Posts Tagged ‘Outdoor Education’

The Joy of Campfires

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

"The brilliance, the warmth, the crackle of the logs…it brought new life to our cold campsite."

There are so many magnificent things about summer camp, and for me one of the greatest of them is the opportunity to sit around a campfire.  Not a gas flame flickering, not a warming lamp on a restaurant patio… but a campfire.

The first campfire I experienced was at Sanborn, and it was love at first sight.  I was a camper on my first unit overnight, far from home.  I was tired from a long hike in wet weather, my feet and shoulders were aching, and a cold front was rolling in behind the rain. But then the counselors built a campfire.  And all of those tiresome things melted away. I couldn’t believe how incredible it was to just stare at the rolling flames.

The mood lifted as campers and staff gathered around.  We gazed at the fire, transfixed by the vines of light tangling in the air.  The brilliance, the warmth, the crackle of the logs…it brought new life to our cold campsite.  There was something mystic about those flames.  It felt like a message from the earth, from nature itself, an encouraging note of warmth and energy.

Throughout that evening, campers and counselors stayed near the fire, working together to prepare dinner.  We chopped and grilled, cooking right over the blaze.  There wasn’t a stove in sight, we literally cooked over the fire.  It felt timeless, as if we were engaged in an ancient task.  I still remember that meal, it’s one of the best dinners of my life.  And not because it was well made, which it was, but because the entire meal was cooked on an open fire.  It lit up my mood and filled up my belly.

"We chopped and grilled, cooking right over the blaze."

That campfire was a first for me, and summer camp is all about firsts.  Spending a night or two out in the wilderness can be scary, but a campfire can chase away those fears.  It’s a process that humans have been doing for eons.

The human race has a special relationship with campfires.  It’s a ritual of light, a safe zone of warmth and community.  Gazing into a the flames, we connect to our past.  For thousands of years our ancestors sat around fires, not for fun, but for necessity.  Human history began by the firelight.  When we build campfires, it brings a taste of the timeless into our cluttered modern world.

It’s essential to be safe when building a fire.  At Sanborn, we don’t have fires all the time, we only build when conditions permit.  Sometimes there are fire bans, other times we’re in National Forest or high country and we simply don’t want to impact the surroundings.  But when we do build campfires, it’s truly wonderful.  A campfire can warm a day and bond a group.  Gazing into the flames inspires you in ways that are hard to describe.  The flames roll and your thoughts roll with them.

Years ago, that night around the fire, the meal finished but we kept the flames going.  We roasted marshmallows and sang along with an untuned guitar.  The flames twisted up into the night with our laughter in tow.  I looked across the fire, into the eyes of my new friends.  The campfire underscored the mood, it was a shared love of the moment.  With each pop from the fire, sparks floated up into the sky, mixing with the stars.  I felt so… connected.

As the night ended, the flames fell into coals and the embers pulsed like a heartbeat.   One by one, everyone headed off to bed, zipping into their tents and bags.  I sat alone with a few others, poking at the embers. Finally, the counselors put the fire out with a crash of cold water.  Steam hissed up into the night, the light fading away.  It was time for bed.

I always sleep like a rock after sitting around a campfire.  It’s almost like the flames were a lullaby for my busy mind.  And then there’s the fun of the next day… because one of the great things about a campfire is that it stays with you.  The next morning you can smell the campfire in your clothes, an aroma of smoke, an echo of nighttime fun.  More than once, I’ve been caught standing stock-still, sniffing my clothes and smiling, remembering the flawless joy of a campfire.

Nature Activity: Nature Scavenger Hunt

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

This looks SCARY!!!

At High Trails Outdoor Education Center, students experience the natural world through role play and hands-on activities. One of our students’ favorite activities comes during their first Discovery Group: Setting the Mood.

The Nature Scavenger Hunt is facilitated by the high school counselors, many of whom have attended our HTOEC Leadership Day. The goal is to help the students begin to see interrelationships in the natural world, as well as to help them slow down and help them truly “see” (and understand) the natural world all around them.

Here is what the students will be looking for:

HTOEC Nature Scavenger Hunt
Something red in nature
Something scary
The oldest thing you can find
The youngest thing you can find
Something you can feel but cannot see
Something with a smooth texture
Something with a rough texture
Something beautiful
Something amazing
Two seeds
A piece of litter
Evidence of an animal
Three different kinds of grass
Something that makes a noise
Something humans could not live without
Something natural that has no purpose

Once the group has found all the items, the high school counselors will facilitate a short wrap-up discussion to allow the students to share their discoveries. Some of the questions the counselors may ask are: What do all the objects have in common? How are they interrelated? Would a dog be able to find something red? Would a bat be able to hear the same things we found which made a noise? What else could a bat hear? What things would animals be able to find better than we can?

