The spring outdoor education season is in full swing at the Ranch. Schools from across the state of Florida converge at Circle F for their trips. These one, two, three, and in some cases week long trips, expose their student population to a whole new world. Stepping out of the classroom is an adventure for both the teacher and students.
The schools we partner with all have an outstanding educational curriculum. Outdoor education is not about replacing a school’s current curriculum. Instead it compliments their program and helps to bring new exciting facets. Every educator knows that bringing students outside of their normal learning environment acts as a catalyst to expanded learning.
Great outdoor education programs help schools improve student relationships. The Ranch’s program, for example, has a no electronics policy. When students look at each other instead of their phones their communication skills improve. Experiences in teambuilding programs, rock climbing, horseback riding and other programs bring students closer together. This also helps them to learn how to better trust, support, and communicate with one another. Teachers also experience an improved relationship with their students. Students and teachers share the experience of being together outside of the classroom together. The Ranch’s outdoor education program allows teachers to step back and observe their students while our experienced staff run the program. This gives teachers the luxury of being able to mentor students without worrying about being the authoritarian.
Most school campuses are beautifully manicured and maintained green spaces, there is no comparison to the actual wilderness. Many students have never experienced the outdoors. The peace and connection that comes with being in the forest is something that can’t be measured. Tie that with the hands-on lessons of forest or fresh water ecology and students have a real opportunity to grow. They are able to see hands on in person examples of what they have studied in their classroom.
For some, a trip into the woods will place them outside of their comfort zone. This might be the best effect of all. When students push beyond their normal limits, they grow. That growth can be expanded into other areas of their life. Each time a student succeeds in something they did not think they could do, they become stronger. The programs of most outdoor education centers help students confront their fears in a safe and supportive way.
No school trip just happens. It is through the dedicate work of teachers, parents, school administration and the outdoor education facility. Here are a few simple tips to help you and your school make a trip happen.
At Circle F we believe that each trip should be unique to the school. Strong outdoor education programs will help schools tailor programs to their needs. Therefore, the school should know what they want out of a program. Is this trip about student bonding, ecology, leadership development or all of the above. Remember to work with your school administrator in crafting your goals. Knowing what you want and having the support of the administration is important to having a successful trip and picking the right facility.
Most schools will develop a budget for their trip. Here are a few of the big things to consider if you have never planned a trip. How much will the facility cost? What extra costs, if any, are part of the program or facility? Factor costs for transportation to and from the facility.
Once you know your budget and what you are looking for in a trip, you can choose a facility. Make sure to talk with the facility director. Understand how their program will support your goals. Discuss who will teach and run the program and ask about their credentials. For example, the Ranch uses college graduates with backgrounds in communication, camp leadership, education and youth development. Our staff are trained by outside contractors to insure third party independence. A great outdoor education facilities should meet these standards. Beyond staff, the facility should have developed lesson plans with outcomes that they can share with the school. These plans should be designed to meet the standards of the state or match the standards of your program. These plans help to maintain continuity in teaching throughout the whole program. Learn about the logistic of the facility. How are meals served? What is the menu? How are dietary needs handled? What are the sleeping arrangements? Remember to have a plan for your chaperones and understand how the facility handles their sleeping arrangements. These by no means are all of the questions to ask. Don’t be afraid to ask to tour the facility.
The Ranch prides itself in helping facilitate amazing and memory-making experiences for our schools. If you have never taken a trip with your class, we encourage you to step out of the classroom. Start with a one-day trip and build up to something longer. All outdoor education facilities will be happy to help you in the right direction. We know you and your school won’t regret it. Ben Moss is the Camp Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp and Outdoor Education Center in Lake Wales, Florida. The outdoor education center hosts thousands of students every year from private schools across the state of Florida. He has over 20 years of youth development experience working in the camp and outdoor education industry.