Summer Education Trips
I have enjoyed the blessings of teaching middle school science and math in Lutheran schools for more than two decades. The best part of my job is when students can engage in the lesson through hands-on activities. Whether it’s teaching physics with roller skates, earth science with a stream table, or biology with microscopes and petri dishes, I loved seeing students make connections with the world around them. However, nothing is better than immersing students in the wonders of God’s creation for a week of outdoor education.
Twenty-three years ago, I received an unexpected invitation that changed the course of my career. Would I be interested in a trip for my Midwestern seventh and eighth grade students to the Florida Keys to study ecology? Love for teaching and learning led to an immersive experience for more than 450 students from more than ten schools over the past two decades. Taking the risk to dream big and to inspire, backed by supportive administrators, I had the opportunity to teach about ocean life and ecology in a way that would build lifelong connections. These experiences inspired me to team up with a great group of leaders from several schools to develop a program that supports faith development and fosters social and emotional growth, while teaching in a way I couldn’t do in the classroom.
Outdoor education provides growth opportunities for middle school youth. For some kids, this is the first time they have been away from their parents. For others this is simply the farthest they have ever traveled without their parents. Summer educational trips as well as other outdoor education camp-style experiences support social, emotional, behavioral, and intellectual development. Students develop a sense of independence and confidence as they are at camp. They see peers in situations that can help them develop empathy. Free time provides opportunity for creativity and initiative. Learning becomes fun because it is different. Awareness of community and the environment foster positive civic attitudes and behaviors. Kids become aware of how their actions or actions of others affects those around them or the environment.
My school offers two of these summer trips to our middle school students. We offer one trip to Key Largo to explore marine ecology and another to Washington D.C. and surrounding historical sites to learn about history and government. While these two opportunities are educational and unique in their design, each has a strong spiritual emphasis. Each morning and evening we set aside time for Bible study or devotion. Students and families benefit as kids collect stories and memories with faithful role models.
Over the past 25 years, I have taken part in several forms of outdoor education. There are a few components that I have found to be helpful. Include a physical aspect or challenge such as hiking, bike riding, climbing, snorkeling, or something of that sort. Allow free time for kids to develop a sense of self awareness and community. Inspire middle schoolers with life lessons through Bible study, faith stories or testimonies by adult leaders, and time in prayer. Put your chaperones to work leading structured activities or small groups. Get connected with your love for learning and inspire your students.