How You Can Use Object Lessons & Props in the Outdoors to Increase Participation & Bring Learning to Life

Teaching with props and object lessons is a key aspect of outdoor ministry. Object lessons are the basis for experiential learning. I’m always looking for creative outdoor ministry curriculum for the outdoors. Object lessons and props bring learning to life and increase participation in the learning process.



Broadway plays and blockbuster movies stand out for several reasons. The obvious one is that they have good actors and actresses. Yet what often distinguishes between a good and great theatrical performance is the design of the set, the costumes, and the props that bring the story to life. Similar to the role of the performers in a play or movie, a teacher is of paramount importance for delivering a message. Yet often what distinguishes between an average and excellent teacher is how they use props to stir people’s emotional response. Corrie ten Boom was famous for saying a teacher should always have a prop to coincide with her message to increase involvement in the learning process. Tangible visual aids greatly enhance learning in outdoor ministry curriculum because they provide something tangible to make connections with what we are learning. This is a key tool to have in your outdoor ministry curriculum tool belt.

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In the outdoors, we have more props and object lessons than we could ever use in a thousand lifetimes! At our fingertips we have gear in your backpack, branches, stones, rivers—you name it. Finding a prop or object lesson is not difficult in the natural setting. The problem is that we often miss the opportunity because we simply don’t look around for an object to connect with what we are teaching. Many of the prophets like Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel used figurative actions, symbolism, and object lessons to dramatically communicate truth. For example, Jeremiah, in chapters 27 and 28, walked around with a wooden yoke to dissuade the Judeans from joining in an alliance with Egypt.

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Obstacles are a common object lesson in the outdoors. And obstacles are a common experience in normal life. Sounds like a recipe for a perfect teachable moment! The next time you take a group outdoors, through casual conversation, ask them to identify some of the obstacles the group has faced so far on our wilderness trip. Some examples might be: peaks, rivers, fatigue, emotional challenges, etc.. Now with that in mind, here is a teachable moment that capitalizes on those physical “obstacles” as a prop or object lesson to parallel our life back at home:


In the context of unbridled wickedness in his culture, Isaiah was given a vision from God. God accuses the wicked of depending on their idols to deliver them. Yet in all reality, even the wind can carry off an idol! God says with unmistakable clarity, “’He who takes refuge in me will inherit the land, and will possess my holy mountain.’ And it will be said, ‘Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstacle out of the way of my people’” (Isaiah 57:13-14). While enjoying purifying solitude with God out in his creation it is good to think a little bit about what it is going to be like when you go back down into the valley of life back at home. There will inevitably be obstacles to block or prohibit us from being faithful to God when we plug back into the routine of our normal daily lives.

The idols of our culture easily become teddy bears of comfort to us and we need to recognize how much God hates idol worship. Yet if we turn away from them and seek to please God, he will remove obstacles out of our way and give us an inheritance that cannot perish, spoil, or fade. What obstacles have we faced so far on our wilderness trip? There have been peaks, rivers, and emotional challenges. We could have given up or backed down to those obstacles. But, instead, we leaned on God and took refuge in him, and he gave us the strength and perseverance to go through the obstacle rather than be stopped by it. What is stopping you from walking in the Spirit back at home? Are there personal sins or relationships that are hindering you? In quiet solitude try to identify the sin that entangles you and ask God for his help to completely remove those obstacles so you can freely pursue the adventure of the Great Commission where it counts, back in our city or community.

References: Romans 14:13; Isaiah 57:13-14;
Jeremiah 6:21; Romans 16:17; Hebrews 12:1


Anything worthwhile will need some hard work. Transformational teaching techniques are developed through practice, practice, practice. It’s up to you to find a prop to enhance your message. Chapters 11-12 of my book, Christian Outdoor Leadership has many examples of creation analogies with object lessons.

What is a prop you have used in your outdoor teaching that really connected with people?


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One thought on “How You Can Use Object Lessons & Props in the Outdoors to Increase Participation & Bring Learning to Life

  1. I’m reminded of all of the props that Jesus used in his ministry: fig trees, storms, coins… all made his teachings more tangible and more powerful. What better example to follow?

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