Outdoor Education at Camp Ondessonk
Camp Ondessonk has been a world-class summer camp since 1959 and many people take advantage of the year-round opportunities at Camp during our family weekends and special events, but perhaps lesser known is that many schools in our own communities have been coming to Camp for outdoor education since 1988. Outdoor education is similar to summer camp in that kids get to play in the woods, eat foil burgers around the campfire, and sleep in a treehouse, but there is a more laid-back, quiet atmosphere where students grow as individuals, bond with their classmates, and get to know themselves and each other better.
Our outdoor education programming supplements traditional classroom curriculum by using the experiential learning model – that is, “learning by doing.” This experience-based educational approach brings students in direct contact with the natural world and requires meaningful reflection after each experience in order to foster learning and growth. This knowledge is then transferred into new experiences. And because the outdoors is great for removing one from his or her comfort zone, it is the perfect place to implement this technique.
Mrs. Bobbie Knopke, a science teacher at Immaculate Conception of Dardenne Catholic School in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, has been bringing her 6th-grade classes to Camp every spring since 1999. Most teachers report seeing changes in their students after a class trip to Camp. Mrs. Knopke has seen this transformation first-hand every year for the past 18 years. “My students are much faster to help each other and get along better. I usually find they are more mature and solve problems better after coming back from Camp. They tend not to see their differences, but rather see each other as fellow 6th-graders and develop new friendships after Camp. There seems to be fewer rivalries in the class,” says Mrs. Knopke.
Much like our summer camp staff, our outdoor education instructors are experienced, well-trained, and have a passion for teaching youth in the outdoors. Most have bachelor’s degrees in education, outdoor recreation, or environmental science, and are applying what they learned in college to something they love doing. “The instructors are always great!” says Mrs. Knopke. “I love the way they improvise. I enjoy watching my students accomplish their goals and work together on the low challenge course. I also appreciate when the instructor gives them clues to help them work together.”
Keeping with the experiential model, the 6th-graders in Mrs. Knopke’s class do journaling at the end of each day at Camp and upon getting back to school are assigned an essay on the five things they learned at Camp. According to Mrs. Knopke, “many of the children write about the importance of teamwork, communicating, and being positive with one another. They mention how they test their comfort zones when hiking, going through split rocks, staying in a treehouse, or adapting to changes in weather”. One 6th-grader learned that, “I can go a week without electronics and I didn’t miss them!” Another was more introspective, “Camp Ondessonk is a beautiful place that mixes nature with God. You see God’s creation everywhere you go; in the stars, plants, animals, and people. You also learn about the different creations and why God created them.”
In addition to outdoor education and teambuilding, we also facilitate more science-based but equally hands-on environmental education classes, horseback riding, boating, archery, and evening programs such as night hikes and owl pellet dissection. Also of note, our Program Coordinator, Tom Gattuso, has developed a spiritual development curriculum for schools to come to Camp for overnight retreats. A school trip to Camp Ondessonk can be adapted for any grade level and is a great way to kick off or wrap up a school year. We still have space on our 2017-2018 calendar for more schools to visit Camp so contact me to discuss dates. I can be reached at (618) 695-2489 x129 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to be part of a new tradition at your school!