Escaping the Room to learn English

One of the camps we partner with has a camp during Easter break and they want it to be less in the classroom and more active. In theory that shouldn’t be too difficult, the only problem being, we don’t have anything like that quite yet.

We needed to brainstorm, so I talked to a good friend of mine who also does English camps and he mentioned using escape rooms to help teach English. I had just done my first two escape rooms earlier that year and loved them, so I was immediately all in.

For those of you who aren’t aware of escape rooms, let me explain the concept a bit before talking about how we will be using them in camps. An escape room is a thematic room that has clues, puzzles and riddles spread throughout the room. Some of the puzzles are straight-forward word scrambles while others require much more brain power to solve. Normally the rooms take an hour to complete and the goal is to find a code that you use to “escape the room.”

The tricky part for our use is that we need a portable escape room or one that does not require a lot of set-up. This would allow us to bring the escape room wherever we have a camp. Most escape rooms are set up for months at a time and therefore can be much more involved. We, on the other hand, will need to come and go within a week and will probably only have a few hours to set up the room for a couple uses and then have to take it down again.

I’ve been tasked with designing the escape room. I’ve done research by going to multiple escape rooms with different numbers of people and discussing with them what worked, what didn’t and how we could adapt some of the good aspects to make it portable. I’m not an escape room expert, but with the help of my friends, I’ve been able to get some very good ideas down on paper.

The second tricky part is that we will want to use these escape rooms for a multitude of themes, so instead of designing one escape room, instead I am designing a template that a theme could be added onto. From that template we could easily adapt the room to fit whatever theme the camp requests…in theory.

The last tricky part is creating something that with only minor tweaks could work with students who know very little English all the way up to conversationally fluent students. Not sure how we will handle that quite yet, but we’ll figure it out.

To me, this is exciting. It is a challenge for sure, but to design something that the kids can learn through that doesn’t even feel like learning is worth the work!

A Wardrobe in Greece and a Table Full of Food

Just before Easter I found myself in Athens with a team from California who came to teach English. The curriculum we were using was the Adventures in the Wardrobe curricula I have been co-writing for quite a while now. The curriculum is based on the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie and has been used in Germany before, but this was the first time in Greece. I wrote more about how the camp went on the eDOT site, head over there and find out what some of my student’s favorite colors were.

I was very happy with how the curriculum was received and as one of it’s designers it confirms that what we are doing is worth the time and effort. That alone would have made our time in Greece worthwhile, but what happened the day after the camp ended touched me deeper than just about anything ever has before.

The day after the camp we went to one of the refugee camps in the area to deliver diapers and wipes. 11 of the 50ish students we taught currently live in one of two nearby refugee camps. Most of them came from Afghanistan, but two of them were from Syria and it was these two boys and their mom who this story will center on.

Because of relationships that had been built between one of the leaders of the ministry we partnered with and the people in this camp the two boys were invited to a blatantly Christian camp. Even though they were not Christian, their mom said they could come because they have brains of their own and she wanted them to be able to learn English and have a good time.

My co-leader ended up teaching them during the camp and these boys ate up the lessons. They asked questions, were engaged in the lessons and loved speaking what English they could, whenever they could. They didn’t always understand what we were saying, but they tried as hard as they could to give the best answer they could. They certainly did not lack enthusiasm, that is for sure!

While at the camp we were given diapers and wipes to take to specific cabins. Immediately a young boy found my teammate and I and wanted to help. He grabbed my hand and, to no one’s surprise, started swinging from it. He lead us successfully to the first cabin and we delivered the diaper’s to an appreciative mother. After the success with my new friend we decided he could probably help us find the others we needed to find…yeah, that didn’t work out so well. He lead us, confidently, to many wrong places until eventually he scattered off to find other friends.

While struggling to find one of the cabins we ran into one of the Syrian boys from English camp and after helping us find the right place he dragged us, willingly, to his place to meet his mom. As we arrived we found my co-leader there already talking with his mom and with a plate of food in front of her. We had eaten lunch before we came to camp, but that didn’t seem to matter to his mom, who quickly stood up, shook our hands and then produced two more places of Tabouli and another dish of which I can’t remember the name.

In some cultures it is offensive to leave a plate with food on it and in others a clean plate means you want more. So, somehow we needed to tread this fine line of not offending our host, but also not getting even more food since we were already pretty full. My two teammates didn’t want to be rude, but realized they would not be able to finish eating their plates of food. When the mom ducked inside her place I became the recipient of their remains. Since it would be obvious that I had more food on my plate than before she went inside I had to eat their share quickly. My stomach was full…but I did what needed to be done, or at least, what I thought had to be done.

In the meantime more of our team came and joined us, eventually we had 5 teachers and 3 of the leaders from the camp at our table. At one point one of the leaders called the other in as “backup” because he knew how much food was about to be consumed.

When the mom came back out, I had successfully eaten the rest of the food on my plate (which was delicious by the way) and then my jaw about dropped to the floor with what she was carrying with her. Out on the table she placed a giant pan with saffron rice, potatoes, eggplant and chicken. We weren’t leaving anytime soon and my stomach was not going to be any less full.

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The reason for “backup.”

Again, we didn’t want to offend anyone, so I took one for the team and had a plate full of this dish. Unfortunately I made the mistake of allowing the mom to serve me. I’m not sure how she managed to get so much on one plate. I did what I could and in the end, I finished my plate. The smile on the boys’ mom’s face was enough to deal with the slight discomfort I was feeling.

Why do I tell you this? Well, it is not to tell you that refugees have it better than you thought, because they don’t. Or that they can make giant meals for anybody that comes to visit, because they can’t. The reason I tell you this is because it was the curriculum that allowed us to meet these wonderful people who opened up their limited resources to us to show their appreciation. There was no way we were going to disrespect this family by not eating what was served, because to them it was an honor to serve us. They loved that we would spend time with them, love them and care for them.

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A photo taken by one of the boys and this was only half of who all ended up at this table.

This is what our partner ministry does in Greece. This is what we do with our curriculum. It is through these relationships that we can share the Gospel and it will be heard because they know we love them and care for them. It is through these relationships that God will bring more into His kingdom and if I have to eat a ridiculous amount of food to help establish those relationships, then that is exactly what I will do!