These questions help the student begin to recognize that our senses help us experience the natural world in rare and unique ways—and that our sixth sense, our sense of wonder, allows us to understand, appreciate and celebrate our connection to nature.

What do YOU look for when you are out in the natural world?

School Weeks Is Here!

Monday, March 26th, 2012

We are very excited that our school program staff week started this morning! We are looking forward to a fun and busy season. Our first school comes next Wednesday – Summit County 4th graders. Be sure to check out the HTOEC website and blog for more information on the program and spring season. After a quiet winter, it is nice to have new and returning staff on site. It is a great reminder that kids will soon be back on the property!

Students on a hike

We have a great staff from around the country – some new to COEC and some returning. It is fun to see familiar faces. Returning staff include Jessie Spehar, Will Ostendorf, Mike Piel, Jenny Hartmann, and Bea Raemdonck. Mike, Bea, and Will have been a part of the Sanborn staff in the past and are excited to be a part of School Weeks for the first time.

It is just as fun to see how quickly new staff is incorporated into the COEC family. Marie DiBennedetto is from Allenstown, PA and has been a part of various outdoor education programs in the northeast. Adam Delp is joining us from Michigan – but has spent much of his adult life in Colorado; he is currently enrolled in a Wilderness Therapy program. Brendan Brady is from New York state where he has recently been an environmental educator. Michelle Davis is also from New York state; she graduated from SUNY Potsdam where she studied Environmental Studies and Wilderness Education.

ACA Conference

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Last week 10 of us ventured to Atlanta for the ACA National Conference. The overall theme of the conference

Jane Sanborn and her entourage!

was Convergence: Vision, Learning, Innovation. This was an exciting opportunity for our staff to continue our professional development as youth and outdoor educators and camp professionals. And it was a great week! Our very own Jane Sanborn was the conference program chair. She and the conference team lined up wonderful session and keynote speakers, fun night programs, and a variety of exhibitors for the exhibit hall.  We were all able to go to a variety of educational sessions presented by child development and camp professionals – sessions that emphasized the importance of what we do best: provide exceptional outdoor experiences for children. We were able to network with other camp professionals. We left energized and motivated for the summer! It is fun for us to come back and share all that we have learned with each other and start incorporating new ideas into our summer and school weeks programs.

We had great keynote speakers including, Dr. Christine Carter (author of Raising Happiness), Richard Louv, Sanborn alum, Rod Lucero, and Niambi Jaha-Echols. Each speech was relevant to and encouraging of what we do at camp.

Dr. Carter started the week sharing the importance of teaching and cultivating life skills such as gratitude, kindness, and growth campers – all things that we know about and do at camp! Dr. Carter is a strong believer of Growth Mindset – the belief that someone is successful due to hard work and effort, as well as innate ability. At camp, it is important to us that campers are challenged to try new things and encouraged through the process. We believe that campers and staff can grow and learn from our trips and activities. Being able to try new things is one of the great things about camp and campers having the ability to choose their own trips and activities.

Richard Louv emphasized the role camps play in continuing to get children outside. In his speech he told us how he was jealous of his friend who left Kansas every summer to go to camp…specifically, his friend left Kansas and spent his summers at Sanborn. He spoke of the growing importance of camp and getting outside, as our world becomes more technology-driven.

Rod Lucero helped us better understand the importance of camps continuing the education from schools. Relevance, Rigor, and Relationships are the foundation of education, and according to Lucero, without them, reading, writing, and arithmetic don’t matter. At camp, we help make education relevant. The foundation of Sanborn is education. We continue to learn and pass our knowledge on to all Colorado Outdoor Education Center participants.

Niambi Jaha-Echols provided us with an inspiring and humorous closing session. According to Jaha-Echols, camp provides us the opportunities to transform into new beings – from caterpillars to butterflies. It is important to us that we provide campers with the space and support to understand and grow into the people they are supposed to be. We are lucky to have 6,000 acres, amazing counselors, and a great variety of trips and activities to help all campers grow as individuals into butterflies.

We look forward to continuing to share our learnings with you and incorporate them into our 2012 summer.







How Long Is Your Shadow?

Monday, February 6th, 2012

How long is your shadow?

