HILLSDALE - As a stick skittered across the lake's icy surface, a voice called out.
"Don't throw stuff."
OK, OK. But when you put a pack of young people out in the wild, somebody is going to be oh-so-tempted to kick stones, toss sticks, or mush around in the mud.
This week, sixth graders from Woodmore Elementary School in Woodville warmed up to winter camp. Wrapped snuggly in sweatshirts, jeans, heavy socks, boots, gloves, and hats, the campers trudged along trails, pointing out spikes of ice along the shoreline and swatches of moss green against dark tree bark.
For 10 years, Woodmore students have avoided poison ivy and mosquito bites by coming to camp during the dead of winter at a place called Michindoh. Nestled on 250 acres near Hillsdale, Michindoh draws about 8,000 students to its outdoor environmental school from August to June.
Woodmore's seasonal adventure began Tuesday when 82 students and several teachers and camp counselors lugged their luggage into cabins. The campers go home tomorrow after squeezing in one more educational activity. On tap today? Butter making and candle dipping during a pioneer craft fair. Mark Ford, Michindoh's outdoor environmental school administrator, hopes students will have the opportunity to watch goats give birth.
Some students are astonished to learn barnyard basics, he said. Milk comes from cows, not cardboard cartons, for instance.
Oh, the stories. One time, a young lady was quite positive - she never, ever tasted a tuber. Wouldn't go near such a strange underground veggie. French fries? Why, yes. She'd eaten a few of those. A teacher gently explained to her the cooked-up connection between potatoes and fries.
On this afternoon, Woodmore students tackle survival skills. With pine boughs, oak leaves, and tree limbs, they bundle together protective shelters in a wooded area, and later they build fires.
"I live in the city and we have city stuff there," said 12-year-old Megan McGinnis. "Here, we get to be outdoors. We can see nature in action. We can learn new things."
As Bob Lasko, outdoor education instructor, explained safety measures - don't bury classmates in the dirt, don't swing around large branches - students hunkered down against the cold. Several said they packed extra winter gear.
"All the information said to dress warmly. I brought three coats," said Josh Smith, one of the boys who could barely sit still for final instructions for the hands-on activity.
Given the go-ahead, boys dragged branches - the bigger the better - to their construction sites. Some students hesitated before taking action. "I'm hatching ideas," said 11-year-old Brittany Huffman as she watched. "I think we need to take wood all around a tree so no rain or snow can get in."
As with other Michindoh activities, including a challenge course that reinforces teamwork, communication, and cooperative learning skills, students reach goals through trial and error.
Nearby, nine girls had to find a way to pack all of them onto a 2-by-2 platform, a pretend "floating raft." They brainstormed; they developed strategies. Some worked; most did not.
"We had to figure out how to work together and help each other to get the job done," said 12-year-old Emily Hutton.
Exactly, says Ken Green, a Woodmore teacher who pointed out that camp week separates some children from their parents for the first time, but students typically are way too busy learning and having fun to get homesick.
During wildlife classes in nature centers, students can touch a tarantula, snake, or turtle. Interactive science programs focus on topics such as ecosystems.
Outdoor school isn't all brain work and no play. Camp traditions include skit night, clean-cabin awards, and dodgeball. Tonight, it's do-si-do.
"We'll be square dancing," said Mr. Green. Indoors, away from the big chill.
Contact Janet Romaker