THE VALUE OF OUTDOOR EDUCATION

by Kylie Walker, 5th Grade Educator


Most of the school experience is focused on the learning that happens inside the walls of the classroom. But what about the value of learning that takes place beyond the brick and mortar? At Sycamore School, learning isn’t just about what happens in our learning spaces, but encompasses the opportunities that happen beyond the walls of the school.

The value in learning through play, exploring the outdoors, challenging oneself to take risks in new ways, and wondering about the nature that surrounds us!

Fifth graders took a trip this fall to El Capitan Canyon with a company called the Santa Barbara Adventure Company. Here are some of the valuable lessons they learned and the ways they grew using the Sycamore mindsets: Be Adaptable, Take Action, Collaborate, Thinking Critically, and Live Imaginatively.


Be Adaptable: I will embrace a growth mindset, take on challenges, and be resilient.


Students supported and encouraged one another in their moments of discomfort and challenge. Growth happens outside our comfort zones.

Students had the opportunity to learn more about who they are without their families, some for the first time! Being away from home provides a new and strange context for learning and growing.


Take Action: I will be self directed and embrace failure as a valuable learning opportunity and a chance to iterate


They tried new things and faced their fears. They were able to fail, reflect, and take another opportunity to try again, encouraging one another every step of the way.

“Looking down was scary! My favorite part was dancing up there.” -B.B.

“It was wobbly. It helped to know where to put my feet.” -V.S.

They became more mature and responsible. On this trip, students enjoyed making their own meals, cleaning their own dishes, and setting their own bedtimes.


“This is so fun...but only because I’m camping.” E.C.

They set personal and group goals, and reflected on their highs and lows each day.

  • Group goals: Facing fears, taking care of ourselves, and having fun!

  • “My high was the ropes course - taking the leap of faith!” -S.J.J.


Collaborate: I will share my ideas, value the opinions and expertise of others, and hold myself and others accountable.


They practiced working together to solve problems, to reach a common goal, or to succeed collaboratively in new games.

“What helped you be successful?”

  • “Trusting one another and definitely our communication.”

  • “Sharing ideas and listening to one another.”

  • “After we did the square, we saw what we did wrong and we could improve.” -L.T.

They strengthened friendships, finding out more about one another through playing and creating new games, building forts and in the cabins together, and going on new adventures like kayaking and hiking to high places. When thrown into these unique experiences such as being in a boat with someone else, they needed to really step up as a team to successfully navigate and kayak together.

They collaborated by leaning on each other and watching out for one another. In the classroom, often the “risk” students feel is emotional or psychological. On our trip, students also felt physical risk by engaging in things they hadn’t tried before. To keep one another safe and to succeed in their endeavors, true collaboration was a must.

Think Critically and Live Imaginatively: I will ask questions and make observations, reflect on my learning, challenge my own mindset, and be curious and creative.


They learned in ways they couldn’t in the classroom. For example…

  • Taking a night hike and learning more about nocturnal animal adaptations through observation and imaginative experience.

  • Developing strategies to work together more effectively through team building activities.

  • Expressing their creativity by telling stories about the sand castles they built.

  • Actively making decisions to ensure they were safe. Raising questions like: How do you stay safe in the wilderness? What do we need to pack? What do we do if we fall out of our boat? And how do we stay hydrated?

While these outdoor education trips are incredibly valuable for students, there is also great value for educators and staff. Here are some of my learning takeaways.

  • Students are capable of things that surprise us.

  • We get to see them in new ways which provide opportunities to paint a broader picture of who students are and what their abilities are. New contexts and environments allow us to see them differently and learn more about how they handle new situations and problems.

  • Students can be self-directed and responsible for themselves. We, as educators, don’t need to constantly dictate what students should and shouldn’t do, or what way they can best go about something. They can do this on their own, and with one another.

  • Students don’t need to be constantly entertained. They will create ways to have fun all on their own!

  • Students get to see us in a different way too. We also get to show more sides to ourselves, exemplify that facing your own fears is valuable, and that sometimes things are scary for adults too.

  • We have the time to get to know them in ways that we don’t always have time for in the classroom.

  • From the experience together, we gain insight into how to better connect with them in the classroom, and identify opportunities for growth both as a class and as an educator.

At Sycamore, we believe that learning is continuous. Apart from the outdoor education trips, Sycamore also deeply values field trips. For example, exploring places like Olvera Street allows us to learn more about others’ cultures and traditions. Trips to the Science Center give us opportunities to see real world application of the concepts we explore in our learning spaces. Curiosity, exploration, and critical thinking shouldn’t be something that stops happening when students leave our building. Using our mindsets and toolkits, students can continue to challenge themselves to grow as individuals, whether they find themselves inside a classroom, on an outdoor adventure, or eventually as they move forward into their lives after Sycamore.

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