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Survivor: Kraft edition 

Outdoor & writing skills honed

Caledonia — When asked how they would survive in the wilderness, a group of sixth-graders at Kraft Meadows Intermediate School gave straightforward answers. 

“I spend a lot of time out in the woods, so I think I could survive,” sixth-grader Jack Gifford said.

Added classmate Jordan Carlson: “I read lots of books about survival stuff, and my dad and I hang out in the woods and go camping a lot.”

Their survival plans included how to find food. 

“You can trap animals and eat wild berries, but only if you can identify them and not eat the poisonous ones,” Jordan explained. 

Brooklyn Bunker said she could survive on acorns and leaves, but Jack and Jordan said frog legs would be a better source of protein. 

How are these students so well prepared to get by in the woods outside the walls of their school? Their sixth-grade teacher, Todd DeJong, is using classic books and his love for the outdoors to teach them about survival skills.

Survival of the Most Experienced 

Inspired by Jean Piaget’s experiential learning theory, which explains how people learn via observation and experimentation, DeJong incorporated hands-on activities based on class material. 

Sixth-graders learned about making snare traps and building shelters from reading “My Side of the Mountain” and “The Sign of the Beaver.”

During class time, small groups were tasked with building their own shelters out of sticks and leaves.

“It was really fun and not something we normally do in school,” Ellee Bender said. “Ours fell down a couple of times, but we tried to fix it.” 

Added Jack: “Our whole group had to fit inside of it, and water couldn’t be able to go through it.” 

After completing the task, Jordan said cooperation was very important in the building process, as well as remembering to fill any gaps with leaves.

The end goal of their research and practicing outdoor skills: to write a five-paragraph essay on surviving in the woods. 

“Experience is important for learning,” DeJong said. “You look at the book, ‘The Hatchet’ and (the author) built a fire and is so descriptive. He did it, and that’s why he could write about it.”

DeJong said he didn’t enjoy writing papers as a student because it was always about the grade. In his 39 years of teaching, he said he has witnessed a natural desire of his students to want to learn.

Sixth-graders Serena Banks, left, and Emma Erkocevic wrap their string around a small stick to set their snare trap

“I want them to learn their own style of writing and their own voice,” he said. “If we could get students to experience more things, it makes them better writers. Next, we’re learning to make fire, and it’s not like it is in the movies.” 

Read more from Caledonia: 
Core knowledge, with apples
Tech-savvy sixth-graders take first place in IT competition

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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