Monday, April 29, 2013

Every Kid Needs To Master The Bow & Arrow

Excellent example of how to prop a good shot!
Archery is probably not the best choice possible for very young kids, but middle schoolers generally have a just-right amount of maturity and body strength to master the archery range well. Learning to command the bow & arrow with confidence is a great outdoor activity that every child should learn and for good reason. To be a successful archer requires a good deal of patience and concentration, plus it is an excellent exercise in hand-eye coordination and all of these attributes will have a positive effect upon their time spent back in the classroom. It's also just plain cool knowing how to shoot well.

I had about an hour with each group today at Camp Raven Knob. Archery is not as simple as it looks and only the very attentive kids will get it right upon my first instruction and safety talk. But that's OK because with most of these kids it's their very first encounter with a bow and arrow.

Very proud of his shooting!
To shoot straight and to shoot well takes lot's of practice and even more patience. And of course, a good instructor that can point out mistakes and suggest improvements makes all the difference with easing that sometimes stressful  learning curve.  This is one sport where a child can improve their overall target shooting greatly in a short period of time if the instructor is on his toes.

Out of today's 85 students, there were about 5 who were good (...v-e-r-y good) from the first shot onward. Upon my inquisition,  most of these skilled shooters came from homes where their parents had already introduced them to archery because they were deer hunters. Those kids
Another picture for Mom!
could make these little compound camp bows work in overdrive, hitting the bulls-eye of the target with a resounding 'thud' and most of the time with the kind of power that would certainly take down a deer. They had a good stance, their elbows were always high, and their aim was right-on. They could have starred in the movie 'Hunger Games' and passed without a flinch. They were just plain good and their classmates admired their skill.

Standing beside those good shooters was one little fellow named Connor. He missed the target every time no matter how many pointers that I gave him, no matter how many times that I placed him in good stance. I was the most frustrated but Connor had a great attitude, always smiling, and vocalizing that he was going to hit that target with every next shot. He was one of the smaller kids and his arms just weren't the strongest but he kept at it with a smile. The struggle didn't
Excellent shooting stance!
faze him. During the last shooting rotation Connor managed to hit the red outlining of the bull's-eye and his classmates yelled out with a resounding cheer and clapping. Connor left the archery range feeling great!

Retrieving arrows and safely carrying with two hands.
Today I saw mostly a lot of rookie kids who had never shot a bow in their lives and had trouble learning the basics of skill, stance, and technique.  But I also saw them greatly improve their confidence in shooting as they continued practicing and asking good questions. Most of all they needed someone who could just be aware of their struggle to learn and to help them improve.  They needed someone who could remember their names and cheer for them to everyone when they hit the target. They needed someone to foster their patient accomplishment of a new skill, then to acknowledge it.  Hopefully I was that person for them today. I went home tired so maybe I was.

I'm sure that even Robin Hood himself would have been very proud of today's archery classes  because I sure was. I imagine that they'll have something swell to talk about with their teachers and classmates tomorrow at school and maybe their grades will improve too. After all that's what looking at the BIG picture in life is all about and mastering the skill of shooting a bow can play a big part in that picture.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Creek Stomp: Learning To Appreciate Creek Ecology

One of my favorite 'Learning For Life' classes to teach is the Creek Stomp, where middle schooler's learn to appreciate the building blocks of clean water. Spring is a great time to get kids outside into natures classroom where they can splash in the water, learn to gently uncover rocks & leaves, then dip their nets for the creepy crawlers that make their home in this watery world.

Yes, we call the class a creek stomp but it's important first to lay the framework for fostering a reverence for the delicate creek life before setting the kids loose to explore on their own. Therefore, about a 20 minute discussion is integral to forming that relationship with the  creek  and I try to use several props to maintain their swaying attention and for keeping the class interesting.
I might start out with some trivia questions to see what they already know and to make the experience participatory and hands-on from the very beginning. During last week's classes I showed them the skulls of a whitetail deer and a beaver then asked which of these animals depends on water for their very lives. Sort of a trick question because even though the beaver spends most of its time in the water, they both depend on the water for life, but a few of the kids always got the answer right.

Watersheds are also important to clean water so I use the 3,200 acre Camp Raven Knob as my prop. Here we are surrounded by mountains and own the entire watershed so the life of our lake for swimming, boating, and fishing is safe. I put my hands together with fists' to demonstrate how a watershed works, with my knuckles representing the surrounding mountains and my fingers the valleys below. I then ask them to tell me exactly where they think that the water flows when it rains in their immediate area and they get it right as they observe the contours of the wooded terrain.

The discussion continues with the ecology of the area surrounding the creek and the effects of   pollution. We talk about the uses of water and sometimes the discussion even leads to the Saura Indian tribe, the first people to live here in our valley many centuries ago which leads to other great discussions. Sometimes our talk becomes so interesting that I have to pinch myself to stop so that the kids can get into the water and practice what they've learned before our precious time is gone.

The group is paired into teams of two and they're assigned a small minnow net and a cup for collecting what they find. On shore I have three trays with a little creek water in them for the 0-1 legs,  2-4 legs, and for 6-8 legs. After a short demonstration about how to gently lift the rocks and leaves in the stream and how to move around gently with a reverence for the creatures living there, I then set them off on their own creek ramble to see what they can find.

 These kids are smart and not only quickly learn to respect the environment around them, but also begin to understand the origins of and the importance for clean water. Now they have a very powerful hands-on experience that their teachers can expand upon back in the classroom. In the Great Outdoors learning once again becomes 'real' again.