Reflections from Outdoor School

Five years ago, I spent five days at Twin Rocks Friends Camp, learning about the mountains, beaches and tide pools, and making some pretty sweet crafts. I learned so much about how to be a better member of my community, how to coexist better with the earth and how to be more independent. I can honestly say that Outdoor School was the most memorable moment of middle school.

Last week, I spent four days at Twin Rocks Friends Camp, teaching this year’s Rosemont Ridge sixth graders about environmental science and chaperoning them at the tide pools. I learned about being a leader, and re-learned some of the things I forgot from sixth grade.

You don’t realize how difficult following directions is until you’re the one giving them

At my study station, an oil spill lab, I ran into several kids who were very eager to make observations. Some of these students had a problem: they wouldn’t raise their hand. I had to tell one student about five times to be more respectful and wait for his turn to talk. It was a bit annoying and I wish I could have controlled them a little better, but the worst feeling about it was my own hypocrisy. When I was a sixth grader (and sometimes now, too), I had a problem with talking out of turn. It’s an impulse I’ve had for years. So, when I ran into students who had the same issue, my first thought would be “Why are they not listening to my instructions?” and my second would be “Is this how I’ve made all my past teachers feel?” And yes, I felt a little guilty.

When I told this story to my mom, an instructional assistant at Bolton Primary, she pointed out that really, many people do not follow directions very well. People just do as they please, really; if their behavior happens to fall within the guidelines of whoever’s in charge, it just makes things easier. The hard part is just setting up those guidelines. The people who have to follow them have to make the decision to follow them. So, even if I was a bit of a hypocrite over the week, at least I’ve seen perspective about how far the scope of leadership can really go.

Sixth graders can be surprisingly mature

Shannon, my cabin partner, and I were lucky enough to be responsible for seven intelligent, snarky and witty young women. They were so much fun to have conversations with (often about internet memes, good music and what they learned at their study stations). What’s more, they acted with independence and maturity. I came into ODS expecting children who we would have to constantly wrangle, and I was worried that I might have to be a drill sergeant. I am glad to report that the sixth graders I encountered were bright, responsible and cooperative. I have a newfound appreciation for sixth graders now that I’ve met such awesome kids.

Tide pools are awesome

Until ODS this year, I hadn’t been at a tide pool since seventh grade. In the four years that passed, I’d forgotten how simply great those habitats are. The plants and animals we saw there were fascinating, and the kids’ enthusiasm for discovery was contagious. There was a crab under practically every rock, and it was awesome. We were excited to acquaint ourselves with these creatures. And every time we found one and played with it, we would gently put it back into the water. We always emphasized these rules for the students: respect the habitat, but always be inquisitive. We also learned some of the practical aspects of the tide pools. For example, rockweed has sacs at the end of their fronds filled with what the Native Americans used as hand sanitizer. It was particularly useful when I fell and scraped my wrist Thursday morning.

The tide pools are many sixth graders’ favorite part of ODS, and it’s obvious why: it is where kids are given the most freedom to roam around and explore a beautiful, practical and captivating world.

When I came home from ODS Friday afternoon, the first place I went was to my bed to sleep for a solid 12 hours. Not because of boredom or sickness, but from satisfied exhaustion. As a counselor, one must work extraordinarily hard; a counselor is responsible for sixth graders’ happiness and safety from the minute she wakes up to the minute she falls asleep. There is no better feeling than knowing that I was part of a team that created what will surely be one of their best memories for years.