I began learning an important lesson about teaching, when I was learning outdoor education at camp. As we walked through the woods, talking about lesson plans, activities, spacing, etc., my instructor told me also to be willing to throw the whole lesson out the window if I found something more interesting in the woods. If a kid runs up to you, excited, saying, “What is this?,” your response should be, “Wow, I’m not sure. Let’s check it out!” And then, you get down on the ground and dig through the dirt with them, helping them discover something new. That’s when you know you’re winning at teaching.
In our world of goals and deadlines, it would be just as easy to dismiss that kid’s question because it doesn’t fit with the planned lesson on tree identification, which is what the kids are supposed to be learning about. If they don’t grasp the difference between a coniferous or deciduous tree, they may not pass their upcoming biology test, which could affect their GPA, which could affect their chances of getting into the right school--you know the rest. We as mentors are so often focused on the end goal, that we don’t focus very much on the most effective ways to get there.
What I began to discover during that lesson, was something that I became more aware of over many years of camp work; something that I realized I actually knew along: as teachers, the most effective way to teach is to get our students to fall in love with the subject matter. If they fall in love with it, they will put in the work to learn all about it. That is what you do when you love something. Every subject matter we nerd out on, likely began for us with a great sense of wonder for that subject. As a kid, Hailey’s Comet got me into Astronomy, Dinosaurs got me into Natural Science, U.S. Presidents got me into History. I was fascinated by these things, so I wanted to learn more and more. The joy of making friends and living close in community at church and camp made me fall in love with God.
Now, when I spend long periods of time quieting myself in nature or sitting with friends around a campfire, I feel this great exhale in my body and spirit that is holy. There are moments where I stop and just take it all in. It is like a great movie playing out in front of me. I am overwhelmed, humbled, and filled with gratefulness. It makes me want to get up the next day and make it happen again. It makes me want to grow closer to the creator of all this. At camp, this is our great work. It’s not necessarily teaching kids specific scriptures or discussing important issues. It’s not about campers leaving knowing exactly how to perform the rituals or recite the entire history of the church, though we certainly offer opportunities for all of that.
We want to worship in such a way that campers are left in awe by what they see, hear, touch, taste, smell, experience. These moments worshiping under the stars, singing with our hearts, feeling a deep closeness with each other--this is turning over the log to look at worms with students of spiritual life. If we can create an environment that fosters a sense of wonder, they will fall in love. They will do all of this themselves, just like those before them did when they fell in love; and that will help us to fall in love all over again.