Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hiking Skills for Cubs: Day Camp Day 4

Ever announced that you were going to be leading a group of kids on a hike and had your ears accosted with groans and whines and all manner of under-breath grumbles? Unfortunately for me, I have a few too many times. Although I have yet to figure out just where some kids have gotten this negative stigma to the word 'hike' (my own kids beg to go on hikes, so I just don't get it), I have found that children often can use the help of a motivator to make a walk through the woods something less of a chore.

So for my last day of the Cub Skills station at camp I came prepared to motivate the boys toward enjoying our 1 mile hike. First, I had pre-hiked the path and found a cool destination that could be used as the end of our trail. A spillway for the resivoir's dam with some neat climbing rocks on the bank of the river. Score! I also created a hiking bingo game for the boys to bring on the hike, which conveniently listed many trees and birds which they needed to be able to identify to earn the Hiking pin. How very sneaky of me to include requirements in something billed as a 'fun' activity!
Click image to download printable PDF.
But I had an even better secret weapon to get the boys excited about the hike. I brought with me many small tubs filled with various goodies and some small plastic baggies. Before each group sallied forth they got to make their very own trail mix to enjoy on the walk. You've never seen kids so excited to put scoops of pretzels, Goldfish and M&M's into a baggie before. I don't think I heard a single grumble or complaint about starting the hike since they had one hand in their snack mix and the other on their bingo sheet and pencil. Conveniently, the character trait the camp was focusing on that day happened to be posotive attitiude too, which I happily reminded the boys of before the hike and hinted that those exemplifying that trait might just walk back with an extra spirit token or two.

We happliy walked the rocky path, the boys excitedly checking things off their bingo sheets, including many things that apparently ONLY they could see. I tried not to mind the obvious cheating and told myself they were only trying to please me and themselves. When we reached the spillway and rocks, the expressions on their faces was priceless. There's something about kids and runnign water that makes them stare in awe. After a group picture and a short break to eat more trail mix and point out some nearby poison ivy, the hike back went just a smoothly and pleasently as the hike down. I'm not sure who was more proud of themselves, me or the boys. I also passed out information sheets for the Virginia State Parks Trail Quest program to those boys who were interested in getting the pin for that day's hike.

Five group hikes in one day, and no memorable complaints to speak of. In fact, every boy seemed to have a truly great time and was all smiles after leaving my station. If that's not a testament to how much kids can actually enjoy hiking then I don't know what else to do to help. Dare I say even the parent chaperones, one of which blatently had said he hated hiking, thouroughly enjoyed themselves on the walk. I truly hope that the week's activities and the culmination of the short hike will inspire more of those kids to get outside and walk some trails with their Dens and family members.

One of the groups at the "end" of the trail. Can you tell they had fun?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hiking Skills for Cubs: Day Camp Day 3

Day three of my experience leading a station at Cub Day Camp was the one that left me the most fearful, mainly due to the fact that I was treading in waters unknown, at least for me. In an effort to gain some 'cool' factor points with the kids and also help them to know that hiking isn't necessarily just a boring walk in the woods, I decided to create a mini geocaching hunt for the boys to experience on their own. Sounds like fun, huh? But truthfully, I had never actually geocached before. I had once borrowed a GPS unit and planned to go geocaching at a family camping trip we did over the summer, but my oldest ended up getting sick and we spent more time just sitting in camp than we had planned. So, even though I knew how it worked, I was deathly afraid that I'd forget a step or do somehow do something wrong. Even more frightening was the fact that some of the parent chaperones actually HAD been geocaching, and I didn't want to be 'called out' on a faux pas in front of the boys!

On day two I had taken some time during lunch break to hide my cache, complete with enough prizes for all. A friend, the same one that lent me her personal GPS earlier in the year for our unsuccessful trip, miraculously was able to come up with a whole SET of GPS units, six identical ones, and after reading the manual at least 5 times over, I took a few readings from where I had hidden my Cub Cache. Luckily they were all very close, so first hurdle seemed to be crossed. The night before the big day I took some time to program all the units with the secret cache's co-ordinates and make sure they all seemed to be working proplerly. Then it was off for a poor nights sleep of wondering what I was thinking to plan such an activity. Boys wandering lost through the woods for days did cross my poor, exhausted brain on more than one occasion.

