Students get expert advice

Central sixth graders Isabelle Grant, Laci Orr and Kiera Beck gather around an outdoor shelter during a winter survival program at Osborne Nature Center. Photo by Brian Gibbs


By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


A recent field trip to the Osborne Nature Center helped a group of students understand a class reading assignment on the challenges of wilderness survival.

Sixth graders from Central, Elkader, went to Osborne after reading “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen and discussing the hostilities faced by the main character, 13-year-old Brian Robeson. Brian is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, he finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered jacket and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present. 

The Central students were asked to image how they would react if they found themselves stranded in harsh weather. And to prepare them for something that likely—hopefully—will never happen, Osborne naturalist Brian Gibbs showed the students how to build a shelter and avoid hypothermia by dressing in layers, staying active while outdoors and drinking warm liquids. They also learned to identify animal tracks.

“If you find yourself lost or feeling cold, stop, think, observe and make a smart plan to stay warm and safe,” Gibbs told the students. “Also tell somebody where you are going and when you will be back.”

Gibbs also provides suggestions on what to include in a survival kit.

“I suggested putting in a compass, rope, reflective space blanket, a tin can with duct tape around it, a whistle and a black garbage bag,” Gibbs said. “The kids had several other suggestions and always seem excited to scavenge through ‘old’ items at home to see what they can find (to add to the kit).”

Sixth grade teacher Amy Bergan said the field trip helped students identify more strongly with the book they read.

“Being out in the woods and trying to find a place to get warm and having to build a shelter brings a little reality to the book,” she explained. “The Osborne staff teaches many things that the (main character) would have benefitted from knowing during his adventure.”

The field trip was a hit with students.

“It was an amazing experience for me,” said Luke Tuecke. “I would do it again. I learned the three threes—you can go three hours without shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food.”

Tuecke’s classmate, Alexa Marley, was impressed with the ease of assembling a survival kit.

“When I got home, I made a survival pack,” she said. “I didn’t have to buy anything, either. I made all of my gear and stuff like that, just like we learned how to do with Brian at Osborne. It was very fun.”

The students weren’t the only ones who had a good time.

“For all of us to teach and learn together while combining language arts and science lessons with practical outdoor experiences, is rewarding for everyone,” Gibbs said. “Everyone walks away having created new memories while learning several life-long skills.”

Editor’s note: Brian Gibbs and Amy Bergan contributed to this article.

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