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In part one, we looked at some of the courses taken out of our school and why it's important to find a supplementary program for our children. We learned there were many benefits to experiential education but focused on just 5-benefits:
Experiential outdoor education programs help in a great many ways, here are a few main points of impact this type of education will have on a student: 1. An environmental / ecological awareness. 2. Physical challenge and accomplishment positive for both the physical and emotional well-being. 3. Self-awareness / empowerment 4. Interpersonal relations, communication and leadership skills. 5. Socialization and community development.
Through real life camp experiences we'll highlight in more detail the 5-beneficial points we began exploring.
The 5-Benefits :
Environment: - Environment by itself heightens learning. To give you a physical example, think back to the last time you were in a new place, it was dark, and you shut the lights off: feel the hair stand up on the back of your head? What was that sound? First many children hardly leave their couches and so they first learn about the outside as a whole. Outside is exhilarating, enlivening and this energy creates adrenaline and focused anticipation. In the outdoor classroom children can touch and feel and engage the subject physically. Mother Nature is powerful & wild, children must remain aware so as to avoid accidents. Being outdoors, unfortunately, is an uncommon place for many kids.
Physical Challenges - When a person is challenged, specifically in a physical challenge, their learning increases. When this challenge occurs in a new environment wherein the individual must measure risk, assess a scenario and calculate how much mental and physical effort is required of them to complete a task their whole being is involved in solving the puzzle. Children in adventure camps are often put in new and unusual situations, which require this very process. When they complete the challenge (as they most certainly do for this is the whole point of the camp and the challenges), an immense surge of hormones courses through the camper.
Self-Awareness / Empowerment - The endorphin rush of course, is pride. The camper has conquered something completely new. Self awareness is borne, a new confidence blooms. For a camp staff, watching this seminal moment is equal to the runners-high. These breakthroughs are the reward for working a camp for the summer. Camps sow the seeds of confidence, set a tone of success, that one can achieve their goals. These successes and the environment work in concert to teach and reinforce this new behavior. The campers realize they can achieve, the can succeed in things they previously thought impossible. Worse yet, never even dared to imagine
The experiential camp will reinforce this learning, this experience for theyre specifically aware of and aiming to set the stage for this type of growth. Thus, in the days preparations, theyre setting the tone in talks and behavior and then after the days activity theyll discuss the day and again reinforce the lessons, the learning.
anecdote - There are obviously big moments of camp, the photograph moments: rafting, rope course leaps, etc.; however, there are moments that may appear benign but are of great significance to the camper. May we introduce a homeschooled, 17 year old female named Fate, 600 miles away from home, at an adventure camp.
The camp ate in town that night; Fate had a special dietary need so the director took her shopping to accommodate her. When it came time to pick her drink for the night, Fate was stopped in her tracks after the director said she could have her pick. The look on her face and her literally stopping in her tracks alarmed the director who asked if everything was all right. She emphatically replied yes, everything was fine it was simply she was never allowed to choose for herself and the power, the freedom was overwhelming. Fate ultimately chose, a Sprite, and did pirouettes down the isle.
One never knows what will empower a child, but the moment it happens, neither the child nor the observer will forget.
Interpersonal Relations / Communication / Leadership - Clearly the person hanging from a rope, or reaching the pinnacle of a climb is in the center-stage position, theyre the star of the show; however, the counselors, guides and other campers are the supporting cast. In a camp geared toward improvement and personal growth, a camper is never out of class. The supporting cast is encouraging, either in group whoops and cheers as someone is pushing to do something new or theyre engaged in one on one moments of encouragement.
Frequently, in a ropes course, only one person at a time is going to make the leap of faith and the others are watching, supporting and getting ready. Inevitably, someone is near the back, rocking back and forth, nervous. In these moment campers learn to lead, to coach, to support and to communicate with the group members. They first learn by following the example set by the counselors.
Summer camp is a super opportunity to work on communication skills, to learn how to behave in a new environment, to find ones place within that new environment. One reason this works so well, is campers recognize everyone is new, no one has a leg up.
anecdote - Macey, a 15-year old boy, arrived at camp, relatively quite though not afraid or intimidated. He got along well with everyone in the summer camp. There was something going on with Macey but it only showed in the non-congruent mannerisms of his confident accomplishment of physical adventures and the reserve he showed elsewhere.
Over the days he became closer to the other campers, and he revealed what was bothering him, his mother recently died. Here at camp he was able, in the new environment, to open up and to begin the healing process. Camps are engineered for camper success. A tenor of teamwork and support established. While Macey was adept in the outdoors, confident in the challenges, he was grieving. Camp allowed him the safety to process and return to a place of mental health.
The supportive environment allowed him to connect emotionally, safely, to process. By the end of a week Macey left camp renewed.
Socialization / Community Development - Camp, in this respect, all camps are like little countries waiting to be populated and developed. This begins and ends with each camp session. Its quite a fascinating phenomena and joy to watch.
The campers arrive to the strange new land, camp, debarking their various modes of transportation, gear in hand ready to begin anew. They check out the others arriving. Some are talkative right from the start, others fall back and take a wait and see approach and then there are those somewhere between.
The directors and counselors are the established authority. They've established the mood of the new environment. The campers then must create the rest and they do so by finding their way, by interacting.
In this upstart community, campers learn through experience (experiential). There are leaders, rules, citizens, socially expected behaviors, etc. At the end of the session, bond should be strong, energy high and campers empowered.
anecdote - Rhianna was from the city. She had a slight build, bleached blond hair and dark, Goth-like eyeliner hid her eyes. She kept her head down and hardly spoke.
At the first ice breaker group meeting, she was reserved or gave answers that were clearly defensive responses. Every response was used to keep people away.
By the end of her summer camp adventure, Rhi (as the campers called her) was the most vocal about loving everyone, she was the most adamant that this was the best summer ever, she was the first to call and enroll for camp the next season. She stayed in contact with everyone, including the camp director on the camp MySpace page.
Prior to arriving at camp she was bitten by a poisonous spider. She left camp one day to visit a doctor. She went to the doctor and even though it hurt to sit, she insisted on coming straight back to camp and finishing her time there.
These are true stories. Camp experiences are powerful. Sending your child to a camp like this is an incredibly powerful gift. The importance of having these types of experience cannot be over emphasized. The children in these anecdotes are better for their camp experience.
Christopher Pyle, owner of Action Whitewater, long a river lover, Christopher has been commercially guiding for 24-years and has grown up in El Dorado County. Since 1989 Action Whitewater Adventures has offered quality rafting on the on the South and Middle Forks of the American River and now features a 2-week adventure summer camp for teens.