From Knot my Problem to Everyone's Problem - The Importance of Perseverance Practice for Youth Groups

Hands rose defiantly, paralleling the frosted blades of grass surrounding us on top of the High 5 hill that chilly morning. One by one, the 5th graders confidently recited quotes of perseverance retained from their most recent writing project.

They shared . . .

"Persistence is what makes the impossible, the possible likely, and the likely definite."
- Robert Half

"A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence."
- Jim Watkins

"We are made to persist. That's how we find out who we are."
- Tobias Wolff

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The conversation continued as we transitioned onto the challenge course, voices fading as young eyes gazed upward at the high elements suspended between tall white pines. Before climbing high, the group was challenged to complete "Knot my Problem," an activity where rope is tangled and then connected to each participant, requiring them to unweave the mess to reform a single circle of rope. Minutes into the initiative the tune changed from excitement and anticipation to frustration and helplessness. Students impatiently scuffed at the thick orange layer of pine needles coating the forest floor, exclaiming . . .

"Can we be done now? Can't we just move on?"

"This knot is impossible. We will never finish this!""
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It's in moments like these in Edge of Leadership (EOL), that we see how students truly struggle with perseverance. We have heard this before in different ways, how students need more "grit" and character building. We agree, and we have learned a big piece of that is simply giving students more time. Tina Lepple, a 5th teacher from Keene, NH shared her observation that there are few opportunities students have today to push through challenging experiences - it is always time to move onto the next subject, the next thing.

The 5th Graders that day, imprisoned by the knot they had created an hour before, were finally able to form a circle and then disconnect from the rope. As facilitators, we gave space for them to process informally at first, side conversations erupting with laughter as well as some stern faces. We asked . . .

Who felt frustrated during that experience? When and why?

How many people wanted to quit? How did you handle that feeling?

If we were to do it again, (which we wont!)what would YOU want to do differently?

The concept of "timing out" and perseverance was also demonstrated to us by an EOL Summer High School participant as she resisted crossing the swampy pond. She slowly realized that EOL was different and she could not just wait for time to be up. She had to choose herself if she wanted to take on the challenge, not let time decide for her. In the end, she made the decision to cross the pond. I would not say that she was immediately happy with her decision, but the next morning, she shared how that lesson was pretty powerful for her.

This theme of perseverance has woven its way into all of our EOL programming in response to the needs of students of all ages with whom we work. To stay in the loop about all the ways EOL challenges groups to be their best, check out our website as well as our Facebook page.

Submitted by Anne Louise Wagner, Edge of Leadership Adventure Educator