Saturday, May 3, 2014

Things to be Learned at Outdoor School

The district that I teach in, is lucky enough to still have an outdoor school program. Even in a time of budget cuts, and lost programs, our district has seen the value of this wonderful program, and has made it a priority to continue offering this life-changing experience to our sixth grade students. Due to becoming a mommy (twice), and having young ones at home, I have not been able to go to outdoor school with my students, since my very first year teaching, until this week. I was not lucky enough to grow up in a school that offered outdoor school, and had my first experience with it, as an adult volunteer when my sisters participated. I saw the value then, but I see it even more now.

This past week has been filled with memories and learning that could have never occurred within the walls of even, the most amazing of schools. The life-lessons, hands on and first hand learning, the relationships forged, and independence gained, throughout the four days we spend at Camp Magruder, were so amazing! I wish that there was a way to show, each and every parent, teacher, and student, what this program does for our kids, but unfortunately, my words and experience will have to do.

There were many, many aspects of camp that helped to shape the minds of those who attended. Here are just a few:

Earth Field Study: Oregon Coast
Curriculum: The field studies offered at outdoor school follow the national 6th grade science standards to a "T". All week, I heard students saying, "Oh, we already learned about this!", or "Oh, that's what Ms. Science Teacher taught us!" The awesome thing about this is that, the students were able to see what they had already learned, in a real-life setting. They were able to expand on their previous knowledge in a hands-on way. It made their past learning "real", "purposeful", "useful".

Relationships: Our school went to a camp which also housed a school from a district quite different from ours (in distance and experiences). It was life-altering for many of our students to meet, and become friends with others who are not like them in every way, who come from a different way of life, and who have other interests. Their relationships with their peers also changed. Many students who haven't said more than two words to each other all year, were now room mates and friends. Finally, their relationships with their teachers.
Animal Field Study: In the Woods

Our students got to see us in a different light. At camp, teachers are fun, silly, and have all the time in the world. I try to be/do these things in my classroom to, but with standards, testing, several classes, grading, questions, etc., some of those things happen on a limited basis. I was able to have several, good, happy, relaxed, conversations with my students. Not about Social Studies, or how they can get a better grade, but about their interests, their favorite part of the day, their hopes for the future, etc. Those relationships and the bonds strengthened through this experience is, in and of itself, worth every penny!

Beautiful Lake in Camp
Independence: Every year, I am shocked by the number of students and parents that tell me that they have never been apart over night before outdoor school. Every year, these same parents and students worry about the time and space that will come between them, while participating in ODS. Every year, I remind both parties, that this time away is good for everyone. Kids need to learn some independence. They need to build strong, trusting relationships with their peers. Parents need to see the pride and success that their children feel when they come home with millions of stories to tell. Independence is a trait that everyone needs to learn at some point, why not when enjoying nature, friends, and gaining education?!

Sustainability: Outdoor school isn't just about trees, life cycles, bugs, and science. It also has a wonderful component that we could all use refreshers on from time to time. At every meal, students learned about ways to save energy, live in a sustainable way, help the environment, and how these tips can affect the world around them. They discussed/taught by example the benefits of buying local food, composting, growing your own food, and overall environmental awareness. I think of myself as someone who cares deeply about the world I live in, and I do my best to make my footprint a small one, but I learned so much from being surrounded by while at camp. It reminded me of the things I already know, but have "forgotten" and the easy changes I can make to help my local area: environmentally, socially, and financially.

Please, support and push for outdoor school programs in your school districts! These programs teach our students invaluable life lessons they just can't get anywhere else!

Forest Field Study: The View from the Hike

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