The session on this third day began with an explanation of the Earth's magnetic poles and all the kids got to use a compass. They learned how to align it to north, then find directions and headings. Then the true fun began. I handed each of the adult chaperones a pre-programmed GPS unit and paired the boys off. Each adult took two (or sometimes three) boys out at a time to find the hidden cache. The remaining boys got to make their own compasses using a needle and magnet (a VERY cool project to show the Earth's magnatism) and also draw maps of their neighborhoods noting several locations near their homes. To my relief, the first groups came back beaming with their prizes - SILLY BANDS! The rest of the day went off without a hitch, and I'm happy to say that all the boys found the cache and no one was left wandering around the park that night.

Showing off their prizes after finding the cache!

Geocaching was probably the highlight of the Skills station for many of those boys. I'm so glad I went out on a limb and did the activity! Boys and treasure hunting go together like marshmallows and chocolate, its a natural pairing. My hope is that at least a few of the boys went home and told their parents what fun geocaching was and that they and their families will try it out on their own, searching for real caches and having a blast outside.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hiking Skills for Cubs: Day Camp Day 2

The second day of Cub Day Camp at my Cub Skills station was, in my opinion, a much more fun day than the first. How excited I was when, in reading over the Hiking pin award requirements, I saw the phrase "Learn trail signs." Wow, did the memories of my own dventures at Girl Scout camp come flooding back. I can vividly recall learning and making trails with only rocks and twigs, and setting up trails for my friends to follow to a hidden "treasure." If I could still remember that experience and several of the signs themselves, then surely it was worth passing on to the boys.

As I often do, I spent a rediculous amount of time researching my topic, trail signs, on the internet, but failed to come up with a sheet I could give the boys to learn and follow in creating their own trails. Perhaps I'm too much of a perfectionist, but it seems like this is almost always the outcome whenever I go searching for informative hand outs. So, as I often have done, I ended up making my own trail sign chart, complete with my own quick drawings of the signs. I think it turned out pretty decently, if I do say so myself!

Click image to download printable PDF

In my original planning, trail signs was all I had put on the schedule for day 2, however after seeing the limited space we had to work with and finding out just how L-O-N-G 45 minutes in the heat could be on the first day, I realized I would need something else to fill about 15-20 minutes more of the session. So was born my talk on common poisonous plants of Virginia. Again not finding what I wanted online, I made up my own small handout of the four "biggies" in our area: Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac, and Stinging Nettle. Of course, it figures that I gave this talk on day 2, after several kids already had to be sent home with the infmous itchy poision ivy rash.

Well, the boys each got a trail sign hand out and split into groups to create their own trails, complete with a hidden message of their choosing at the end. I was pleased that they seemed to really have fun making and following eachother's paths. Plus I got to sit down and take a break while they did all the 'work!' True to my hunch, there was about 15 minutes left to fill with my poison plant talk, so I gave them all the second handout and told them about the plant and where to find them. I then held up photos (taken off the internet) of various plants and asked them to try and identify them using the hand out. I even threw in some non-poisionous imposters to really test them out. Surprisingly, this part of the session seemed to really keep the boys engaged and was not nearly as dull to them as I had feared.

A trail sign for a giant to follow?

For my first time ever leading a real program with a large group, I seemed to be off to a pretty great start! Two days down, two to go!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hiking Skills for Cubs: Day Camp Day 1

Well, day camp is over. I would have loved to have had the time and energy to write these posts last week as each day ended, but who'd of thought teaching 100 kids all day in swealtering temperatures and humidity would be so exhausting? Plus I was up til midnight most nights working on last minute preparations and ideas. So, instead I'm going to make a post for each day, recalling the activities we did and how well the boys recieved them. It was an incredible experience and I learned a lot from it too, not just the boys!

Cub Camp Day 1:

I was pretty much given free rein on what to cover and do at my station, which was mystifyingly named "Cub Skills." At first I really struggled with ideas, becuase it seemed that tying knots and first aid were the only real skills I could think of, and those might end up quite boring for most of the kids. Luckily I asked a lot of questions and found some good ideas, and eventually decided to focus on hiking and Leave No Trace. They were things I know well and also would be simple and cost effective.

So on day one I had to cover some pretty dull material with the boys to start off the Hiking belt loop requirement. I had done this belt loop with some of the boys in our Pack already, so I wanted to make it a little different this time. Two of the three requirements are to learn the rules and guidelines of hiking and to learn what to bring and how to be properly prepared for a hike. Me standing in front of them and telling them those items would be a sure way to loose their interest FAST.

