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Build a log cabin on school holidays

Students invited to learn stuff in an unusual outdoor way

School holiday programmes are boring and the same old, same old. Right? Wrong, according to Tom Batty, creator and leader of Wildwood Adventure School, situated on a 30 acre farm outside the small town of Robertson in the picturesque Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

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“They will be able to feel like they built a house, very quickly.” – Tom Batty

From July 16 to 19, six spots are available for teenage boys to build a log cabin at Wildwood. A real, rustic cabin constructed by their own school holiday efforts, experiments and, um, watching YouTube videos.

“YouTube is the greatest teacher in the world,” chuckles Batty. But he is mostly serious, as this ordained Anglican minister and former Christian Outdoor Educator with Youthworks doesn’t have any formal training with building.

“I want to enable these boys to see that you can just surf on YouTube and then ‘give it a crack’. It will hopefully give them a whole bunch of confidence knowing I am not a builder – I’ll have a go, though – but I can learn from YouTube how to do stuff.”

“Building a log cabin is pretty simple; it’s just stacking logs. The design I have chosen is really easy. I’m going to do a lot of prep beforehand, so all the boys do is lift and stack logs and nail them together – and they will be able to feel like they built a house, very quickly.”

Aiming to have the cabin built in four days, Batty’s holiday programme involves putting in windows and doors, laying a stone floor and installing a fireplace. Awesome.

One of Batty’s neighbours was going to mulch a stack of lopped pine trees. Batty saved them from such a fate, so he could offer young men the chance to do some outdoor work in an era when that’s a rare thing. A special bonus for the team that builds the cabin is they will be “welcome to spend a night with some friends in the cabin” – whenever the want. With parental permission and appropriate supervision, of course.

Batty opened Wildwood Adventure School last year after finishing up as youth pastor at Harbour Church, Shellharbour. He believes Wildwood is unique in offering what he describes as “self directed adventure education.” An adjunct to formal schooling, Wildwood opens its doors to ten students per term (age range: 7 to 17), for one day each week. Students create their curriculum, from canoeing to berry picking, fort building to hiking. The aim is relatively simple: Wildwood wants kids to be curious about the world and to learn by doing, while being carefully mentored by ever-curious Batty.

We simply leave students with the knowledge that they can now face even greater challenges than before.” – Tom Batty

“Wildwood Adventure School seeks to provide an environment where children and teens can feel safe enough to explore,” explains Batty. “Safe enough to try hard things. Safe enough to fail without feeling like a failure.”

“At the end of the 10 week programme we offer no artificial certificate of anything,” says Batty, who knows some parents aren’t keen on such lack of recognition. “No trophies, no ceremonies, no badges. We simply leave students with the knowledge that they can now face even greater challenges than before.”

Wildwood also boasts Christian foundations without being an explicitly Christian school. The Bible is taught during each Wildwood day and Batty is motivated to care for kids due to God’s expressed love for the humans he creates.

During the log cabin school holiday build, Batty will be focusing on the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. He sees this slab of “wisdom literature” as being “designed for young men as they transition into adulthood.”

“I didn’t grow up with a Christian dad so I certainly benefitted from Proverbs giving me Christian guidance, as I was maturing into manhood.”

Batty has had a number of parents turned off Wildwood because of its “Jesus component.” But jocular and innovative Batty reckons his take on applying Christian convictions to helping children offers a bonus for unsuspecting parents.

“When you market yourself as a school, people don’t expect pastoral care. So when you give it, they love it. But if you market yourself as a church and you don’t give pastoral care … so it’s been really nice to have a pastoral relationship with these kids when the parents didn’t expect it.”

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