“How long is the shadow of your leadership?” A recent article in the ACA’s Camping Magazine includes an article by Kerry Plemmons, a clinical professor at Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. The basis of the article is that camp is good for everyone. Plemmons and fellow professors bring students from DU’s business school to The Nature Place for a weekend early in their graduate school careers to help teach the students the leadership skills necessary to be successful business men and women.

The relationship between Daniels and The Nature Place started in 1990 when Rob Jolly and Sandy Sanborn approached Daniels with the idea of experiential leadership. As part of the 10th Mountain Division, Sandy saw the importance of strong leadership in challenging situations. He saw how organizations could be successful with a flat structure. He saw the long-term benefits of leadership opportunities in students of all ages. During the summer, we offer a Peaks to Performance curriculum where campers can partake in SOLE and CORE in 8th and 9th grade, respectively and are able to be Junior Counselors and Outbackers in 10th grade. We put into practice the beliefs that Sandy felt so important with campers:

  • Individual development: self confidence, virtue & courage, sense of self, leadership roles & styles, establishing trust
  • Team development: working with a team, encouraging & helping others, interdependency, membership and followership
  • Problem solving: managing others, creativity & innovation, environmental awareness

These are the same skills that DU business students develop and practice during a three-day weekend. As Plemmons points out, it is easy and fun to talk about leadership, ethics, and values in a classroom, but it is not until the skills can be put into practice that individuals are challenged, motivated, and successful at implementing personal change. Campers are challenged during the summer in a safe and supervised environment. Counselors are prepared to help campers work together and challenge themselves individually.

Daniels students are taught “the Shadow of Leadership” – we practice leadership skills modeled by others, and those skills

Working together on a plan

are hopefully passed onto other people we interact with; and ideally the shadow of good leadership continues to grow. Plemmons explains, “When you think of bad leadership, the influence of that person leaves as soon as the physical shadow is gone…Good leadership is able to influence people across boundaries of time and space through empowerment.” This is our goal for every participant (from the young camper, to the DU graduate student, to the corporate business person) who comes through the Colorado Outdoor Education Center – to be in the shadow of positive leadership and help that shadow grow.

It is important to us to keep asking, “How will you build capacity in others in a manner that lengthens the shadow of your leadership?”

Banana Suits and Big Things to Come: Thoughts from Big Spring Program Director, David Cumming

Friday, January 13th, 2012

David Cumming, Big Spring Program Director

Well hello there. This is David Cumming, your new Big Spring Program Director at Sanborn Western Camps. I’m extremely excited to be back in action after a summer as a counselor in 2010 and subsequently putting on the overalls and rabbit fur hat as an instructor at High Trails Outdoor Education Center that very fall.

Some of my personal accomplishments include: three-time male champion at Florissant’s annual Thunderbird Figure Skating Competition (I nailed the Half Lutz, but my Open axel was sub-par), Big Spring Nighttime Banana Split Eating Championship (actually I’ve been the only competitor each night … I mean year … I mean, it may or may not take place in my kitchen) and the original Settler of Catan (it was a rough winter for us Catanans, but we pulled through).

But on a somewhat serious note, I hail from the great nation of Florida, and graduated with a degree in journalism and education from the University of Florida, working for newspapers and desperately trying to be Tim Tebow’s friend.  Then I heard about this Colorado place, and it was all over. So for the past year, I was a city slicker up in Denver, working for a non-profit conservation corps along the Front Range doing trail restoration and fire mitigation. During this brief spell, I was able to begin my own after-school outdoor education program, where we brought underprivileged youth on trips to state parks for them to learn about the wild and help build some trails as well. After twelve months of hearing a chain saw buzz in my ears at all hours of the night, I can honestly say that there’s nothing quite like being a citizen of Florissant again.

On International Talk Like a Pirate Day I Climb 14ers...Arrgh!

In my spare time, I have a few writing projects I am working on, and trying to publish my first book (shameless plug)! I also dapple a bit in photography and video, enjoy cooking with family and friends, and am currently trying to nail down vegan bread and dessert baking in such a high altitude (any tips?). I used to be such a jock in my teens (lacrosse, swimming, baseball, surfing, and the occasional beach volleyball (don’t judge me, I was young, and a Floridian)).  Now give me any sport with the words “book” and “club” involved, and I’m there.

Oh, and I have a beard (please don’t make me go solo mustache, as I’ve confirmed with my peers that I just can’t pull it off).

