Fifth Graders Keep ‘Eyes on Jesus’ At Annual Retreat

 5th grade retreat 2013
5th grade retreat 2013

Two weeks ago, the fifth grade class completed the 21st annual pilgrimage to Camp Gilead in Polk City for the 5th Grade Retreat. I know of few schools that take on something like this with this age group, and do it in-house. For me, it’s a can’t-not-do situation. I was nine years old the first summer I went to camp. I won a “nature award!” Surprised?

There were many experiences in my childhood that helped foster my interest in the natural world and going to camp was one of them. Research studies indicate that a child’s attitude about wildlife and nature is fixed and unchangeable by age 12. Who knows, maybe the 28 hours at camp will help students make a positive connection with God and His creation.

Why do this at school?

Twenty six years ago, while serving as principal at Mansfield Christian School, one of my fifth grade teachers asked me what I thought of taking the fifth grade to a local camp for an overnight “camp” experience. The rest is history. When I came to Florida 21 years ago, I asked one of the fifth grade teachers what she thought about doing a retreat at Camp Gilead and the result was the same. “Buy in and want to” are powerful motivators and for me, it’s no work at all. Having this experience during school but off campus helps support the notion that learning can happen anywhere!

Another important reason for having a retreat is to involve the parents, especially Dads. I am amazed at the number of parents who come every year, especially with the busy schedules they maintain. Parents going to camp and tagging along to the sessions, eating meals together, hanging out at the beach, and sleeping in the cabins together develop relationships and create memories which would never happen on campus.

 boating-5th grade retreat
boating-5th grade retreat

Why with fifth grade? 

I may be old school, but fifth grade may be the “last gasp” of childhood! Much of what we do at camp really fits their age and their willingness to engage. Why would I do this if the students did not buy in?

What happens there?

The format has changed little over the years. I try to have a mix of structure and controlled choices for the students. We have 10 scheduled sessions and three blocks of time with several choices for the students.

Growing spiritually 

 Eye on Jesus camp shirt
Eye on Jesus camp shirt

Every year we have a Biblical theme with which all the activities connect. The theme may get lost a bit in the fun of it all, but I made sure it was imprinted on their camp shirt and craft frame they made to keep this important idea before them. This year’s theme was “Eyes on Jesus,” Hebrews 12:1-2.

The theme was integrated into orienteering as students fixed their eyes on the compass to keep on course. In archery, they had to focus on the bulls eye before releasing the arrow.

Growing socially and physically

We mixed the cabin and activity groups to help the students connect with classmates they may not know well. The teachers had the students participate in this process. Mr. Mark’s unity games were designed with this in mind. We also had an activity for the parents’ participation (Lap sit) that I am sure they will not forget!


Some unique experiences to develop a love for God and His creation were the night and morning hikes, the WILD things session, and, of course, OWL PELLETS! Parents and students had the opportunity to swim, fish and tube in and around the lake.  I’m pretty sure visiting the Oasis Canteen for an RC and a Moon Pie does not make the “nature list,” but what a fun throwback to camp days gone by! 

Growing academically 

Science and Art were integrated in the tie-dye camp shirt and the frame craft. In science class they learned about natural and synthetic fabrics and dyes and used them to dye the 100% cotton shirt with synthetic dye (Rit), and dyed the fabric to be framed with natural dye (blackberries).

Growing corporately

There were other events I could mention, but I will end with a huge thanks to the teachers and parents for their help and participation.

Here it goes…hauling luggage to and from the camp, loading coolers with ice and drinks, purchasing food for Friday lunch, thanks to Chick-Fil-A for delivering, Mr. Brickhouse for doing “Goofy Games” while not even having a fifth grader, Mrs. Averitt and food crew, the dining hall cleaners, the cabin and group leaders, Dr. Hutto for nurturing putt putt golf casualties, Mr. Mark (“just a little bit crazy”) and, of course, Camp Gilead.

If I forgot anyone…just rub some dirt on it!

Mr. Fred Wiechmann serves as a Science Resource Teacher for LCS. You can email him at