Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Take a Deep Breath and Enjoy the Season

During these final hectic days and hours, when last minute shopping, cooking, and preparations for visiting guests are made—it is easy to get sucked into the future, into “what do I need to do next?”

We sometimes see that with our trip leaders in the summer, too. They are so focused on route-finding, safety, and mitigating the what-ifs of weather, blisters, slow hikers, the upcoming mountain climb, and monitoring the preparation of campers and staff—they forget to stop and breathe.

This is why we encourage a few moments each day of a trip—and even before and after every activity at camp—where the individuals as a group stop and share their goals for the trip/activity, their possible fears, their triumphs, their failures, their high points, their low points, and how they have grown (or think they may grow). Stretching together before a hike begins we can share our goals for the hike: “I want to set the pace today” “I don’t want to be at the back today” “I want to put up the rain fly myself” “I want to help cook dinner” “I want to enjoy the scenery and stop being so nervous about the climb” “I want to stop someplace beautiful and take a nap in the sun”—this helps remind the campers and the trip leader that they are ALL part of the experience, that—in fact—the hopes, fears, and goals they each bring to the trip make the experience that much richer for everyone.

Then, after a long day on the trail, in the saddle or on foot, they can share the insights the day provided them. “I saw a cloud that looked like a pig eating a chicken” “I really appreciated Jordan’s help when we were crossing the stream” “I didn’t think I was going to make it over the ridge, but I did—and that felt great” “This was the BEST dinner I have ever eaten—I usually HATE spaghetti!” “I liked how we stopped and just listened to the stream after lunch—it calmed me down” “Playing those hiking games was my favorite part of the day, I never even felt tired” By giving campers the space and time to reflect on their day, a trip leader sees how his/her planning, effort, coordination, and dedication pays off in real growth experiences for kids.

So this holiday season, make sure you take time to ask those sitting around your table what their favorite part of the day might have been, or have a story night when each member of the family shares a short story from their childhood (kids included!), or take time to light some special candles and share why you are grateful this holiday season, or just take an evening stroll around the block as a family to look at the holiday lights, stars, or just see the beginning of the crescent moon sparkling on the snow.

Happy Holidays!

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Outdoor Leadership

I am currently working on my Capstone project to finish a Masters in organizational leadership. You will probably read a few posts from me about this over the next few months.

I was doing some research last week. Do you know how many articles and books there are available on leadership?! Hundreds. Topics range from leadership, to recognizing it, being a better leader, leading change, leaders during problems, leading in crisis, leading teams, leadership development, etc. While there are various topics and themes to the research, there is an underlying message in each – leadership is important.

While businesses want to hire young employees who show potential as strong leaders and colleges are looking for students who will be leaders in the community, I could not find a lot about leadership opportunities for high school students, especially in Colorado.

Why is this? There are national programs and conferences that students can go to, many times to represent their school. These programs typically last for a week with the goal to give students the resources to be leaders when they get home. There is something lacking with these programs though. They are indoors in classroom settings. I disagree with this teaching method.

Leadership is experiential. Yes, there is a need to understand certain principals and methods that can be taught in the classroom, but this is not enough. To best learn to be a leader, young adults need to interact with others and practice being leaders.

I think it is the best way to learn. I have worked with high school students from various backgrounds and experiences and have watched them all demonstrate stronger leadership traits than they thought possible while leading outside.

Can you think of ways to teach young adults to be future leaders in the outdoors?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

'Tis the Season

Now that winter has arrived you might find you and your family spending more time inside playing the Wii or backing cookies. Scholastic has put together a fun and exciting list of winter activities that you and your children can do even when snowflakes are flying. Lets learn from and enjoy this wonderful season.

•Create a sundial. Find a long stick and set it in the snow. Try to tell the time throughout the day by where the stick's shadow is cast. (At high noon there will be no shadow.)

•Start a nature sketchbook. Buy an inexpensive artist's sketch pad or book and begin a winter nature diary. Each time you take a walk, observe something up close in nature. Draw the item, then write down descriptive details and date the entry. Continue you observations and entries throughout the year as seasons and locations change. This is especially fun if you visit the same area year after year — you can compare your observations over time.

•Identify trees during a walk in the winter woods. Observe the shape and bundling of evergreen needles and patterns on bark. Borrow a naturalist's guide from the library to help make your identifications.

•Go on a berry hunt. Pick berries with leaves attached and try to identify them (but don't eat them!). Use a naturalist's guide or check the Web before or after your search to find clues.

•Observe the night sky. Before your trip, research the constellations and planets that may be visible on a cold clear night at the latitude and longitude where you are staying. Practice picking them out in the heavens by first tracing the constellations on paper. Then, when you are away, it will be easier to find them. Your Sky is just one site where you can map your sky.

•Search for animal tracks. The best time is early morning when snow is pristine — you'll find the tracks of nocturnal animals. Draw and label what you see. Visit before you leave for your trip, and download pictures of tracks for black bear, porcupine, beaver, red fox, gray squirrel, moose, skunk, brush rabbit, deer mouse and black-tailed deer. You can also learn about their winter habitats at the site.

•Keep an eye open for skat, too. Droppings are another way to look for signs of animal life.

•Collect pine cones from different types of evergreens. Take them home as mementos of your trip.

•Take bird-watching breaks. Record your findings in your sketchbook. When you get home, do some research (using the Internet or an Audubon guide) to find out what types of food these birds forage for in winter.

•Listen and look for owls just before dark. In the daytime, keep your eyes open for "owl pellets" during your walks. Owls spit up these small, oval-shaped balls that may contain bits of undigested bone and fur.

•Hunt for icicles. See who can find the biggest.

•Explore lichen. To identify and learn more about various kinds, check out

•Search for deer fields on foot, while showshoeing, or when you are in your car. Deers like to collect in meadows that are sheltered by trees.

•Blow bubbles outdoors in the cold. Do they freeze? Visit Bubblesphere for a host of information.

•Play snow "basket"-ball. Scoop out a large bowl-shaped area in the snow and make a ton of snowballs, then see who can land the most into the basket.

•Try snowball catch for variation.

• Team up for snow hockey or golf. Use a broom for hockey, or bring along a toy club for golf.

•Have fun with outdoor tic-tac-toe. Use a long stick to draw the grid and the Xs and Os. Or color snowballs (use a spray bottle filled with watered-down food coloring) and throw them into the grid to play - red against blue, for example, instead of X vs. O.

•Go snow bowling. Line up inverted pails of snow, then try to knock them down with snowballs.

•Build a snowman, of course. Use stones, branches and berries to decorate (and a carrot for his nose!).