But even more seriously, I am certain that teaching in the outdoors is one of the most significant ways we’re going to keep this world from going lop-sided. I have seen the change first-hand in our campers, our students, and even our counselors (me included) after spending time in the woods. Just a walk among the pines can unlock a universe of possibilities in us. In a place where children are able to just be themselves, to laugh uncontrollably and play freely without worry, and to be still under the stars for the night, they begin to understand just how similar and connected we all really are.

And that right there might change the entire game.

Honestly and truly, it’s an honor to be part of this great leadership team, and I can’t wait until summer gets here.

I’m dry-cleaning the banana suit and sumping a bowl of gravy as I type this.

In the pool,

David

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ― John Muir

HTOEC Week 1

Friday, September 16th, 2011

We just finished a great week with the 6th graders from Challenger Middle School. The students arrived Tuesday morning and jumped right into their outdoor ed experience with their first discovery group that afternoon – Setting the Mood. Led by trained facilitators, the students learned about using their 5 senses more, as well as about the High Trails sixth sense – Wonder. The students were split in half Tuesday evening – one group going to the hoedown (a fun and silly set of dances led by the High Trails staff) and the other went to the Interbarn our hands-on science center.

Students Arrival

Students Arrival at High Trails

Wednesday morning was adventure-filled with the first themed discovery groups. Students learned about Homesteaders, Prospectors, Mountaineers, Innovators, and Woodsmen to name a few. After a delicious lunch, students headed back out for their second themed discovery group. Unfortunately, a little rain cancelled the cookouts, but everyone enjoyed burgers in the lodge followed by an entertaining skit night.

The groups made it out for all-days yesterday and lots of fun was had by all. The HTOEC staff expanded on the activities done during the shorter discovery groups – Cowboys see our working ranch, Innovators tried some solar cooking, Woodsmen go to the working sawmill, Explorers go to the Bat Caves, and Mountaineers rock scramble on several of the bluffs around the main property. To finish off the day, the students that went to the hoedown on Tuesday headed to the Interbarn, and the students from the Interbarn went to the hoedown.

After a great rock session this morning, students went for their last discovery group – Putting It All Together. The students seemed to enjoy their week and learn a lot of interesting facts about nature, themselves, and Colorado history. We had a lot of fun this week and hope the students enjoy the rest of the school year. We look forward to Mountain Ridge Middle School coming next week!

Lasting Impact

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Our school program ended last Wednesday after a very successful season. We had 4th-8th graders from about 20 schools came for 3-5 day programming over the last month and a half. At the beginning of every season we have the chance to reflect on why we want to be a part of HTOEC school weeks and share our thoughts with each other. I tell the staff, and remind myself, that the season will go by way too quickly, that we will have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of at least one child (hopefully more), we will be challenged, we will learn something new from the students we work with, and this place will become home.  Even though I have been part of a number of seasons, I’m always surprised that I forget these predictions that come true every year.

Students on a cabin porch

Several weeks ago I worked with a group of 5th graders from Palmer Lake Elementary School in Monument. I worked in a cabin with about 12 girls who varied in their interest and experience in the outdoors. We played games and hiked to several points around the ranch. I was at the cabin early in the morning and brought snacks after evening programming. This is typical for all the schools we work with. They were only here for three days before they headed back to school and a new school arrived at High Trails. I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with them and as always, I wished them well as they left and reminded them they could come back as high school counselors.

About a week or so later I received a large stack of envelopes in my mailbox. I was mostly excited because it is rare that I have mail. I opened the first envelope and saw it came from one of the Lewis Palmer students that was recently in my cabin. I read about one of the girl’s experiences at High Trails as she talked about how much fun she had and how she was sad to go. Each letter in the stack was from one of the girls in that cabin. And each letter talked about how she challenged herself, enjoyed the hiking (when she didn’t think she would), loved the food, had fun doing different discovery groups, and several remembered my suggestion to come back in several years.

It was definitely surprising to receive this stack of mail. It was also very nice to read about the impact High Trails had on this group of girls. As staff, we see a number of students from different schools with various expectations about High Trails and experiences in the outdoors. We are never sure what students will walk away with as lasting memories. We will see a few high school counselors return after being at High Trails as younger students, we will hear teachers say the experience is great for their students, but it is rare to hear from students after they leave High Trails.

Checking out an Aspen tree

As the season ended and I reflected back on my comments at the beginning of the season, it was fun to remember my comments and recognize that they once again came true. These girls challenged me to go new places and I challenged them to push themselves a little farther out of their normal comfort zone. I learned more about High Trails as they asked me questions about birds and flowers I didn’t know and they learned more about nature. While they did not explicitly say High Trails had changed their lives, reading their excitement about being here showed the lasting impact High Trails will have on them.

