Adventures start with a single step
By Bruce Hendricks, Director of Outdoor Education
The often-quoted saying, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." (Lao Tzu) is nowhere more accurate than in the outdoors. As anyone who has hiked pathways with young children will agree, children, with their endless curiosity, see much that their older companions miss. They can spend an entire day on a journey that travels deep rather than far. Watching bugs on the ground, picking and eating wild strawberries, wondering how birds fly... their questions know no end. So many wonders and so much to learn.
In a perfect world, school feeds a fire out of curiosity, wonder, and love of learning. Unfortunately, we know that is not always the case. It was Mark Twain who joked that he never let schooling get in the way of his education. Becoming "educated" is a journey created by a community of people who encourage exploration not just explanation, who take interest in students not just content, and who know from experience that learning is an energetic and ever-changing mix of discovery, engagement, challenge, difficulty, reflection, and action. The pathway walked by young children eventually develops and stretches into the trail travelled by older students; their journeys probe more complex land and include greater freedom but also involve greater consequence. It is here that mentors can be so important.
For students in this phase of their educational journey the 'thousand miles' ahead can be alluring, or overwhelming, or both. The emerging landscape and sky overhead are unknown worlds; changeable, changing between green meadows beneath cloud-spotted, sunny skies (opportunity, freedom and promise) and craggy heights destroyed by violent winds and dark storm clouds (competition, restrictions, and failure). Travelling companions, as well as mentors, help guide students in this beautiful, uproarious world. Empathetic peers who value learning, have high standards for themselves and others and who have a sense of value-driven purpose are invaluable. Bite size 'side trips' have the potential to help students develop the knowledge, skills and abilities that will stand them in good stead on the larger journey.
At STS outdoor education is one way students can gain these experiences and learn to walk more adeptly on their educational path. The direction and support of a learning community, including parents, mentors (coaches, teachers, trip leaders), alumni, and peers is there to help guide students as they develop and apply learning to other parts of their life, both now and into the future. The 'single step' may start here, but the journey continues far into the distance, through a rich landscape that students not only travel, but also help create.