Everyday leadership: Learning works well when it’s a fun activity

The morning was hot and muggy as we packed the car and headed south toward the Smokey Mountains last week. My family has created the tradition of the Ray Family Reunion. In 2000, we traveled to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky followed in 2002 with a trip to Springfield, Mo., where my brother Jack lives. The 2010 reunion was held at Cumberland Falls, Ky. At that time we decided to hold these reunions every three years.

Last week our most recent get together was near Cosby, Tenn. Most everybody had already arrived when we pulled in. The weather was considerably cooler, dry and beautiful among the impressive mountains smothered in a rich green cloak of trees.

Three cabins were reserved: one for my sister Sylvia’s family, one for my brother Joe’s family and one for my brother Jack’s, which also housed my group. The entire assemblage consisted of nine children and 18 adults.

Day One was consumed with a hike toward Ramsey Cascades and day two began with a raft trip on the Pigeon River. After the raft trip and lunch was over, eight of the children ranging in age from 4 to 10 converged on a fast moving, little mountain stream called Indian Camp Creek. My niece, who is the energy and sustainability curriculum coordinator for the Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Ky., provided nets to test the quality of water based upon the variety and quantity of life in the stream. Minnows, crayfish, stonefly larvae and a 4 1/2-inch black salamander (probably a northern gray-cheeked) were found. We invested a lot of persuasion to convince the children to finally let the amphibian go. We estimated the water quality was medium to low due to the sparseness of the animals captured.

Later that day, I noticed my brother, Joe, running by our cabin in the direction of my sister’s cabin. A few minutes later he returned with an 18-inch black rat snake in his hands for all the children to examine. When Joe found it, the snake was resting on top of a floor register in the hallway and seemed comfortable with the commotion it created. This species is beneficial because it eats mice and rats and even other snakes including poisonous ones. Joe released it on a hillside by our cabin and it quickly slithered into the forest and safety.

Life has many opportunities for learning. Although our objective as a family was to catch up on changes life had brought us since our last gathering, we also planned time to teach and learn. The learning in Indian Camp Creek was interspersed with swimming and wading so it did not seem like an academic project. The key to getting children to love to learn is to make a game out of it and make it fun.

Every time I walk through the woods that claim the land from the edge of my yard to the banks of the Little Hocking River, I am excited by the plants and animals I see. Often I find something I have never seen before. If we are looking for the unusual, we may see it all around us.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.