Teaching 10 Essentials to Kids

2:47 p.m. on April 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Hey there! I am planning on doing a Leave No Trace session at our summer camp. I also thought about doing a session on the 10 essentials for backpacking/hiking, but was wondering how to tailor that to 5-10 year olds. Anyone have some ideas? Or is it really worth it?


3:25 p.m. on April 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Definitely worth it for the 10s, but the 5s have attention span limitations (well, so do today's kids up into their 20s, thanks to TV and the 30 second commercials).

Been a while since I have worked with that age group, but one thing that helps is a lot of hands-on, and lots of short, to the point demos. Of course, this thread runs the risk of yet another long string of "what do you mean, 10 Essentials?" and whether 10 Essentials in the traditional form would really mean anything to the kids. Do you want them carrying matches at 5 years, or (remembering my past) even worse at 10 years? Since way too many parents these days are overprotective about sharp things, is this going to be their first acquaintance with knives (better consult the parents, since some will scream terror if little Judy or Johnny gets a knife in her/his hands).

You might want to restrict it to just part of the canonical 10 essentials - extra water, extra food, warm jacket, rain gear, flashlight will be meaningful, but compass and map might not be (though we do involve kids in orienteering with a map at 5 and 6). A first aid kit (very basic and simple) might be menaingful for 10 year olds, but probably not for 5s.

What maturity will these kids have? Kids today (especially urban kids) tend to be pretty immature when it comes to the woods (but pretty sophisticated about "street smarts"). How much supervision will they have for going into the woods - will they be like me and get pretty much turned loose at 6 or 8 years old into the desert or woods (I grew up in the middle of the Arizona desert), or will they be accompanied by adults at all times with tight supervision?

The LNT principles are something that I firmly believe should be inculcated from the very start, and can be made very meaningful to really young kids. The parts about respect for others, respect for wildlife, leaving what you find, are easy to make relevant. They will learn the part about campfires best by demonstration and example of the adults. Planning ahead and preparing, well, dunno about 5 year olds, though you can get them enthused by involving them in the preparations for a hike or overnight. Here, what I am saying is the question of depth, not whether teach "plan and prepare". Again, it is involvement, hands on, visual examples that they do themselves.

And many many thanks for doing this sort of thing with the kids. The world needs a lot more of this in teaching kids everywhere.

8:16 p.m. on April 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Well combining LNT with the ten essentials is a little of a paradox. The ten essentials are the base lines for a survival kit, and fit into a scenario closely assosciated with a life and death struggle. Being "eco-friendly" is not much of an option in such a case, you have more important things to worry about at such time. As for the LNT, practice it in every class possible, not just one session, teaching the kids at a young age and implanting it into their way of life is a great practice.

For actually teaching the kids, keep them constantly engaged. The LNT class would be great to teach in an area that has high litter levels. And then possibly take them to an area where there is nearly no litter and share the ten essentials. Keep the full list and not just a kid friendly version. Of course don't give the kids knives, or other sharp implements, but definitely show the kids that you have a knife in your ten essentials. Dramatic progression with kids is a must - imagintation and spontinaity are highly recommended ingredients. As for combining the two classes, you decide, but I'd recommend maybe just teaching two classes if possible instead of a hybrid.

Tell us how this works out. As an Outdoor Ed. instructor, I'm always looking for new ideas.

12:33 p.m. on May 1, 2009 (EDT)
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If I might add another consideration to the list, it would be this:

Don't try to do too much.

Often, because of limited opportunity and too much of a sense of many that "we just need to go over it, they'll get it, they're bright kids", instructors try to cram too much information and experience into a short time.

I certainly applaud efforts to teach young people both of the topics you mention--but for 5-10 year-olds, it's just as important that they become familiar and comfortable with the environment itself. It's in this exploration period that LNT principles can be introduced, demonstrated, and reinforced.

After they've begun to develop a sense of the outdoors and what comes with being "in" the outdoors, teaching about the Ten Essentials, or similar education or training, becomes much easier, because it fits into a context with which they've got some familiarity. Kids at these ages don't often or well think in abstract form, so experience becomes crucial.

I shan't delve into the topic of knives and such, except to say that there's a world of difference between a five-year-old and a ten-year-old, and between one specific ten-year-old and the next. But a quick word about map and compass learning. Kids love maps. And maps of areas they can explore are even better. Add a "treasure", and they're dang near in heaven. They're also fascinated by compasses--well, what thinking person isn't? Simple instruction in orienting a map to the surroundings using a compass and reinforcing it with available landmarks can be like giving them a key to the world. We shouldn't expect to produce world-class orienteers out of 'em in an hour or two, but beginning with the very basics itself is a wonderful thing.

1:14 p.m. on May 1, 2009 (EDT)
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... Kids at these ages don't often or well think in abstract form, so experience becomes crucial.

To paraphrase a bit from Piaget (a Swiss developmental psychologist who spent a lifetime studying how kids develop and learn), in the 5-10 yo range you mention, kids are in the "concrete" phase of learning. At 5, they are just entering it, and at 10 they are in the middle. Very few 10-year olds have even begun to develop abstract reasoning (there are exceptions, but they are considered prodigies). So you have to be very concrete in your examples. Hands-on, the immediate environment, and short time-span.

I have found with younger kids that a reward for the trash they pick up helps with LNT concepts, along with pointing out something that "belongs there", hence should be left ("that pine cone will be the food for ..." or "that pretty rock is the shelter for a beetle" or "That pretty flower is how plants have their families, so we don't want to pick it" - wording to vary with the ages). Note that this provides a concrete action on a concrete item.

Another thing is the number of concepts kids can grasp at once. 5 year olds are pretty much limited to 1 or 2 concrete ideas that they can think about in a few minutes, where 10 year olds can handle more like 3 or 4 (adults supposedly can deal with 7, which is why phone numbers are 7 digits typically - but some adults seem to be limited to just 1).

Ok, I wandered off into abstract cognitive theory. Sorry about that!

11:21 a.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Thank you all so much for your thoughts! I am also teaching 11-14 year olds on these subjects (on different, but consecutive days). So even your thoughts on the younger crowd reminded me a bit on what to do and what not to do with the older crowd. Thanks again!

July 27, 2017
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