“What’s this?” A tiny finger was pointing to a bright red cup-like fungus.
“Look at this!” Another child had broken apart some ice from a stream and was holding up a large pane.
“A bone! I found a bone!” This child was running through the woods with a deer bone.
These were the sounds that accompanied us as we led four groups of third-graders on ‘wilderness survival’ treks last week. Our intent was to teach them the basics of wilderness survival and lost-proofing, along with how to build an emergency shelter. We were able to hold to task, but each group of kids created their own experience, wandering in different paths and finding new treasures and places to explore.
Kenton dressed in his leathers and went by his ‘woods name’ of Red Fox. Rebecca brought a backpack with extra hats and clothes in case any of the kids grew chill. Her woods name was Bat. Each of the children chose their own woods names, opting for such creative ones as Dire Wolf, Vole, Tiger Lily, and Southern Bog Lemming (is there such a creature?).
Although the intended arrangement was we adults as teachers and the children as students, it often doesn’t work like that in the woods. Kids’ sense of adventure and curiosity soon turns the dry lessons of adults into a romp through a wonderland of smells, tastes, and sights. Chipmunks are alternately watched or chased, golden birch (yellow birch) provides a minty snack, and paper birch reveals a white powder on its bark that is perfect for painting on cheeks and noses. Going out into the woods with kids is always a reminder that the world is full of mystery and wonder — it becomes dull or boring only if we lose that sense of exploration.
Thanks to all the kids who took us out on those woods adventures. You taught us a lot more than we taught you!