A light rain on Tuesday didn’t stop Emme Goldsmith from building a fire.

“You got it, sister,” her camp director, Jason Drevenak, said as she tried to catch a spark. “Do it!”

Emme, 10, and her brother, Michael, 11, are spending this week at Stone Age Survival Camp, where each day they and other elementary- and middle school-aged kids learn a different wilderness survival skill at Ballenger Creek Park in Frederick.

On Monday, kids learned rope work and how to make shelters. Tuesday was fires and spoon carving.

On Friday, the kids will build what Drevenak called “the village,” a shelter and a campfire, where they will spend the day reflecting on what they learned.

The camp came out of a partnership between the Frederick Parks and Recreation Department, Coyle Outside and North American Bushcraft School, wilderness schools based in Corvallis, Oregon, and Hedgesville, West Virginia, respectively.

Drevenak is president of North American Bushcraft School.

Some of the kids, like 13-year-old Shea Norris, have experience lighting fires, but only with lighters and matches — not with natural objects like birch bark, jute, flint and friction.

Which made starting a fire much harder than Emme expected.

Watching the demonstration, Emme thought that starting a fire with a flint would happen within “two tries,” like Drevenak’s fire, but in the end, it took her “seven or eight times.”

Tash Garner, 7, had trouble, too.

“He makes sparks, but it doesn’t really do much,” Shea said as he demonstrated the way Tash glided one flint over the other, instead of striking it.

But Tash didn’t have to work on his own. Not only did he get help from Shea, but also from his older brother, Uriah, 11.

To Uriah, it’s important to help out his co-campers “so they can know how to do it, too, and not feel left out.”

By teaching the kids how to use knives and fire, Drevenak not only aims to teach the kids about the “inherent responsibility” in using these tools for good, but also teamwork and perseverance.

Zach Mahoney, 13, had been trying to create enough friction to start a fire with some trouble getting a spark — but he wasn’t letting himself get discouraged.

“If you’re doing something difficult, it’s going to come out with a good result,” Zach said, “[But] if you’re doing something easy, it’s probably going to come out with an OK result.”

And to Shea, it’s worth it to struggle because, in the end, “you feel really confident about starting this fire” in case of an emergency.

That was one of the lessons that Drevenak instilled in the kids: to keep trying, even if they don’t succeed at first.

“Don’t say ‘can’t,’” Drevenak told Emme as she was having trouble starting another fire. “Say ‘haven’t figured it out yet.’”

In what he considers an age of “instant gratification,” Drevenak aims to use survival skills as a way to “slow things down” for the kids, he said.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” he added.

Another way he tries to change their perspectives is to teach kids personal and interpersonal skills, such as teamwork and kindness.

“And it’s nice to see kids, especially in this climate ... be nice to each other,” Drevenak said.

By day two, Emme and Michael already felt a change in the way they treat each other.

Michael and Emme’s parents signed them up for the camp, but within two days, tying knots and starting fires aren’t the only things they’ve learned.

They learned how to work together.

“Me and Mike have very different opinions. ... We don’t have a lot of things in common,” Emme said. “But we both found that ... survival skills and being outdoors brought us together.”

“Just in case ... if we’re ever in trouble,” Michael said. “We need to work together to stay alive.”

And they’ve learned more about being grateful for what one has.

“Putting stakes down and making [a shelter] by yourself is kind of cool. ... It shows that you don’t need a lot of stuff. You can live off a little” and still have a shelter, Michael said.

Which speaks to another of Drevenak’s goals for this camp: teaching kids the “inherent the responsibility” of tools like knives and fire.

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(1) comment


My daughter attended an earlier session of the camp this summer and really, really enjoyed it. Such a great experience.

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