In 2003, my husband and I launched a new Christian school in a rural community of the Dominican Republic. We had been in the DR for seven years developing a Young Life camp and deeply wanted to implement the powerful practices of intentional discipleship in a K-12 context. My undergraduate degree is in Outdoor Education and I had worked with multiple off-site programs for K-12, but I had not seen outdoor learning integrated across all grades throughout the year within a school. Over several years, our team figured out how to make this feasible and now, 20 years later, the Doulos Discovery School is still implementing outdoor learning throughout the year for all grades!
Below is the content my daughter, Aspen Wallace, and I presented at our CDL6 conference in Surrey, BC. I would love to walk through this further if you are interested in integrating outdoor learning in your school!
1. Include it in your budget
Make sure there is money to support this type of learning. Hire a part-time or full-time staff member to manage all logistics for outdoor learning.
The Expeditions Coordinator plans all trips (meals, gear, routes, transportation, permits) and scouts out the location well ahead of time. This staff member trains all other school staff for specific skills and works with teachers for curricular content for lessons in the field. This person co-leads all trips and has the necessary skills and medical training (Wilderness First Responder).
Budgeting for outdoor learning needs to include funds for transportation (typically the most expensive part of a trip!), meals, gear purchases or rentals, satellite phone rental (if needed), permits, and any additional training. Consider including this extra expense into the student registration fees at the beginning of the year.
2. Add it into your calendar
Create space for outdoor learning in your school calendar. Consider a multi-day trip for middle school and high school students within the first month of school. At Doulos, October is outdoor learning month and all grades PK-12 participate in outdoor learning. Outdoor learning can also be integrated with service learning and content-specific research projects.
Also, consider including this into your professional development before school begins. Plan a one-day excursion with staff. Focus on relationship building, meal questions, and any specific skills teachers will need with their students, like setting up a tent, cooking outdoors, campfire activities). *This is key for future buy-in with staff!
3. Have a risk management plan
Create a written logistics plan for the trip and check in daily while on the trip. Practice the communication plan for if/when something goes wrong. Provide good gear and hire guides when needed.
4. Maximize what is in your community
Utilize city parks, state parks, national parks. Research which organizations already coordinate these activities in your community.
5. Utilize discipleship tools
While in the outdoors with students, utilize the following tools for going deeper with students: morning devotions, meal questions, life stories, teachable moments, and solos.
Meal Questions: one question per meal that everyone answers. Keep it simple and don’t ask for long answers. Start off silly and go deeper throughout the week.
Silly: If you could be a superhero, what would you be?
Deeper: How do you know when someone loves you?
Life Stories: best used for multi-day trips. Start with one of the adults in the group. Share a 15-20 minute story of important moments in your life. Include how you came to faith in Christ. Avoid details of past bad decisions or behavior. Pray over that person when they finish, then they select the next person to share. Make time to share several stories each day and be sure to have everyone share before the trip is over.
Solo: Best used for a multi-day trip to practice silence and solitude. These can be short (2-3 hours) to overnight. Safety is priority, so keep all students within eyesight and be aware of potential dangers. Students can take journal, bible, pen, water bottle, and sleeping bag.
6. Mandatory Reporting
With trip leaders and staff, go over your school’s mandatory reporting guidelines before a trip. Train staff how to be safe listeners, not reacting physically or verbally to what students share.
7. No Phones!
Let students and families know ahead of time that phones will be left on the bus. If parents need to contact their child, they can contact the trip leader. Designate an adult to take photos and put into a share drive for everyone.
Invite parents to send off students and welcome them back. Consider having snacks and cold drinks waiting for them in the bus when they are picked up.
Outdoor learning is a powerful way for not only more engaging instruction, but also faith-building, relationship-building, and discipleship with all students. Listen to my podcast, Learning to Serve, as I interview different outdoor learning practitioners in K-12 schools!