Activity 1: Surviving in the forest… or maybe just pretend to….

What if Elementary school was only 3 days a week?
May 7, 2017

If you want to understand why i am posting an activity here, I suggest you to read this .

Si vous voulez lire la version française de ce texte allez là.


Before I begin, I would like to say that most of the learning activities I have created for my children are inspired by two approaches that are meaningful to me (Mental Management Approach and Problem Solving Pedagogy). These two approaches give the children a way to harness their creativity in addition to empowering them to control their own learnings. .

Essentially Mental Management is the metacognition that is expected from a functional human being: being thoughtful and independent. For a child, this would mean that he, himself, can understand how to learn and learn from his own mistakes. This approach is about helping children to discover their mental learning strategies on their own. It is also about raising awareness of the learner’s own potential and making him more confident in his abilities.
Still, the effort required of a learner to carry out this mental exercise is often  hindered by a lack of initiative. In other words, it takes a goal to learn something. This goal needs to be interesting for it to be worth all of that energy. This is where problem-solving pedagogy becomes a good complement.

What is Problem Solving Pedagogy?

In order to illustrate what it is, let’s take a situation that’s probably happened to all of us. Pretend you are 4 years old and you have 2 chocolate cookies that look really good to you. You play with a friend and he claims his fair portion of the cookies. You are confused because you want to share but you also want to have an equal part of the treat. After reflecting on this, you give one cookie to your friend and luckily you have one left for you too. Good for you, everyone seems satisfied. Imagine now that you are 5 years old and the same problem occurs but with only one cookie. You might have to think on it a little more but you will eventually be able to separate the cookie in two. The same situation could also happen one or two years later, this time with two cookies and three friends. For each of these problems you have consciously or unconsciously used the steps of problem solving:

  1. Information retrieval; “What do I know about sharing? Everybody must end up with the same quantity “
  2. Generate new knowledge: Reflecting on the situation and using your creativity to find a solution.
  3. Make a decision, make a plan: “OK! I will try to separate my cookie in two. It seems to be the most logical thing to do. “
  4. Evaluate the result: “Everybody seem satisfied, so I guess I made a good decision”

Source: PÓLYA, G. 1945. How to solve it: A new aspect of mathematical method, Princeton, USA, Princeton University Press

About what kind of activities I should suggest to my kids:
We all know that parental decisions have a huge impact on the number of hours their child will spend in one or other spheres of his or her life. It wouldn’t be completely true to say that a child makes his own choices and is completely free to choose what he wants to learn. I even believe that giving them complete freedom and forgetting your own is counterproductive at several levels. If you are happy, you are going to be better parents, therefore, a better teacher. Be aware of this aspect in order to maximize its use. Opportunities are very much related to parents’ life, decisions, budget and values. Moreover, in order to realize you are in front of an opportunity sometimes it’s better to keep in mind what kind of opportunity you would like to see so that you can grasp it easily.

For example: if your uncle is a mechanic,  he might be happy to teach your child that is super interested in cars. This could go unnoticed if you don’t yourself think of this possibility. A child interested in astronomy can more easily satisfy his curiosity in a family where daddy knows how to observe the stars or where they have some tools to do the research.

For this activity, I added the exact words that were said to give you an idea of how it was conducted  as well as how far I got involved. This literal transcript is to demonstrate the kind of questions that children might ask or how you could introduce the two approaches in a more thorough way. It is not meant as  a procedure to follow exactly but an example that you might or might not imitate.
I have planned this learning situation for  4  and  6 year old children, but it can be adapted to any ages. It will depend on the interest of your child. If it leads to the creation of a complex shelter or real survival in the forest, well you might need an Internet access for reference purposes.

For information, (A) here refers to ” Adult ” (c) refers to ”Child”.


Surviving in the forest… or maybe just pretend to….


Required: solid rope, scissors. (Optional) a book about the trees and / or plants of the region  you are visiting. An Internet access and a websites to visit on the same subject.

Duration: half a day


Learning objectives: These really depends on the tangent that your activity will take, but below are some possibilities. I took these objectives from the milestones of program of the Quebec schools that you can find here.. There are plenty of other learning objectives i could have chosen.

Science and technology;

  • Distinguish water-permeable materials from those that are not.
  • Classify materials by degree of absorption.
  • Describe various other physical properties of an object, substance or material.
  • Determine, in the environment, the state of various objects and substances.
  • Explain the insulating properties of various substances.
  • Determine various forces/mechanisms involved with building the shelter (gravity, lever,pulley, etc)

Problem solving

  • Discuss similar problems that have already been resolved.
  • Become aware of your preliminary representations.
  • Formulate questions. Make assumptions (eg, alone, in teams, in groups).
  • Explore various possibilities of solution
  • Reflect on your mistakes to identify its source
  • Using various modes of reasoning



The children and I are preparing a picnic, it’s a cloudy day but we don’t talk about it right away. The kids are very excited because they have chosen a park that they really like, and they like picnics especially when I let them choose where. We are heading to a park with a small forest (this is also important). When I leave, I make sure that in addition to the picnic items, I also have the material stated above, without the kids noticing it.

