Experiences in this program are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results. Learners are actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, and solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative and constructing meaning. Students are involved in outdoor adventure, environmental education, co-curricular learning, and grade-level trips.
Adventure education creates a safe environment for exploring the unknown, and provides opportunities to recognize personal strengths and weaknesses: to learn about others; to learn life skills and develop character. Throughout the activities, both the teacher and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking, and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
The focus of adventure-based learning is spending time outdoors exploring and taking appropriate risks in a “challenge by choice” environment, such as the sixth grade Ropes Course Day. These experiences develop students’ intrapersonal skills by providing students with the occasion to increase self-awareness, gain insight, think critically, accept responsibility, develop trust, and challenge personal boundaries. Other grades experience opportunities to practice these skills. For example, the Grandes trek around campus learning to navigate uneven terrain, climb slippery hills, design tree forts, and “rappel” down slopes. Second grade students create and care for nearby natural areas. In these spaces they process theme studies like Space and Pioneers with games and free flowing activities. In addition, fourth grade students gain a plethora of insight and self-awareness in their overnight trip to the Valles Caldera where they learn about ecosystems, sleep away from home, enjoy simple meals created together, explore, play and grow together in a safe, beautiful, and adventurous setting.
Time in adventure-based learning is designed to foster conversation, that arises from activities, in a way that students can engage in real life situational problem solving. While Pequenos are making simple relationships with nature and each other, the first graders are building a giant eagle’s nest from found objects. This nest becomes a place where other classes can explore, care for, and create their own activities. The program designs recreational activities for students to enhance interpersonal skills by practicing leadership skills, respect, build relationships, demonstrate empathy, and practice tolerance and trust. Each week students in all grade levels participate in hikes, challenges, or activities.
In addition, the program fosters a sense of community and reinforces our schools’ values of truthfulness, trustworthiness, responsibility, and students’ personal best. The learning-by-doing model of experiential education helps students to gain insight in a physically and emotionally safe school. Experiential education alongside Responsive Classroom simultaneously function to cultivate the schools’ goals of being a nurturing child-centered environment. Working tandemly these programs teach emotional skills (identifying feelings, delayed gratification, handling stress) to deal with life’s issues.An exciting element to the Adventure-Based Learning Program for the upper grades cluster is the introduction of overnight trips. Fourth and fifth grade students participate in a single night trip at local venues that offer students opportunities to continue building knowledge about their local ecosystem and develop communication skills through team building activities. Most importantly these trips help students to practice independence and have an opportunity to learn to rely on themselves and their peers. The sixth grade culminating camp trip to Cottonwood Gulch is a three night adventure guided by experienced educators who are able to help students connect their experience in the wilderness to their home and school life. Students take away from this experience the confidence that no matter what happens when they place themselves in a new environment, that they have many skill sets that will help them to tackle the situation.