This spring, 8th grade students in the “Avenues Adventure School” Minimester course had an opportunity to experience some of the ways that New Yorkers can get out and explore our natural environment. They also learned skills such as developing greater awareness of and connection with nature, building a shelter using materials found in nature, making fire with friction and finding food off of the landscape.
Students began the course considering the following question: Why do we go outside? They discussed their own experiences in nature, the benefits of those experiences, and examined the drawbacks of living in a city and the need to find solace in nature. Students read and discussed Jon Krakauer’s article, published in Outside Magazine, entitled “Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost His Way in the Wild” and debated McCandless’s choices and his reasons for attempting to escape from society into the wilderness.
Students spent several days in Central Park, learning survival skills from expert Zach Fisher, founder of the organization Earth Living Skills. By playing various games in which they had to use their peripheral vision and to listen closely while blindfolded, they learned how to become more aware of and connected to their surroundings. Zach showed them plants that they could use for both medicinal reasons and for sustenance should the need arise. In addition, he taught the students how to build sturdy shelters out of branches and leaves, and they had an opportunity to work in teams in a competitive shelter building competition. On one rainy day, students were happy to be able to climb into their shelters for protection from the elements! On the final day of the course, Zach showed the group how to build fire with friction, and, with some hard work and perseverance, they succeeded. There were plenty of yelps as they saw the first signs of smoke appeared and excitement as the smoke turned into small flames.
In addition to their time in Central Park, students had the chance to go to a rock-climbing gym to test their endurance and build their strength. While some were experienced climbers and others were novices, all discovered that climbing reduced their stress and focused their minds.
Overall, this course was a remarkable experience for the students. Not only did they learn important survival skills, but they also became more self-reliant along the way. They discovered that the natural world around them can provide them with important resources and can be a source of peace and escape from their busy, noisy city lives.
- 8th Grade
- Middle Grades Program