Today in 2004, a 10 year old managed to save a lot of lives because she remembered a lesson she’d learned in school.

The 10 year old was Tilly Smith, of Surry, England.

She was on vacation in Thailand with her parents and her younger sister.

They were staying at a resort, hanging out on the beach, when Tilly noticed something in the ocean that seemed off.

Rather than coming in and going out like usual, the water just kept coming in.

It was foamy and bubbly and sizzly.

Now if I had been on that beach I wouldn’t have thought anything about any of this.

I might have thought, this is just a thing that the ocean does here that I’ve never seen before.

Or something like, I’m not an ocean scientist, just because I don’t know what it is doesn’t mean it’s a problem.

Thinking that would have been a problem.

Just two weeks before her vacation, Tilly had been in school listening to her teacher, Andrew Kearney, describe what happens after an earthquake in the ocean.

He showed a video from a similar situation in Hawaii in the 1940s, scenes that happened right before a tsunami.

The nearby water swelled and came further and further in, and it was foamy and bubbly and sizzly.

Tilly remembered all this and explained to her parents that something was wrong.

They didn’t catch on at first, but she kept at them, explaining more and more urgently that whether they realized it or not, a tsunami was coming and they were in danger.

Eventually they left the beach, and Tilly’s dad talked to a security guard, who believed the Smiths and ordered everyone off the beach.

Not long after that, a tsunami hit the beach just like the 10 year old had said.

It caused massive damage and took hundreds of thousands of lives in coastal areas along the Indian Ocean.

But the people on that resort had gotten off the beach ahead of the disaster.

Tilly Smith had helped save people from a tsunami that most of us wouldn’t have known was coming!

She said later that she was glad she’d spotted the similarities between her lesson at school and the movement of the water on the beach.

And on top of that, she said, of the people around her that day, “I’m glad that they listened to me.”

If you aren’t ready to wrap up the holidays just yet, drop by Asheville, North Carolina.

From now until January 2nd, the Omni Grove Park Inn is displaying the very fancy entries from the 32nd Annual National Gingerbread House Competition.

Remember, no matter how delicious they are, look with your eyes!

How Paying Attention in Elementary School Can Save Lives (Now I Know)


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Photo by David Schott via Flickr/Creative Commons