I've been working with some teenagers and pre-teens this past week, which always brings a contrast from working with the little ones. Often it means, instead of dealing with over-enthusiasm and relentless energy, you deal with under-enthusiasm and lethargy. You know... the one word responses to questions... the dreaded shrug of the shoulders... the extraordinary effort required to squeeze any information from them, even if all you asked is, “What do you want for snack?”
The great thing about working with older kids though is that you can do more complex things with them. The not so great thing is the struggle to get them motivated sometimes... But this week a little friendly competition sparked their interest and we held a 'Survival Challenge'. We split up into two teams and the challenge involved making a rain-proof shelter.
Before starting the shelters, I briefly demonstrated how to create a tripod using three sticks and a rope to tie a tripod lashing, giving them the option to use the skill on their challenge should they wish. This was a skill I had learned on my Forest School training and I had found it very useful for creating a strong foundation for a shelter and a great means for becoming more familiar and confident with knots. (If you'd like to learn the tripod lashing here's a good site with step by step instructions!)
Neither of the teams even tried to make a tripod for their shelters, deciding to lean sticks up against trees instead. Nevertheless, I loved watching 14 year olds enthusiastically searching for the 'perfect' sticks for their shelter, eagerly discussing and experimenting with ways to make it all waterproof. I thought to myself, “Tripod lashings are just a skill for another day!” and enjoyed observing the incredible teamwork and dedication they all demonstrated for the challenge.
In order to test the shelters for waterproofness, we had originally planned for each team to get inside their own shelter and to pour water from a watering can over the top to see which team stayed the driest. This would have been perfect for a hot day, but of course, it ended up being a cold and rainy day and the kids were already pretty drenched by the time they had finished building their structures. So we placed pieces of dry cloth inside of the two shelters for 5 minutes instead. At the end of the 5 minutes we took the cloths out to see which one was the most dry and declared a winner!
We also talked about the different methods used by the two teams and whether there was anything they would do differently the next time. Despite being 'just a fun challenge', there were definitely some lessons learnt and knowledge gained from the experience, even if no-one learned how to tie a tripod lashing.... or so I thought....
A few days later when I was walking through the woods after most of the kids were gone, I noticed something lying on the ground. It was a handful of sticks all tied together at one end with string.
Was it someone's attempt to recreate a tripod lashing? Was the information I shared during the survival challenge actually absorbed, despite me thinking it had just been ignored? I nearly shrugged it off as just a coincidence until I discovered a second one, still in tripod form at a different location... and then a third one too! I guess the kids had taken something away from my tripod lashing demo after all. They'd just chosen to use the information when they had more time to play with the idea, rather than during the rush of a competition.
It reminded me of how learning isn't about instant results. Sometimes just planting a seed of information can make a difference, even if it doesn't seem to change anything right away. Sometimes that 'seed' might just poke it's head up through the soil a little while later when the environment, situation or opportunity is more favourable. And if you're patient and just wait, you can enjoy watching it grow...