The Karnainen forest rang with happy young voices when the class arrived at a lean-to for the night. Observing nature was a part of the excursion.
When the teachers and pupils at the Mäntynummi comprehensive school in Lohja in southern Finland discussed the most upbeat way to end the school year at the end of May, Ms. Pirjo Piesala, homeroom teacher of Class 7C, made a proposal to them – a group of 12 boys 13–14 years of age:
”We could, of course, go to the football field with the other classes but if you like, we could also make an overnight excursion to the forest.”
You could say that the issue was academic. It is not very often that a positive answer has been equally unanimous.
Still, the project was by no means simple. You cannot just up and go on an excursion into the forest, and especially not with a group of teenage boys.
You first need to think about where to sleep. For this, the school has an army tent with space for 20 sleeping bags.
Putting the tent up was rehearsed beforehand in the schoolyard. During the excursion it was the boys’ duty to erect it, and they were very keen to practise.
Next, you need to think about what to eat. Because the excursion was part of the school programme, everyone received a bag with a carton of juice, an apple, a tub of yoghurt and a roll with cheese and ham from the school. This is not very much for an entire night.
One of a teacher’s best bets is always the making of pancakes. Two Trangia camping stoves, frying pans and spatulas were available in the school storage room. The teacher made the batter beforehand and put it in three 1.5-litre bottles.
In addition to this, everyone’s parents provided sausages to grill over the campfire, as well as other favourite items of food.
Then, you need to calculate whether you have enough hands to carry all the stuff to the camping place. Luckily, the weather was good, which meant that no stove was needed to heat the tent.
Forest excursion also involves paperwork
Yet there are many more things you need to think over. You can call it red tape, but it is still necessary.
First of all, you need a written permission to participate from each boy’s parents. You need to find parents for transportation and permissions for the boys to go swimming. You need to find out about illnesses, allergies, special diets and medications. You need to collect mobile phone numbers for both the boys and their parents. And for this excursion, you needed the parents’ permission for the boys to feature in this article and its accompanying photos.
One of the main pedagogical objectives of the excursion was to build team spirit. For this, the boys planned the activities during the excursion in smaller groups: rod and line fishing, grilling sausages, swimming. At the same time, they also drew up rules for a good excursion. All in all, five rules were agreed on.
The first one said that teasing or harassing anyone was not allowed. The second one was that everybody would participate in all work. Thirdly, the teacher’s word was to be the law, because she had the overall responsibility for the excursion. The fourth rule said that no one could leave the camp without the teacher’s permission. The fifth one said that littering was not allowed.
”When will we go to sleep,” was a question of the highest interest. The teacher’s suggestion was a surprise to all: ”We-ell, I don’t think you should stay awake very late. How about until four in the morning?” The suggestion was considered to be fair and was approved at once.
In addition, it was agreed not to bring any energy drinks and that during the excursion they would socialize with the group instead of with people at the end of mobile phones. The rules were agreed on jointly and by all, as otherwise the project would have been cancelled.
Another adult was also needed to oversee the group. In other cases it would probably have been a parent, but this time it was the writer of this article.
Carrying the tent was the hardest task
Then came the awaited day, the Thursday of last week. The boys and a couple of parents with their cars gathered at the school at six p.m. We then drove a couple of kilometres to a parking area near the Karnainen forest.
The Karnainen forest is a protected area owned by the city of Lohja. The city has built hiking routes with lean-tos for overnighting. Beside each lean-to there is a toilet and a campfire site.
Our goal was the campsite at the Sorvalampi lake. The distance to be hiked was 2.5 kilometres, which proved optimal. Not too close to the road, so nobody would get the idea that they want to go back in the middle of the night, but not too far to make the hike too hard.
The hardest task during the hike was carrying the tent. It needed two boys at a time, and the carriers were switched a couple of times.
We got fish, and instructions on how to clean them
The weather was as good as it can be in summer. By the time we arrived at half past six, everybody had worked up a glorious sweat, and the first task was naturally a dip in the lake. Everyone took part, either actually swimming or watching others do it.
After swimming the campfire was lighted. Firewood was taken from a shed kept up by the city. There was an axe and a saw in the shed, too, but a very necessary knife had luckily been brought by the assisting adult.
The boys almost queued to wield the axe. Chopping wood continued late into the night, although small chips were actually really needed when lighting the fire. ”It’s because those little chips burn so well,” argued Miikka Hietala.
Next, the tent was put up in good cooperation. Afterwards the boys started fishing with two rods found in the school storage room and eight nightcrawlers dug by Tuomas Keskinen in his parents’ garden.
