Teachning 6th Graders Survival

We were asked by a grade school English teacher in Saugerties, NY if we would be willing to come to her school and do a class on survival for her 6th grade class.

A quick history: This English teacher has her students read "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen. It is a story of a young lad that crashes in a plane taking him to see his father in Alaska. It tells how he survived in the woods for months until he was finally rescued. This teacher then takes her students out into the woods and has them build primitive shelters. A pretty cool lady for a teacher.

The teacher had bought my book, "Stay Alive! Survival Skills You Need" at Barnes & Noble and noticed I was in NY. She indicated that she didn't know how much we charge but she would try to get a grant if we would be willing to come and teach. I explained that we closed our training school a couple of years ago, but after hearing her story, we would be happy to come and teach her 6th grade class for free as we felt what she was doing was just great. She was so excited I had to calm her down on the phone. I asked how many students would participate and she said there should be 18. I sent a copy of my "Build the Perfect Survival Kit" and "Stay Alive!" signed to the class, weeks before our scheduled class. Anyway, a date was set and we only had three hours on an afternoon.

About a week after I sent the books, we received a package of letters written by each student. They said they were very excited that we were coming to teach them survival and thanked me for the books. They had many questions about various things that had occurred in the book. They wanted to know about shelter building, making fish spears, starting fire, etc. I hoped we could cover all their questions in a short three hours.

On the scheduled day, my wife Denise and I showed up, got checked in, and took the kids to the field at the back of the school. It was interesting to note that the class was 70% female, and they were all very motivated.

We started with the class on a set of bleachers and did some intro on survival and some demonstrations. They had many questions and we tried to answer them all. We gifted all the students a whistle with lanyard, a Ferrocerium rod, an emergency poncho, an emergency blanket, and their own copy of "Build the Perfect Survival Kit.'

Starting out on the bleachers discussing basic survival.

Having a lot of questions about spears, we had a short discussion of fishing spears of various types.

Demonstrating a frog gig spear.

We demonstrated how to use a signal mirror then had all the students get out in the field and do it.
We brought plenty of mirrors so every other student shared one.

Denise showed how to make an improvised whistle using a bottle cap and an acorn.

Denise showing the student how to position their thumbs on an improvised whistle.

We then went to the side of the bleachers and did some demos on flint and steel fire and bow & drill. Denise taught each one how to use a Ferro rod and then we had them all participate. They all started a fire with a Ferro rod and a cotton ball with petroleum jelly. Denise had prepared several for each student the previous night.

Discussing the basics of fire.

Denise teaches all the students how to use a Ferrocerium rod.

Denise hands out cotton balls with petroleum jelly.

All the students were successful at starting fire with their Ferro rods and cotton balls with petroleum jelly.

Demonstrating starting a fire using flint and steel.

Discussing the parts of a Bow & Drill.

Demonstrating the Bow & Drill.

We discussed immediate action shelters vs. improvised and even had a student get in a large orange survival bag to show how quick he could have an immediate action shelter. Once we got into the woods, I showed how quickly an immediate action shelter could be made using a bent sapling and an All Weather Space blanket.

Showing a young lad how to use an orange bag as an immediate action shelter.

Mission completed.

Demonstrating how to make an immediate action shelter with a bent sapling and an All Weather Space Blanket.

As I indicated earlier, the students had been building shelters for weeks after school and they wanted Denise and me to critique them. They had put a lot of work into them with very little training so they needed some discussion about shingling and making them smaller so they could be more easily warmed. 

Critiquing one of the boys shelters.

Critiquing continues.

Critiquing one of the girls shelters.

Overall, we had a great time and we had a little graduation ceremony in the woods by one of the shelters giving each student a Survival Resources patch and sticker.

Graduation Ceremony in the woods.

They gave us a card, which they had all signed, and a $50.00 gift certificate to a restaurant near my home. I explained it was not necessary, nor part of the deal, but the students insisted, so we graciously accepted. It was a really great day. I wish there were more teachers like this. It warms my heart to know that some kids still want to be in the woods and learn survival.

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Copyright © 2015 by John D. McCann