Learning by Doing in the Outdoors

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By Peter Green

Whether we go on a rafting trip, climbing trip, or bicycling trip, students learn from being given responsibility to take care of themselves and their friends. They need to make choices about setting up their own shelters, cooking meals for the group, maneuvering the raft through rapids, and selecting a good climbing route. Although adults are always present and have set expectations and defined boundaries, we aren’t directing the students.

The outdoor program gives all students an opportunity to learn by experiencing and experimenting. Sometimes kids who are exceptional classroom students seek out a trip so they can grow in new ways—so they can enhance their emotional, social, and leadership qualities. Then there are those who are not as successful in the classroom but who find that they excel, that they are the best among their peers, in certain outdoor pursuits. When they bring these successes back to campus, we sometimes see these students make strides in their classroom expectations and socially among their peers. Kids need to have areas where they feel competent. When they do, they are better overall learners and certainly happier in their lives.

Lower Schoolers on "An Excellent Adventure"
Peter Green is the director of Catlin Gabel's outdoor program.