Finding Pinecones

By Phil Brown

Even though this may sound like the name of a cool new activity (maybe someone reading this can make one up…or maybe this is already an activity I have yet to see), it is not what this is in reference to. Instead it refers to a moment this summer that reminded me that the small moments often have a bigger impact than we think.

Two summers ago I was talking with the 5th grade son of a Summer Camp Director and I was asking him what his best memory of camp was (he was about to go for the 3rd year to a neighboring camp for the summer). Despite all of my assumptions of a possible answer; hanging out with and making friends, waterfront activities, the challenge course, his answer was…”one time, 3 years ago, at lunch, my counselor brought lemonade to the table for lunch so we could have that instead of water, it was the best!” This at first made me laugh but I soon realized he was completely serious. This was not due to the rest of the summer camp experience being terrible, he loved camp, but this small moment stood out to him and had more significance than any other.

We often make assumptions about our programming and the impact it has on those we work with, creating learning outcomes and striving to meet them, but it is also important to be aware of those small interactions that would otherwise often walk right past us.
Which brings me to the pinecones! This past summer I had the pleasure of working with a group from Iraq as part of the SIT (School for International Training) program.

The day involved large group games, small group problem-solving initiatives, and the opportunity to take part in low and high challenge course activities. During lunch one student came up to me with a pinecone in his hand, a puzzled look on his face, and a question, “Phil, what is this?” This led to me surrounded by students as I leaned on my Outdoor Education experience and spent the next 30 minutes or so teaching them about the forest. It was completely unplanned, didn’t fit with the original plan of the day but was mentioned more than anything else when debriefing the day with the group. This moment had a big impact on both those students and also on me. It reminded me that those small moments that are often unplanned and also are so often easily forgotten by us could sometimes have the biggest impact.

So…take the time and find the pinecones!