In May of 2009, we were living in Juneau, AK. My daughter London brought home a field trip permission form from her 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Wyatt, requesting permission for her to attend a 3-day, 2-night campout with the entire 3rd grade that would cost me $40! My first thoughts were a) I wasn’t going to let her go, and b) what a lot of money for a third grade field trip! As I was contemplating what to do, Mr. Wyatt called and asked me if I could come and be a "camp counselor" which I interpreted as...please help us wrangle 45, eight and nine year old children for three days. All three days of the campout were geared towards teaching the kids how to thrive (and survive) in the Alaska wilderness.
On the second day of the campout, the teachers broke the kids into four groups and had prepared four separate hour-long activities for the kids to participate in. Mr. Wyatt asked me and another parent to lead the nature hike. He had the trail all mapped out and had marked specific places for us to stop along the way and present information and thinking experiences for the kids. He told us he would guide us part of the way with the first group, but then we would be on our own for the rest of the day. It didn’t seem too bad, there was a definite trail, and part of the hike was on a raised boardwalk. Our first stop was along the muddy bank of a small stream. We lead the children in a discussion about beavers and then went on a scavenger type hunt looking for trees that had been toppled by beavers. It was fun to watch their minds work on this activity. We started hiking again, and came to what can only be described as a dense forest of budding devil's club with a rocky path through it. Devil’s Club is a very spiny, prickly plant that grows in abundance in the forests of Alaska. The spines of Devil's club break off easily if you brush up against them and can embed themselves into your skin causing infection, localized heat, inflammation, pain, and redness.
The other mom and I were walking towards the back of the group and talking about how glad we were that there was a wide path through the thick devil’s club forest, when Mr. Wyatt turned sharply to the right and started leading the children up the side of the mountain THROUGH the thick devil's club! We were pretty sure he was crazy! We both watched him for a minute, trying to figure out how far he was going to go, and trying to decide if we might be able to skip this part of the hike with the next three groups. After he got to about 100 yards away, we decided we had better follow him. He stopped about 100 yards further up the mountain, and then lead the kids in a really neat discussion about the old growth forest we were standing in. When he was done talking, he gave the kids 5 minutes to explore on their own. I walked right up to him and asked him if he was crazy. How were we supposed to bring all these kids up here without them getting thorns stuck all over them? This is where I learned something. He told me that the kids had all been taught on a previous field trip how to "dance with the devil's club". They had had an expert come in and teach the kids how to navigate through all the thorny devil's club, because that particular plant is very prevalent in that area, and it was a skill that they would need in the outdoors of Alaska. I listened as the kids were hiking back down, and none of them were complaining (like me). They were all excited that they knew how to dance with the devil's club, and were happy to have the experience of using their knowledge in a real situation. We led the other three groups up the mountain that day and only had three kids get poked!
I’d like to spend a little time talking about the importance of teaching our children to live in the world we are in…teaching them to dance with the devil’s club so to speak, so when we aren’t there to hold their hand and literally guide them around the thorny areas, they will know what to do and how to act. There are many aspects of today’s world that are like that part of the hike…an amazing and beautiful old growth forest scattered with sharp spines that can cause pain and discomfort. Our job as parents is to equip our children with the knowledge of the gospel and teach them correct principles so they can easily navigate through the world we live in.
Richard G Scott said, “Principles are anchors of safety. They are like the steel anchors a mountaineer uses to conquer otherwise impossible cliffs. They will help you have confidence in new and unfamiliar circumstances. They will provide you protection in life’s storms of adversity." ("The Power of Correct Principles", Ensign, May 1993, 32)
President David O. McKay shared some basic principles we need to teach our children. “The first and most important inner quality you can instill in a child is faith in God. The first and most important action a child can learn is obedience. And the most powerful tool you have with which to teach is love.” (See Instructor, Vol. 84, Dec. 1949, p. 620.) President Brigham Young added that “we should never permit ourselves to do anything that we are not willing to see our children do. We should set them an example that we wish them to imitate.” (Journal of Discourses, 14:192.)
One of the best ways we have to teach our children faith is to demonstrate our faith in their lives. Our children need to see us on our knees, praying for guidance and expressing gratitude to Heavenly Father. They need to see us being reverent during sacrament meeting…and not playing games on our phones. They need to see us studying the scriptures, paying our tithing, having regular family home evenings, and doing our visiting and home teaching. They also need to see us striving to attend all of our church meetings.
The second principle President McKay shared was teaching children obedience. Like the expert who taught the 3rd graders how to navigate through the devil’s club without being hurt, we can teach our children that in life there are laws and rules that when followed can bring peace and happiness and when disregarded, can bring pain and discomfort. Most people find it easy and logical to obey physical laws like stopping at a red light or not touching a hot stove, because they know the consequences of breaking these laws can be immediate and severe. However, many of those same people feel confined or restricted by spiritual laws, or commandments. Obeying commandments actually frees our spirits and brings numerous blessings. In 1 Nephi 17:3 it says “And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them”.
The third basic principle President McKay shared was the necessity of love. When we show our love and appreciation for one another at home, we invite the spirit into our homes. Expanding upon that statement, an article in the Reader’s Digest states, “A child should learn not merely to love, but to be a loving person—to make love his stance in the world. ‘Love’ may come and go, but a loving person, like the sun itself, never loses his or her sustaining warmth.” (Reader’s Digest, June 1981, p. 164.) One of the last commandments the Lord gave to his disciples before he was crucified is found in John 13:34-35. It says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
Building strong family relationships is another way to teach our children how to love and be loving people as adults. Dr. Nick Stinnett of the University of Nebraska shared these six points on the characteristics of strong families.
1. A strong family spends a significant amount of time together while playing, working, eating, or in recreation. Although family members all have outside interests, they find adequate time to spend together.
2. Strong families have a high degree of commitment to each family member, as indicated not only by the time spent together, but also by their ability to work together in a common cause.
3. Strong families have good communication patterns, as indicated by the time spent listening and speaking to each other in conversation.
4. Strong families have a high degree of religious orientation.
5. Strong families have the ability to deal with crises in a positive way because they have spent time together, are committed to each other, and have good communication patterns.
6. Strong family members frequently give compliments to each other which are genuine and not superficial. (See “In Search of Strong Families,” in Building Family Strengths: Blueprints for Action, ed. Nick Stinnett, et al., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979, pp. 23–30.)
These characteristics are a wonderful guideline for creating the kind of bonds within our families that will last through the eternities.
I learned a great lesson during that three day/two night camping trip with 45 third graders. I was reminded that we have living prophets, scriptures, temples, families, and the restored gospel here on the earth to guide us, teach us, and protect us from the evils of the world. Heavenly Father gave us these things for our benefit and learning, because he loves us. When I first saw the thick forest of devil’s club I was going to have to hike through, I immediately started looking for ways to avoid that part of the trip. What I found by following the guide through the thorns, was a breathtaking and beautiful old growth forest I would have surely missed if I had let fears guide me. Fear is the opposite of faith, and if we live with fear as our guide, we will miss out on the beauty and opportunities of the world around us.