My best lesson - How shelter-building is a refuge for creativity

"What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand." This phrase encapsulates the philosophy of one of the most popular and engaging lessons I teach in my role as a schools partnership project instructor at vocational learning charity CVQO.

The objective is to build an outdoor shelter. The concept is simple: over a period of roughly two hours, students have to construct weatherproof shelters using only tarpaulins, foliage, bungee cords and string.

As you can imagine, the average child needs very little encouragement when given a blank canvas and a licence to be creative, so this session is always received well - especially as there is a prize for the best shelter.

It's important for students to attune to their surroundings quickly. Challenge them to listen for 10-20 seconds and then talk about what they can hear - for example, natural noises versus man-made sounds.

Follow this by showing the learners the equipment you would like them to use for the task. Introduce one piece of equipment at a time, though, or you risk losing their attention. Use some humour and stories to keep morale up, especially if the weather is not on your side.

In terms of building the shelter itself, offer support but never a blueprint. There is no right or wrong way to construct a shelter and you will be amazed at the variety of concepts and designs that result from such creative freedom.

If your group is spread over a wide area, use a whistle to communicate (one blast for attention, two to return to you). At the end of the lesson, announce the winning shelter and outline the reasons for your choice.

Finally, explain the importance of waste management and the countryside code, instructing the group to perform a full litter pick before they leave.

The session encourages respect for nature, discipline and team-building in equal measure. I often say to learners that "practice makes permanent" - a phrase that will be useful no matter what future environment they find themselves in.

Kevin Raw is a schools partnership project instructor at vocational learning charity CVQO.

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