I’m writing from a bench at Singing Hills, where B.K. Gamble and I are teaching fifth graders from Seguin, Texas how to go geocaching at this week’s HEBFF Outdoor retreat. Like all of these kids, neither B.K. nor I had ever geocached before yesterday. That’s okay—sometimes being a teacher means sharing stuff you’ve just learned. B.K. and I are out here staying nimble.
After the kids learn a little about the Global Positioning System, we send them out to find caches—canisters hidden throughout the property that contain questions inside. They have to open the canister, answer the question, then report back to us. My favorite so far is the answers we get to a prompt that asks them to breathe in the air and say how the smells in the canyon are different from the smells at home.
“When I breathe in the air here, it smells like a forest. When I breathe in the air at home, it smells like Febreeze.”
“The air out here smells fresh. The air at home smells like a stinky brother.”
The kids go out in pairs. Yesterday, a pair of boys became a single when one of the kids pooped out early. The group had only been here a few hours, but he wasn’t so sure he liked being outdoors this much. “Well, what do you do on the weekends?” I asked.
“Watch YouTube,” he said.
Later, Erik Silvius told me that by the end of the retreat, the kid’s feelings would change. “It happens every time,” he said. “These kids have moments like that, because they haven’t really experienced being outside. But in two days, when the bus pulls out of the river, he’ll be different.”
The boy who became a single geocacher—George (not his real name)—wanted to keep going, so I accompanied him in finding a few caches. George told me something none of his classmates knew—he has a 3-month old sister. “They just think I have an older brother,” he said. George thinks his little sister might be a genius. “Whenever someone is taking a picture, she looks straight at the camera and smiles. I’ve never seen a baby do that.”
I asked George what he liked best about the HEBFF Outdoor retreat so far. “I like the cabins. And the lunch. And the kayaking. And geocaching.”
“Wow, that’s great. What all have you done since you got here?” I asked.
“We went to our cabins. We had lunch. We went kayaking. And now we’re geocaching.”
One of the cache prompts asks the students to sit still and listen to the sounds of nature. If what you’re hearing is a song, what would you name the song?
One girl’s answer: “I Fell in Love with Nature.”