Nature Provides Poetry – A Week at Environmental Education.

Thoughts about a week at environmental education, and my book comes out in less than 3 days!

LaurelEmperor_3D-BookeCover-transparent_backgroundGreetings! I know that my latest book will be out in roughly 72 hours, but I have something a bit different for you today. As a reminder, be sure to pre order Laurel Emperor today on Nook or Kindle! If you aren’t sure where to start, grab the first book – Brass Legionnaire – for only 99 cents on Nook or Kindle or Smashwords!


In short, what is Outdoor Environmental Education? – Every 6th grade student in my county has the opportunity to spend two nights at a residential program run by full time environmental education teachers paid by the county – in all respects teachers, just without a standard ‘homeroom’ group of students. The program also supports outdoor education programs throughout the county for day trips / field trips for a variety of grades, but only 6th graders have the opportunity to stay overnight.

Students have a variety of scheduled activities – from Student Service Learning (community service) hours, to Geocaching, to Stream Studies, to Confidence Course and an Ecosystem simulation (almost a giant game of very complicated tag) – that keep them busy from 7am to 9 at night. Night activities are equally engages, from campfire to night hikes to tie-dying. Down time is kept to a minimum, and students move in mix gendered groups (while bunking is separated by boys and girls) for the entire time, so new friendship groups are formed.

After just now getting back, I can truly say that lots of fun (and coffee) was had. Been thinking about how it went and just wanted to jot down these thoughts. Poetry…not really… but thoughts, oh there are many thoughts.

1.) I wish that more school systems did overnight “residential” outdoor education programs. While most students pay, lack of payment never turns any students away. I think with our over-reliance on technology, two nights of enforced ‘no tech’ or very ‘limited’ tech is a good thing for kids. I can’t tell you how many smiles I saw, new friendships made, or even old card games rediscovered (thanks, 8th grade Barrie Day Camp Egyptian Rat-Screw skills). Honestly, I think this experience is good for Middle and High Schoolers alike.

2.) Make the children clean up their mess – the Outdoor Education program has students work as Kitchen Patrol. Setting places, serving food to smaller (8 kid) round tables, rather than the usual 16 student rectangles, and then cleaning up / returning all the plates / fixing all the messes. I can’t tell you how many times (as a teacher) I’ve been astounded by the (lack of) manners of some students. Noticed I did say some, as I can’t unfairly judge every child! What I can tell you is, by the third or fourth meal, the room was ten times cleaner, the conversations actually included more people, and the dishes were a lot better cleaned. Obviously, fully paid custodians and kitchen staff made the food and then did the heavy duty cleaning, but students of all ages should be expected to help out in keeping their own school clean. This is the norm in many parts of the world, and I think it would be beneficial for our own students.

3.) It’s so difficult to not involve yourself as a teacher – whether its on the confidence course (Just move TWO inches to the left, damnit) or helping them navigate drama (no, she really isn’t into you, leave her alone). Being with 120 6th graders 24/7 for two nights is strenuous, tiring, draining, invigorating, annoying, exciting, and everything in between. You want students to feel happy and successful, and it’s hard to watch them fail at the various things – from navigating muddy paths to surmounting “The Wall” on the confidence course.

Final thoughts – It’s been a week of firsts – from running my first group through the confidence course, to facing 7 am, no coffee wake ups with twenty four 6th grade boys, I survived and had a blast. I wish students in every school had the opportunity to do these programs, and I may  be tempted to apply for such a teaching position at some point in the future!

Author: Daniel Ottalini

Author of the Award-Winning Steam Empire Chronicles Series

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