Outdoor Education Programs

Sometimes known as outdoor school, school camping, outdoor education, or environmental education, a Residential Outdoor Environmental Education (ROEE) program is not summer camp, and it’s not school; it’s the best of both.

In general, ROEE programs are longer field trips for school groups. The majority of the programs serve 5th and 6th graders, but most programs work with any age. Usually, camps and retreat centers contract with schools to provide classes that fit into a basic schedule; the classes are selected from a menu, depending on the focus or intent of the lesson. Centers employ staff who teach the classes and generally carry out the program.

In essence, ROEE has two goals:

  • To encourage participants to know people better
  • To encourage participants to know nature better.

Both of these goals are critical to humanity’s future, and both should somehow be integrated into every program. The goals can be pursued formally, through deliberate programming; or informally, through more subtle and indirect means. But each is, nevertheless, critical to success.

Reasons School Groups Attend

Some teachers have specific goals in mind. While some teachers want to emphasize an educational concept or use high-powered

 Photos Courtesy Brian Thomas, Plano Texas schools

An effective outdoor classroom program must have a relationship-building component.Photos Courtesy Brian Thomas, Plano Texas schools 

microscopes, other teachers look forward to using the zipline, planning for skit night, or hiking to LookoutMountain. Some present such a detailed program schedule and list of goals they seemingly leave no room for input!

Sometimes clients voice what they don’t want. These may include past experiences not to be repeated, like a certain food, the room with the spider web in the corner, a particular staff member, or an activity that did not go well. Some groups appreciate leaving all the planning to the center staff. Others want it “just like last year.”

What A Program Should Provide

Regardless of the reasons schools attend, there are certain standards ROEE strives to achieve for all participants:

1.) A positive outcome. What will participants say to their family and friends when it’s over? Let’s face it–the program’s academic content and whatever else you may be particularly proud of is secondary. It’s not the cool climbing wall, awesome web page, great T-shirts, or even the scenic views. It’s all about the food, sleeping conditions, and quality people.

2.) Safety and relationships. An effective program must have a relationship-building component. It must begin by addressing the physical, emotional, and social safety of all participants. Since ROEE is a visit to an unfamiliar place, it is critical to make people comfortable, set rules, and assist guests in finding their way around. A program that is too formal and strict in education is likely to miss the mark because it lacks human interaction.

3.) Education standards. Facilities that cater to public schools are familiar with state education standards. They are the language administrators and teachers speak, live, and die by. A program must somehow address these standards, and can be marketed with them as well. Look through the list (available online at the state education department) for the involved grade levels to determine which requirements can be addressed in an outdoor program. National guidelines also are available from the North American Association for Environmental Education (www.naaee.net).

4.) A learning experience. ROEE is fundamentally about experience. It’s not common to ask, “Did you learn a lot?”  Instead, most want to know, “Did you have a good time?” Plan some excitement for the program. Every lesson should be stimulating and

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