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Camp Skills for Real Life

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by Chris Bridgewater, summer program staff 2010-2015

I have been teaching Outdoor Living Skills at Westminster for the last six years, teaching the campers how to safely build a fire, build a waterproof and windproof shelter and to navigate using a map and compass. These skills may not be necessary in our technology filled world but there is always something to be gained in learning them. My favorite skill to teach is fire building. The enthusiasm that the campers have towards building fires is inspiring, but they don’t just want to set fire to things, they want to understand how this powerful force works. Some could spend hours preparing the fire meticulously, one small stick at a time, before they are ready to light it. I teach them the three components that a fire needs to burn: heat, oxygen and fuel. This often becomes a mantra as they work together to set up those three components. When the time has finally come to light the fire, their anticipation seems ready to burst forth and light the fire itself! They gather around each other’s small experiments and watch as they are lit, one by one. The joy that they experience when their patience and preparation pays off and what built catches alight is incredible!Building a shelter is another fun skill to teach. The way that campers are able to focus their imagination and ingenuity to create something together is amazing! There is one shelter that sticks out in my mind as my favorite. Out near the camp craft cabin one team found two trees that were growing just the right distance from each other. They managed to wedge a large stick between the two so that it acted like the peak of a roof. They then lent a load of branches and sticks up against it and covered it in leaves. There was enough room for all of the kids to get in and sit down. It was decently waterproof! Every time that I come back to camp I check up on the shelter and make sure it is still standing. Four years later it is still out there in the Westminster forest standing strong!I love having campers return the next summer and demonstrate that they still remember what I taught them. These skills last. And not just the ability to prop sticks up against each other, but the ability to focus one’s energy and attention to create something new, working together in the process. It often takes the right environment to draw that out. At Westminster we have more than just a beautiful natural setting it but staff with the the commitment to teach and learn from campers every week of the summer. This summer all of our middle and high school campers will have the chance to practice their patience, focus and imagination in Outdoor Living Skills.

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