Skip to main content

Army Reserve soldier brings outdoor survival training into the classroom

Teaching outdoor survival skills to his class of primary school students has been an unexpected bonus of life in the New Zealand Army Reserve Force for Cambridge man Private Mitchell Pettit.

23 November, 2023

The 28-year-old has been a teacher for six years and has served in the Reserve Force for more than two years.

His experience with 3/6 Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, has made for popular lessons with pupils at Matangi School, near Hamilton, where he runs a fortnightly “Bush School” programme.

“The kids found out I served in the Reserve Force and were keen to learn some of the skills we picked up in the Army,” Private Pettit said.

“So I started a Bush School with the Year 3-4 syndicate, teaching them bush craft and survival skills.

“It’s a bit of fun for us all, and they’re picking up some really valuable skills at the same time.”

On average, five people die and more than 6,600 injuries occur every year while tramping or hiking, according to data from the NZ Mountain Safety Council.

Private Pettit is hoping his students can avoid getting into trouble outdoors with some basic bush craft knowledge.

So far, they’ve been shown how to build and light a fire and taught fire safety, as well as how to construct a basic shelter and washing line.

They’ve also made model trenches out of shoe boxes, and been shown how to tie various knots.

A soldier crouches in the bush, carrying a weapon like they are moving from left to right. The image is very green looking. Students at Matangi School learn how to tie double knots with harakeke plants and create a washing line at ‘Bush School’. A soldier crouches in the bush, carrying a weapon. There are native ferns around them.

Left and right: Private Mitchell Pettit training as part of Exercise El-Alamein. Centre: Students at Matangi School learn how to tie double knots with harakeke plants and create a washing line at ‘Bush School’.

Private Pettit said he’s lucky that both the school principal and board of trustees have supported him to take time away from the classroom for basic training, training days, and to assist with the Cyclone Gabrielle response in Thames.

He said his students were keen to hear about his Army experiences, and wanted him to bring a slice of Army life into the classroom.

“We now have tote tray inspections, and it’s all done in a fun and relaxed way with a bit of healthy competition.

“The kids stand behind their desk in a disciplined manner and I offer improvements and select a winner. It’s all a bit of fun and the kids seem to thrive on it.”

Beyond the fun side of these lessons, Private Pettit said it was also an opportunity for his students to learn more about the New Zealand Defence Force in general.

“Explaining some of the terminology to the kids in simplified terms gives them a much better understanding around Anzac Day and the Army too.

“It’s also given me a greater understanding about Anzac Day, and has enabled me to teach about it in much more detail.”

Private Pettit is excited to keep honing his military expertise.

“I didn’t know anyone in the military when I joined, but now I look forward to catching up with my Army mates at training.

“I’ve loved the experience so far and am looking forward to developing my military skills further.

“Some of the students in my class are starting to talk about joining the Reserve Force to learn some of the skills that I have picked up.”