Water = Life: Outdoor School for 5th and 6th Grade Students

Water = Life: Outdoor School for 5th and 6th Grade Students

“Water: two hydrogen atoms plus one oxygen atom linked together to form one of the strangest, most pervasive, most essential substances on this planet. Hydrogen: Gaseous and highly flammable. Oxygen: gaseous and essential in our blood and brains. When holding hands in the right numbers, these elements become life sustaining liquid. Unless it is cold, then they regiment themselves into billions of ornate crystals, or if it is warm then they float up into billowing clouds to recongregate until they fall back down in vast armies. This liquid refreshes. This liquid destroys. When pressurized it can cut though stone as a child’s finger though cake.  It flies. It falls. It freezes. It can be as still and beautiful as heaven’s mirror. It can rage; terrifying even the most powerful nations. It cuts canyons and smashes cities. It soothes a dry mouth. It never stops moving, flying, freezing, falling, thawing, falling, pooling, and flying again.” 1

We knew we were going to have fun with our outdoor school theme this year, Water = Life, before we even set foot on Camp Wakonda. There are so many exciting things that can be learned from water. As we sat down to brainstorm what outdoor school would look like this year, we knew our biggest problem was going to be that we didn’t have enough time for all the experiments and wonderful stories we wanted to tell about God’s amazing creation. As we contemplated water in the Bible, so many favorites stories came to our minds, and we hated to leave anything out. We knew we would have to be selective because our time with the students was limited.

Wednesday afternoon, September 6,  found us welcoming bright eyed 5th and 6th graders as they started arriving and moving into their cabins. The first task the students faced was building a boat big enough for two passengers and effectively racing it on the lake. The challenge: build the boat using only cardboard, plastic, and a roll of duct tape. Students built team culture as they worked together since this same group would later attend classes together.

After the challenge was over, classes ensued. The teachers, pastors, and volunteers worked together to teach 10 exciting water themed classes. In many of these classes, students completed more building projects including engineering a dam that had to hold back water without a leak, release the water when asked, and then stop the water again with no leaks. They definitely showcased their creativity! Dams were built with roads crossing the dam, and landscaped with rocks and trees. In another class, students made rain gauges to take back to school and record rainfall. Students also enjoyed creating a little world inside of a plastic container where they could watch the water cycle take place before their eyes.

A variety of other water-based classes were available including one with a local artist who taught water painting, and students were inspired by nature to create beautiful pictures. In other classes students experimented with the properties of water. They worked with partners discovering why water and oil don’t mix, how many drops of water a penny can hold, and many other awesome experiments. Another class focused on erosion and what type of materials water can pass through most quickly.  Watching a water documentary provided viewers with secrets about nature and God, while enjoying snacks.

Campers especially enjoyed classes that let them get in the water. One of these classes was about buoyancy. Students enjoyed seeing how much weight their tinfoil boat could hold and sticking their hands into the kiddy pool to see how much water their balloons would displace.  A swimming period offered the opportunity to float, swim, and experience water’s action on their bodies. Microscopes allowed students to look at water plants and animals close up. When I came to see what this class was doing, I observed two fish, a baby turtle, frogs, water bugs, and many other interesting creations of God that they found and were studying.

Each morning and evening favorite stories about water from the Bible were presented by three pastors who helped start and finish our day. After each wonderful story, the pastors shared how it could be applied to our lives. Some of the stories covered included living water, a floating ax, crossing the Red Sea, and baptism. “It might be in baptism that we see water in its truest sense. It is death. It is life. It is destruction and resurrection.” 2 Our wish for our students in the Wisconsin Conference is that they left outdoor school “changed, with eyes that see this creation differently, with a little more knowledge of the artist who made it all.” 3


Debbie Darnall, Associate Superintendent for Education
Photos: Sue Nelson, Superintendent for Education and Debbie Darnall

1 Engerbretson, J. (Director). (2020). The Riot and the Dance: Water [Film]. Gorilla Poet Productions.

2Engerbretson, J. (Director). (2020). The Riot and the Dance: Water [Film]. Gorilla Poet Productions.

3Engerbretson, J. (Director). (2020). The Riot and the Dance: Water [Film]. Gorilla Poet Productions.