by Kate Ramsayer  / The Bulletin

The kids stood in a semicircle, eyes focused at Rebecca Moergen’s feet. With a bow in one hand, a stick in the other and a small board under her boot, she crouched down, trying to start a fire. “The most important wilderness survival skill is a positive attitude,” she had said earlier. “You guys think we can get a fire going?” The crowd at the High Desert Museum answered yes, and sure enough, after moving the bow back and forth to make the stick spin, a little pile of dust started smoking.

Kids learn new skills at High Desert MuseumMoergen and others with the Coyote Trails School of Nature were at the High Desert Museum as part of Kids Day on Friday, teaching children how to track mammals, build a simple shelter in the woods and listen to the birds around them. Even if people just have an awareness of basic survival skills, like building a shelter or starting fire, it can help them not panic if they ever get lost in the woods, Moergen said. “We’re really using primitive living skills to help people have connections to the world around them,” Moergen said.

Skills like being able to pick out birdcalls could clue hikers or trackers in to other things going on in the woods. And showing kids how to make fire demystifies the process a bit, she said. The instructors showed two ways to get little piles of dust smoking, once with a bow and once by simply rubbing a stick back and forth in their hands to create friction in a notched board. “Is that wood splinter-free?” asked Annie Hawkins, 9, of Bend. Moergen said that it does sometimes cause blisters. Hawkins noted later that if she was stuck without matches, she would use the bow method to avoid any potential splinters. But she enjoyed the demonstration, she said. “It was really cool because I think it’s really good to know some fire-starter ways without matches,” she said.

Jesse Christensen, 7, who was visiting from Oregon City, liked the bow method as well. “It’s pretty good,” he said. He had spent the day “just playing around” at the museum, he said, climbing rocks and looking at the animals. Kids Day, which the museum puts on about three times a year, is full of events for children of all ages, said Jamie Chapman, visitor programming specialist with the museum. Friday’s events all focused on a winter theme, including games and crafts like pinwheels and paper dolls. “These are all activities based on things pioneer children would have done to while away the winter months,” Chapman said.

Debbie Keefer-Smith, of Bend, had brought her children to the museum not knowing about the special events, but they took advantage of the opportunity to make a natural bird feeder out of pine cones and peanut butter, to decorate gingerbread cookies shaped like fish and to take a horse-drawn wagon ride. “It’s great because it has a lot of activity centers for the kids,” Keefer-Smith said. Her daughter Elise Smith, 9, was busy making a pinwheel, and then was off to look at some of the animals. When she walked in today, she said, her first thought was: “I have a lot of things to do.”