We are now gearing up for the summer season. As I move forward and work with new and returning campers, I will again remind myself that everyday is a learning opportunity and the chance to making a lasting impact on another child.

Sustainability at Sanborn

Friday, March 18th, 2011

The Rocky Mountains: A Metaphor for the Capacity to Endure

‘Sustainability’ – this word has become the center of a quickly growing movement focused on developing new ways for humans to live on our planet without depleting the resources we use to survive here.  This winter, the year-round staff at COEC began to fully address how our organization should develop more sustainable practices, while simultaneously striving to become innovators and leaders through our sustainable efforts as a camp, an outdoor education center, and an adult retreat center.

As the spring season for the High Trails Outdoor Education Center approaches, we’ve been working hard to brainstorm and put some of these new ideas into place.  We started our thought process by nailing down a definition of the word sustainability, and then by deciding how it should apply to our spring program.  This word has a variety of meanings, and we decided explain it as ‘the capacity to endure.’  As an organization, we want COEC to contribute to humanity’s effort to function in a way that will allow future generations to enjoy life as we do today, and we want to be a role model to the children and adults who we teach and lead in all of our programs.

Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics + Widespread Sustainability 'Best Practices'

This spring at HTOEC, we’ll be focusing on reducing our environmental footprint and building our knowledge of how life works on the planet Earth.  We’re working on improving our facilities to reduce our consumption across the different buildings on our property.  Compact fluorescent light bulbs, toilet-tank bags to reduce the water in each flush, a composting and greenhouse program, and a 30-panel solar array on the roof of the Sportsplex at The Nature Place are all reducing the amount of energy we consume and the amount of waste we produce.  We plan to teach participants about all of these additions, and to continue making more of the same sort in the near future.  On-demand water heaters, low-flow showerheads, and more solar arrays are all hopeful.

Inspiring Stewardship with Every Sunset They See

However, these are small steps, and serve to augment our main goal: education. In all of our cabins, we will teach students and teachers how to make small changes that can have a big impact – turning off lights during the day, turning down the heater when the students leave for classes, and taking less frequent and shorter showers, to name a few.  Likewise, during meals in our dining hall, we’ll encourage groups to consciously think about their consumption by measuring the amount of food scraps and waste they produce each day.  Daily results will be posted so that students can quickly and easily learn how much waste they are producing, and try to reduce it each day they live here.

"We need more long lookers if we are going to look much longer." -Sandy Sanborn-

All of these steps will help us spread our belief in creating and upholding sustainability in all that we do.  We want our organization to have a capacity to endure, but more importantly, we want our Earth to endure as we continue to live on it, so that future people will be able to enjoy the outdoors as we do here.  Spreading this message to every person who comes through COEC is our most important educational effort today and into the future.







“Why Kids Need Nature”: WE AGREE

Friday, March 4th, 2011

We found a great article on the Children and Nature Network web site this morning: Why Kids Need Nature. At Sanborn we more than understand the value of kids spending time in nature, and we love being able to share more research about the importance of it with others.

I wonder what that tastes like?

Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine interviewed Richard Louv to gain more insight into why it is important for children’s well-being to spend time outdoors and how parents are able to expose their children to nature. Louv explains that time in nature can help fight obesity, depression, and ADD as well as help kids activate their brains (in a different way than school provides) and utilize all their senses. Including their sense of wonder which we emphasize in our summer camps and school weeks programs. It can be hard for parents and children to find the time and space to explore nature. Sports, clubs, meetings, homework all take time during already busy family schedules. Not many neighborhoods have the space for kids to run and play freely.

Louv explains that it is understandable that parents are hesitant to send their kids out to explore unsupervised, but that he finds more and more parents spending time outdoors with their children. We believe that not only kids benefit from nature, but adults as well! Louv states, ”Nature is good for everyone’s mental health.” It is fun for parents to get out with their children and go on scavenger hunts around the yard and neighborhood and take a break from work and for a hike in the woods. The more enthusiastic parents are, the more excited their children will be about their abilities to explore.

“Nature isn’t the problem; it’s the solution.” The Children and Nature Network recognizes the challenges parents may face taking the initiative to take their children outdoors and provide parents with local resources and ideas. We at Sanborn also try to provide resources and ideas for parents and children to reconnect with nature. Here are just a few:

Beyond 101 Nature Activities

New Adventures

Ariella and the Wild Animals

A Small Sounds Tapestry

Time for a Special Place