Outdoor Education: Is Paint Ball a Survival Skill?

Outdoor Education: Is Paint Ball a Survival Skill?
Photo Courtesy of Camp Manitoqua

Outdoor Education (also known as Outdoor Ed or ODE) is a milestone for tweens. It provides primarily for fifth and/or sixth graders a chance to make the "wilderness" their classroom for a few days.

Run through the school districts as a part of the fifth grade curriculum in Illinois, Outdoor Ed means that tweens put the books away for two days and venture to various camps an nature centers that offer, well, the great outdoors.  While activities vary by school district, Outdoor Ed often includes the study of such natural features as local geology, exploration of streams and ponds, and observation and prediction of weather. Some school districts, including in New Lenox and Des Plaines, say that Outdoor Ed is a chance to "learn outdoor survival skills."

My tween spent the first day of Outdoor Ed playing paint ball and doing a 40 foot climbing wall. Is paintball acumen considered an outdoor survival skill? I have visions of her saving herself by yelling, "Don't make me go all Jackson Pollock on you!" to some sort of predator, or maybe a dangerous plant which she has not yet learned how to identify.

The good news: My tween clarified that they did not shoot each other with the paint balls, but rather use them for target practice.
The bad news: She then  proceeded pulled four paint balls out of her pocket. I guess paint ball did teach survival skills because she figured out quickly that if she wanted to keep returning to this house for shelter, she'd best remove those paint balls. NOW.

She also had a session on fishing.  Perhaps that's a survival skill if you have no other food, but unlikely that you would have a pole and bait and no food. But I digress. My tween caught not one fish, but nonetheless she worked hard and achieved her objective: getting others to handle the worms and bait her hook for her. Twice. So fishing fail, but being able to ask for help and make use of the talents of others can also be survival skills, right? Right.

Another session consisted of tree climbing.  I got all excited when I heard that. I was less excited when I heard that it involved harnesses and helmets. I got excited again when she told me with great glee that she made it up "super high," stood on a limb and then was able to swing down pretending to be Tarzan.

Our school district also uses Outdoor Ed to work on team-building and trust-building activities. Is this one last hurrah of being one big happy group before they go to middle school and turn all Lord of the Flies on each other?

In the days of old (read: my middle school years), Outdoor Ed was an overnight experience.  In recent years, however, school districts have reconsidered that approach and for most have dropped the overnight component.  Our school district ended the overnights a few years ago and instead they do what they term a "late-over," meaning that the students do a 12 hour day at the "camp site" with dinner and a cookout, returning home in the evening. The second day follows the school schedule. When this was announced, people in the school district were up in arms. Me? I'm just thinking the chances of lice or bringing home other critters is less if she's in her own bed.  Awesome.

The list of items the kids need to bring, though, makes me wonder. I can only imagine that if she was sleeping over that our car would like she was off to college. I, for one, am thrilled that it is not an overnight trip.  A disposable camera? Is that related to survival skills, too? Do they even still make those? (Yes, they do, and it was packed in her backpack.)

But I'll be honest, I was still a little nervous to send her off to Outdoor Ed. She's not the most athletic, and she's not the most outdoorsy. Neither was I. My most vivid memory of Outdoor Ed was the session on pioneering when the teacher picked me to demonstrate how the pioneers thought smearing oatmeal on their face would fade their freckles. I ended up having to walk around with oatmeal on my face for the whole day. The oatmeal attracted flies and other residents of the outdoors that I didn't want crawling on my face. Overall it was fine, but I did not come home and announced, "It was awesome!" like my tween did. Her Outdoor Ed involved no oatmeal.  It did involve her trying a few new things and having a ton of fun.  Maybe she did learn survival skills.

Do you have memories of your Outdoor Ed experience? Do you think kids are deprived if it is not an overnight trip?


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