We call these Outdoor Ed – outdoor education. The Fifth Grade takes two trips each year, one in the fall and the other in spring. The Sixth Grade also takes two trips, but they take on a different tone. This post is not about Sixth Grade though. Outdoor Ed is pretty much exactly what its name indicates – education classes that take place outdoors. The students rotated in groups through six different classes; the climbing wall, canoeing, two low ropes challenge courses, ceramics, and horseback riding. It is a time for team building and coming together as a grade level. Coach Brian is the trip coordinator and he instructs the students to think in terms of, “We, not me. What is going to be best for the group rather than what will be best for me.”
The four homeroom teachers, two assistant teachers, the Math and Science teachers, three PE teachers, our Maker Space teacher, the Upper Elementary Division Head, and the Head of School are the chaperones for these trips.
It is a time for us to see our students in new situations and new environments. Where a child might not feel confident enough to speak up in class, they may feel very confident and comfortable outdoors. It’s an opportunity for students to enjoy and explore the outdoors, something that children get to do less of these days than when I was younger. It is also an opportunity for the students to see their teachers and administrators in new light. They are used to seeing the PE teachers outside in shorts and being active, but the Head of School? Yes, all of us are out there, walking around all day with the students, scaling the climbing wall, riding horses, making pottery, paddling in a canoe. The only activity adults don’t take part in is the low ropes challenge courses.
These are different challenges that the students must work together to be successful. (they are “low ropes” because they are no more than a 5 feet off the ground.) The teachers present the scenarios to the students and then sitback and allow them come up with solutions. We offer little in ways of advice, which the first few times I went on one of these trips was really difficult! On this most recent trip, our Math teacher, Mrs. Eyles relayed a story of the spider web –
A student was refusing to go through the web she was being told to go. Her teammates were trying to convince her to just do it their way. This went on for a couple of minutes and then another student stopped and asked, “Why don’t you tell us how you’d be comfortable going through?” The first girl did, and just like that, the team was able to complete the task. This is a perfect example of how we want to the students to shift their mindset. Sometimes all it takes is asking someone else what they’d like to make a positive difference. Funny how that mirrors life, too.
I have been fortunate enough to work at two schools that use Outdoor Ed, but Trinity is the first one that really goes all in. The fact that our Head of School and Division Head take two full days out of their schedules to go with us on these trips, interact with the students in new ways, and share times with the teachers speaks volumes about their belief in the importance of Outdoor Ed.
I have friends who always shake their head and give me an ‘I’m sorry’ look when I tell them that I’m going on a school overnight trip. Are you kidding me? As stated, I love these trips! I’m getting paid to be outside with my students and teacher-friends (who are totally Friends, but that’s another post)! If I had to choose between an Outdoor Ed trip and a professional development conference, I’m pretty sure I’d go Outdoor Ed every time. Now, give me a PD conference in Hawaii and I’d have to give it some consideration.
One of the last activities we have the students do is a reflection circle. We come together as a whole group and get into a big circle and sit down facing each other. Coach Brian instructs everyone to close their eyes and then one group of students stand outside the circle. Coach Brian asks the students to walk around the circle and touch the shoulder of their classmates or teachers in response to different prompts: “You’ve seen this person be courageous. You’ve seen this person be kind. This person has been a good friend. This person has made you laugh. This person is a good role model.” The adults participate as well, and this is an example of how our time with the students at their activities pays off. We have seen the kindness, the courage, the risk-taking, the merriment that others might not notice in someone. We are also able to see if there are students who are not getting as many taps on the shoulders – it happens. On the flip side of that, you have some students who go around and touch everyone’s shoulder, they don’t want to leave anyone out.
We are only there for 27-28 hours. It seems like a lot longer. Usually, that phrase connotes that the time crawled by agonizingly slow, but that’s not the case with Outdoor Ed. We squeeze A LOT in during those times. I haven’t even mentioned the food, the cabins, swimming, camp fire songs and s’mores, wacky field day, and free time.
I sleep well the weekend following Outdoor Ed trips, but I’m always ready for the next one! I am so thankful for the opportunities for the students that these trips give. I am also very thankful for the energy and fun that my colleagues and supervisors bring to these trips. I am so happy that Trinity School recognizes the importance of cherishing childhood the way it does, and Outdoor Ed trips are an big part of that.