At the picnic site, I wonder if we can make a picnic since the weather is changing. The children are disappointed.

(A) Do you think there is a way you can make sure you will not get wet if it starts to rain?


Just a small side note here to say that any good parent knows that this type of question can lead to any sorts of answers. Play the game. Even if it was not planned this can lead you to something very interesting. There will always be a moment later to insert what you had planned. At worst, it will be an eye opener to your child that his ideas aren’t always the best ones.

(c) We could hide underneath a tree but we would still get wet i think.

(c) Maybe we could find a shelter or a house near here that has a small roof.

Unfortunately after a short search, the children come back saying that nothing is really comfortable for the four of us.

(A) Could we build a shelter?

(c) Yes but we have nothing to make shelter here!

I then take out my material and ask them if we could need anything else.

(c) We could take branches of trees and stick them together but we do not have glue.

(A) That is a good problem to solve! How could you hold objects such as branches together without having glue?

(c) Maybe with the sap of the leaves because I know plants that have a sap that looks like glue.

I have to put my veto right here because we are living in a place where there is a plant with white sap that can be poisonous. Otherwise I would have exploited the idea.

(A) If you can not use the sap, do you think you could use one of the tools I brought or something you can find in the small forest next to here?

(c) Maybe the rope! We could attach some of the branches to tree trunks like that, it could make a roof.

We picked up a good amount of branches and put all of them in a bunch. The children then, proceed with the choice of the place and the final choice of branches. They chose a relatively high tree stump (1 meter and a half) where it is possible to keep some branches in balance. This trunk will make the shelter. After picking up the pieces of wood on the ground, the children realize that it is difficult to find branches that are long enough. They only have 8.

I must note that this reflection last for a good thirty minutes during which I could read my book.

(c) Can we take the branches of the trees and cut them with the scissors?

(A) It is a good hypothesis but I do not agree with wasting and destroy a tree to make a shelter. I find that it is not necessary, the trees are there for a good reason, we will them do their work. They can be a house for animals, they need to purify our air, and even sometimes they give us fruits.

(c) There are branches that are too small so I will not use them.

(A) Maybe we could keep the smaller branches and use them later.

(c) Yes, maybe to fill the holes.

The children placed the branches so that they surround the stump. Like that, they have a shelter with the tree stump in the middle. However, the 8 branches do not cover the shelter sufficiently to prevent them from getting wet.

(A) we have to think of another idea than the branches to keep ourselves dry.

The children then tried several possibilities: tree bark, pine branches, cover blanket. The most difficult part was to keep everything balanced on the pillar branches. Finally after making a mixture of bark and pine found on the ground, they tied everything with the rope. There were only a few holes left. They then, had the idea of putting their waterproof jacket over it.

Open Exploration:

On that day, it did not really rain, although we had just enough drops to experiment the shelter. the children took advantage of it to play Native Americans. They used the shelter to play a symbolic game.

Post-activity reflection

Returning home walking

(A) So, do you think anyone else can use our shelter if they come to the park another day?

(c) Yes, surely until the wind or someone destroys it.

(A) Yes, but do you think everyone can use it?

(c) It is not tall enough for adults but it could be shelter just for the for children.

(A) Okay, what should  have you done to create an adult shelter?

(c) we would have had to take bigger branches but the biggest branches are still in the trees. The branches that are on the ground are always smaller. I guess that is why house are rarely made of wood because builder has to find  very big trees.


That night, before going to sleep, I found  them a Native American story to relate to their relationship with nature and the methods of  how they built the wigwams.

This theme did not stop there of course. We fielded, for a few weeks after, drawings and craft of wigwams, questions about survival in the forest and request for stories on the topic. It does not stop at only one  activity on one subject obviously. It is, in my opinion, like planting a seed without knowing what it is. Sometimes it will make roots and will open in several branches, sometimes it will be ephemeral. You just have to be ready to guide any type of journey. Our activity took a Native American tangent but it could certainly have taken another tangent: the Kyrgyz yurts or survival in the forest could have captivated their attention more for example. They made a connection with a topic they already knew a little.

A few weeks later we found ourselves on a beach where there was a lot of wind. The children got the idea on their own of building another kind of shelter .It was an entirely different way of thinking how they should build it. Ok I admit, I helped them a little with the wind direction otherwise it would never have worked. Still they used the same tools.


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