Fourth Grade Learns Primitive Survival Skills

skills1 As part of their studies of early human communities, cultures, and lifestyle, fourth graders recently participated in a survival skills workshop with Jeffrey Gottlieb, a naturalist and primitive survival skills expert. Jeffrey has been teaching skills to school groups for about 30 years through hands-on projects and examination of his personal collections of important natural materials, historic artifacts, and recent replicas. Throughout the day, students learned firsthand how to make primitive tools, clothing, shelter, and even jewelry.

View pics of the primitive survival skills workshop


Prior to his visit to the Lower School, Jeffrey talked with fourth grade teacher Alicia Schordine about her students’ specific areas of study and interests, and then designed a program that tied into their Cultural History unit on Paleolithic and Neolithic settlements.


The result was a series of activities that included flint knapping and other stone working; friction fire-making; crafting stone pendants by “drilling” with a stick that was carved to a point (picture a very large sharpened pencil), grinding, polishing, and engraving; and fiber crafts and rope making. The experiences were designed so that the students could create items to take home as a keepsake.


Jeffrey certainly dressed for the part of a survivalist, with gear including handmade shoes and a cowboy hat that, to the delight of the students, was adorned with real rattlesnake skin. As he passed around an animal skin and 2,000-year-old arrowheads fashioned from stone, he explained how Paleolithic peoples used every part of an animal. For example, the moose was a food source, its antlers were honed into knives and weapons, and its hide was used for warm clothing and shoes.


The class also got a close-up look at a collection of native mammal skins and skulls, played a game called “Mammal Match-Up,” and viewed Jeffrey’s “Nature Mysteries Museum,” a collection of out-of-context mysterious natural objects. These last two activities were designed to teach inquiry-thinking skills as well as nature knowledge.


“Mastering skills and crafts fosters self-confidence and improves the ability to solve subsequent challenges,” Jeffrey said.