education-type rite of passage at the end of their school year for decades. My son Brian participated right after we moved here in 1994.
Anyone who works with public schools knows this kind of big goal requires huge preparation: on the part of administrators, teachers, parents, and the youth themselves. Each year there are new staff, new administrators, new budgetary concerns, and always new parents and students. Everyone needs to be “on board” to make this classroom beyond walls happen.
On this fall field day the students were divided into small groups and rotated through eight learning stations set up in a park adjacent to the school—everything from meal prep and cooking to tent skills to navigation to journaling and the “ten essentials” were being taught. It was the first step in involving the students in their own considerable year-long preparation. It was my great pleasure to teach the “ten essentials” learning station.
For me this is not just “one of those things you need to know”. It is, well, essential to safety on the trail. Whether I am doing a short hike in one of our local state parks or trekking a longer distance in the mountains, I always carry some version of these ten essentials:
- Navigation—Topographic maps, compass, and/or GPS
- Insulation– Jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell or poncho
- First Aid Supplies– Know how to use them! Bring insect repellent.
- Repair Kit and Tools– knife or multi-tool, duct tape, string, whistle
- Sun Protection– sunglasses, sunscreen, hat
- Illumination–headlamp, flashlight, batteries
- Fire–waterproof matches, butane lighter, and the ability to start a fire safely!
- Nutrition–extra food
- Hydration–2 liters/day minimum, water purification
- Emergency Shelter–space blanket
To make the learning station relevant, we started with a real-life scenario. One of their classmates volunteered to be the patient; four volunteered to be rescuers; and the other 5 or 6 volunteered to be observers. On an overcast 52 degrees F. day I had the patient lie down on a pad and curl up: he or she had one symptom—they were COLD. The observers made a large circle around the patient. The rescuers formed an inner circle and were told they had access to all of the things on the picnic table and should work to warm up their patient.
Amidst giggling and awkwardness, the rescuers demonstrated varying degrees of patient/rescuer communication and then proceeded to warm the patient up. In our debrief after the scenario some of the observers made good comments like: It’s really important to reassure the patient. Be sure to tuck the space blanket underneath so the wind can’t blow in.
Some of the rescuers genuinely showed leadership: I’ll stay with the patient. Would someone go get warm clothes. Let’s put the space blanket on top because it’s waterproof.
Later, as we examined each of the 10 Essentials in my pack, one of the students asked, “Why would you carry all of those things just hiking around one of our parks? Can’t you just call 911?” We had a good discussion about how many places on our island do not have cell phone coverage and then I shared a story about a recent hike where I had come upon a man who had fallen and was sitting beside the trail with a bloody knee. He had no first aid supplies and was not sure what to do. I explained how glad I was to have supplies along to be able to help.
After 8 station rotations and a good sack lunch (and one rain shower) we all gathered on the soccer field to form a circle. Students voluntarily took turns stepping into the circle to share one learning they had from their field day. Later there would be debriefs between organizers and teachers and volunteers. But it was a good first day of preparation outside the four walls of the classroom.
Eighth graders have a lot of energy. It was fun to work with them, to see their creativity, and to encourage the skills of being present and observant. I am a firm believer in the value of outdoor/nature education and will happily volunteer for their next field day.