After experiencing last weekend’s “spring ahead” of daylight saving time and the return of balmy temperatures, we are all thinking about spring.

Even though all this seasonal change has many of us kicking our cabin fever in preparation for the excitement of April, May and June in the Brainerd lakes area, it's important that we also reflect upon this unfortunate fact:

"Children today spend less time outdoors than any generation in human history, devoting just four to seven minutes a day on average in unstructured outdoor play while spending an average of seven and a half hours every day in front of electronic media." (No Child Left Inside)

Pequot Lakes Middle School student Samuel Afagwu gives a thumbs up while ice fishing on Sibley Lake in March 2021. Submitted Photo
Pequot Lakes Middle School student Samuel Afagwu gives a thumbs up while ice fishing on Sibley Lake in March 2021. Submitted PhotoSubmitted Photo

Certainly, the pandemic, distance learning and a Schoology platform have unfortunately only added to the demands of screen time and a distancing from the outdoor world.

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Last week, Pequot Lakes Middle School made a move to invert that statistic. What started with a couple of middle school social studies teachers hanging out and talking about fun and engaging opportunities for kids turned into an amazing series of days on Sibley Lake.

From celebrating Indigenous snow snake games to chasing the elusive Sibley Lake crappie, our kids found an abundance of fun and engaging activities out on the lake.

Through a little “northwoods engineering,” we also were able to compete in wood cookie curling, human dogsledding and “smooshing” (you may have to Google that one). The kids had a blast, as evidenced by their smiles in photos.

But more importantly, they had an authentic learning experience, with a lot less structure, and a lot more freedom.

Gratitude should be extended to the volunteers who helped serve hot cocoa and set up the s’mores station. It was rewarding to watch the smiles on the faces of the moms, dads and other special guests, who arguably had as much fun as the kids while helping to facilitate the fun.

In addition to our volunteers, we also want to extend appreciation to the PLMS staff who rallied around the idea, helping to pull off back-to-back days of fun on the lake.

Without the planning of Mr. Bengtson (sixth grade social studies) and the ideas of Mr. Fischer (fifth grade social studies), this day would not have come together. Thank you to both of them for advocating for our kids and for recognizing that quality learning experiences can happen outside the walls of the classroom.

From the little things (like ordering porta-potties) to the logistical coordination of volunteers and resources, we say “thanks."

In addition, we’d like to thank Robert Engholm from the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association, and Eric Sullivan from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for sharing about their passions in the outdoors.

And to John Janousek, Rapala, 13 Fishing, and Jason Barr from Tutt’s Bait for helping to provide the rods and tackle to help kids to have an amazing experience.

Lastly, thank you to the Sibley Lake Association members who granted us the green light to use this great local resource.

As the weather warms, we’re excited about the prospects of getting our kids outside exploring and continuing to try to find balance in time on tech and time outdoors.

Mike O’Neil is Pequot Lakes Middle School principal.