They were frustrated. Really frustrated. And this was the point. The key is to get them to a place where they are challenged but not beyond their ability, wrestling but not overwhelmed. Outdoor Education programs have started up once again. Classes are in full swing in the middle of what remains of the snow here at camp. Low Ropes and Team Quest are my favorite to facilitate. I love helping the fifth graders work through that eleven-year old angst that enviably arises when they try to solve a problem as a team. “They’re doing it the wrong way!” Hunter shouts as he passes unsuccessfully through the Swinging Vine of Doom. (To the untrained eye, this merely appears as a blue jump rope). The team must figure out the pattern that will allow them to pass through unharmed. When I set-up the challenge, I always question if I should give them an example of a possible pattern. If I do, almost without default, they fixate on that possibility. “A pattern could be something like ‘boy, girl, boy, girl’ but the true pattern has nothing to do with gender,” I pronounce emphatically. And soon they begin sending each other through the vine.
The rope becomes increasingly agitated with each failed attempt. “Enh!” it yells. (To the untrained ear, an annoying “you got it wrong” sound pronounced from the side of my mouth.) “Oh I know! I know!” one girl jumps up and down. “It is ‘girl, girl, boy, boy’! Try that! Try that!” How quickly they forget, making it more complicated than it needs to be. And this is where the life lessons arise. I begin to guide Hunter, the boy with the black framed glasses and sandy-blond hair -or is it more brown? This is imperative to my pattern- “If there is a problem, Hunter, who’s responsibility is it to fix it?” He smiles at me and confidently pronounces, “God. God can fix it.” I cannot help but to smile back, “And who does God use, Hunter?” Again, with just as much confidence, “Missionaries!” “Missionaries are who, Hunter?” “People.” “Hmmm,” I say, “Are you a person, Hunter?” “YES!” “Who can help fix the problem then?” “ME!” He laughs a cute, sly “ah-shucks” kind of laugh and runs to the end of the line to help his classmates figure out how to beat the swinging vine.
When I gather the students in a circle to debrief at the end of the challenge, they compare the vine to temptation that you must get through. You can learn from the people who have gone before you who have failed and when you figure out a way, the Way, you can make it through. A little frustration is a good thing whether we are in fifth grade or fifty. It gives us a chance to gain a new perspective and helps us face the next challenge life throws at us, whether that’s keeping your cool because someone cut you off in traffic or persevering when the Vine of Doom is keeping you from your journey through the jungle.