For the rules and guidelines, I asked THEM what they thought. I made sure to plant some ideas when they seemed to draw a blank. I also had a poster with the Leave No Trace front country guidelines, and I had them explain to me WHY we follow them. Still a little dry, but necessary and I could think of no other fast way to get that part over with.

The preparedness portion of the belt loop was more fun. I over packed two backpacks with items that they may or may not want to take on a hike. I had the group split into two teams around each pack. On my mark, they had to empty the packs and decide as a group what they would take with them on a theoretical hike. The tricky part was, they were all supposed to unnimously agree, which I hoped would reinforce one of the Scouting core values that the camp was focusing on that day: co operation. There were obvious things, like a bottle of water and a first aid kit, and less obvious things, like a bandana and a flashlight (we used a day hike example). I was happy that most groups picked the not-so-obvious things out, and very few groups took the filler-junk that I had placed in the packs. Even though it wasn't really a race or a true competition, they still seemed to enjoy the fun of the 'game.' After they were finished, I took items out of the packs one by one and we talked about why they were chosen.

The last part of the session was an activity aimed at reinforcing why we stay on the trail and practice Leave No Trace. I spread several large hul-hoops on the ground and had two boys per hoop. They were instructed to look closely and write down everything they could find within that hoop. I actually recall doing this activity when I was at camp as a Girl Scout many years ago, but it was not a Leave No Trace activity at the time. After they'd written down every little thing (they were given magnifying glasses to help look), we made a list of everything that was found in the hoops. An average of about 20 things came up on the group list. I then asked the boys how many steps across they thought the hoop was. One? Two? So all these things on this list are things you'd step on if you went one or two steps off the trail. There was everything from rocks and dead leaves to ants and moths and mushrooms. I think it really helped the boys realize that even on a seemly un-special patch of ground, important things still exist that must be protected. I encouraged them all to try and "be like Bigfoot" and leave no trace of their hiking.

I knew that day one would be the least interesting day to them, and I had hoped it wouldn't set the tone for the rest of the week as "Cub Skills is a BORING station." Luckily, all the groups seemed to at least be interested in what I had to teach them, if not super enthusiastic at least attentive. It was a good start and I was happy to have gotten through the 'boring' stuff in the least painful manner possible. The fun only got better the rest of the week!

Did you know you could fill four days with hiking activities, with only one of them being an actual hike? I could have even done more! Stay tuned for details on day two!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gearing Up for Cub Day Camp

Last week was one of my few down weeks of the summer. Of course, we did still have some things going on, including visiting the Boy Scout Jamboree, attending our Pack's bike rodeo, and driving to Washington DC to check out the touring BSA Adventure Base 100 and some of the history museums. Oh, and hubby and I drove to Hampton Roads for outdoor concert to celebrate our anniversary (a week early, I'll be busy with day camp on the actual date). So yeah, it was a "down" week.

In this lull I've finally had time to work on my plan for Cub Day Camp. I am in charge of the Cub Skills station and decided a while back to have the boys work on the Hiking belt loop and pin awards. First, because it is a pretty new award and therefore many may not have it. Second, because its a perfect achievement to do at camp. And third, because its CHEAP since almost all of the activities require nothing that you can't find in nature. Score!

So all this week I will be elbow deep in 7-10 year olds that probably could care less about the rules of hiking ettiquite. It will be quite a challenge to keep them interested and engaged, and quite a test of my own skills as a hopefull future Outdoor Educator. I am not afraid to say I have no idea what I'm doing or how I'll do it, but it will sure be fun to figure it out!

In preparation for some of the activities I've made up two handouts that the boys will get on different days. The first is a sheet of simple trail signs (which I drew myself after not being able to find one I liked on the internet for download). I recall vividly how much fun I had in Girl Scouts using trail signs to make trails at camp for my friends to follow. The second is a Bingo type game to play while on the last hike of the week. I used plants and animals that I knew would be available in this part of Virginia, but this idea could easily be adapted for other places as well. I know my own kids get quite excited to have to find things while on the trail, so I'm hoping this does the trick for others too. Feel free to use these for your own Scouting purposes! (click the images below to download printable copies for your own use!)

Click image above or download here. Free Adobe Acrobat Reader required.

Click image above or download here. Free Adobe Acrobat Reader required.

I'll let you know how these and other activities work out with the boys. Wish me luck in my first full-blown Outdoor Education endeavor!
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