From eight in the evening the fishing continued until late at night.
The catch was satisfactory: 13 perch in all. Some of the boys participated in a cleaning course with two lessons: traditional gutting and skinning the perch.
The perch were eaten, too, after being fried over the campfire. No one had thought to bring salt, but this problem was overcome in short order by serving the fish with potato crisps, which are notoriously salty and could be found in almost every rucksack.
In fact, this led to the invention and naming of a new food item, “potato perch”.
Nature drop off to sleep…
During the excursion the participants observed the day-and-night cycles in nature. The class was divided into groups of two boys, each of whom made the same round of observations at times agreed beforehand.
The first round took place at nine in the evening and was carried out by Severi Karppinen and Niko Hellsten. They noticed that the ants were still moving and there were plenty of insects on the lake, they heard five different bird species singing and saw that the sun had set but it was still possible to move without a flashlight. The petals of flowers had closed for the night.
The next round at ten was taken by Miikka Hietala and Jesse Oksanen. The ants were still up and about, but there were only a few insects on the lake. It was still possible to walk without a flashlight.
After ten, somebody realised that there is no reason to limit swimming to the daytime hours. In no time at all the lake was again teeming with boys and anything but quiet.
The group was too small to carry out the eleven o’clock round, but the decision made by the campfire was unanimous: this would be the teacher’s turn.
The first observation was a piece of news: the ants had gone to sleep. There were no insects on the lake, but on the land there were masses of them, which could also be observed without an official observation round. Three different birds were singing, and all other flower petals were closed except those of the Arctic Starflowers (Trientalis Europaea).
…and woke up
The midnight round was carried out by Tuomas Koskinen and Jesse Huuhtanen. The ants, or at least one ant, had woken up, which the teacher was a bit doubtful about, but still, it was better to record the observation. There were few insects on the lake and the birds were not singing.
After midnight had struck, Tuomas Koskinen began to tell dreadful ghost stories about the Backwoods, featuring the mysterious adventures of Lauri Pettersson. Everybody around the campfire laughed fit to bust.
The round at two in the morning was made by Tuomas Lindström and Sampo Nuottiaho. They did not see even a single ant and there were few insects on the lake, but the round could still be done without a flashlight.
And finally, there was the three a.m. round, which had fallen to Aleksi Jäälinna and Miikka Hietala for the second time. They did not see any ants and there were few insects on the lake, but the birds had woken up and two different bird species were heard singing. The teacher pointed out that they were obviously not the same species as those singing as the last ones in the evening.
And it was still possible to move about without a flashlight.
In the morning – well, everyone was tired
The morning came, perhaps not downright bleak, though some exhaustion could be sensed among the troops. The fire had been kept up through the night, so preparing the morning coffee was no job at all. Some still opted for grilled sausage.
The plan was to be back at the parking area at nine in the morning, but we arrived with kit and caboodle already before eight. Nevertheless, the camping site was left in a better condition than we had found it on arrival. All trash that could be burned had been fed into the fire, while the rest was brought back and disposed of properly.
Along the hike back someone created a song about his classmate Severi. The melody was striking and so were the lyrics, although they consisted of one and only one word: Seeveeri, Seeveeri. The song took quite a long time to perform despite its simplicity.
In the parking area there was time for debriefing. Everyone was satisfied, but when asked to be more specific, the boys fell more or less silent. One of them mentioned sitting at the campfire, another gave a slight laugh and said ”nothing.”
Nobody had any complaints about obeying the rules. As for the assisting adult, he was delighted with the considerate, energetic and straightforward behaviour of all the boys. The energy was actually a bit overwhelming, but then that is normally the case with boys of this age. It makes you think that maybe it is still possible to save the world.
”This is the best way to build team spirit”
The class teacher, Ms. Piesala thinks an excursion like this is the best way to build team spirit. ”You don’t need any special games. Just have everyone share the responsibility for carrying the things to the camping site, putting up and striking the tent, looking after the fire, and then sit together around it discussing everything under the sun, and you have a team,” says Piesala.
According to Piesala, overnighting in the forest is a new and unusual experience for most young people. This was the case with her class, too: when asked, only a few of the boys said they had done it before.
”They will remember this experience for a long time and this in itself helps them appreciate nature, especially if the excursion is led properly,” says Piesala.
During the excursion the teacher and the pupils learn to know each other better. Compared to staying in a classroom, the excursion reveals new characteristics in the pupils and the teacher, and this creates human understanding, which is the basis of our existence.
”And especially for a lively group of boys such as this one, the forest serves as a place to let off youthful energy in a constructive manner,” says Piesala.