One Step Further…

As we take a look at our summer experiences thus far, we are excited to share some of the strides our Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) LEAD Experience students have made!  For the past two years, SOLE has partnered with Lake Pend Oreille School District and Idaho Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to offer this tailored program for students that qualify for Vocational Rehabilitation services throughout Idaho.  Here’s a snapshot of what this novel SOLE Experience is all about.

At the beginning of this past June, five young adults began their journey toward becoming leaders. Nestled in the beautiful mountains of Washington, Chewelah Peak Learning Center provided a perfect outdoor classroom for this group of students to thrive.

This program’s focus was to encourage students to take on leadership roles and to provide a space for them to push through personal challenges.

When we began, two girls participating in this program, Jaiden and Kayana, only knew each other in passing. They had seen each other around school, but always traveled in different crowds. By lights-out on day one, they were up giggling and talking about how crazy it is that they hadn’t become friends sooner! We loved watching their friendship build throughout the week.

Mid-way through the program we asked the girls a few questions about their experience.

What is your favorite part of the program so far?

Both of the girls really loved the challenge course. The challenge course involved both low and high elements that required critical thinking and team building exercises to move onto the next feature. This helped them grow confidence in themselves and trust in the group as a whole.

Kayana noted that her favorite part was not only this activity but also her ability to become more confident in herself and her leadership skills. She was excited to share that she and Jaiden had been chosen as leaders for the final hike at the end of the program (and what a great accomplishment it was!). She shared that she typically has a shy personality, so having the opportunity to practice leadership and responsibility in the group really strengthened her confidence.

Here, Jaiden and Kayana are setting up their map and utilizing their compass to create a route up the mountain. These two girls did an incredible job navigating the group up Goddard Peak!

What has been the most challenging part of the program so far?

Jaiden expressed that the most challenging part of the program was trusting other people to complete a task without stepping in and taking the lead. She was used to learning through doing, so allowing others to take the lead and figure out how to overcome a group challenge was not easy at first.

Kayana’s most challenging experience was navigating different personalities and learning to speak up when her needs were not being met. This experience has given her the confidence to take some deep breaths and confront challenges instead of shying away from them.

What advice would you give to a future student participating in this program?

Jaiden’s greatest piece advice was to “do the program!” This was her second year participating in SOLE’s LEAD experience and she emphasized how influential this experience was for her both in school and the workforce.

During the program, the challenge course instructor spoke about how everyone has this “bubble” called your comfort zone. His challenge to the group was to try to expand that zone by taking just one step past where you think you cannot go any further. Jaiden explained that this metaphor translated perfectly into real-life situations and she was glad to have practiced it.

Kayana echoed this piece of advice. She encourages others to take that one step further because “it makes you feel so amazing afterward and makes you… thrive. It makes you want to do it even more!”  

We are so proud of graduates of SOLE’s LEAD Vocational Rehabilitation program!

If you or your young adult is interested in this program, or want to design your own LEAD Experience please contact us! We are happy to answer any questions and explain our curriculum to you!  Contact us at: info@soleexperiences.org.

Hope to see you out there,

Krystal Walsh
SOLE Outreach Coordinator | Intern Field Instructor

SOLE’s Youth Advocate Making a Difference

What was your favorite part of SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program?

Working with kids was definitely my favorite part of SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program. Coming from a family that is so passionate about the outdoors, it’s difficult to see kids who don’t have that background and aren’t from families that have those same values. That’s why it’s so special to work with those kids because it allows me to introduce the outdoors to them and get to share those values with them.

SOLE Youth Advocate and Field Instructor, Erin Meek in the snowpit frontloading information for their field notebooks.  Photo Credit:  Dennison Webb

What qualities do you think it takes to make a good SnowSchool Field Instructor at SOLE?

Flexibility is a crucial quality to thrive as a Field Instructor at SOLE. It’s easy to stick to what you know, especially when you become comfortable with a group of students or a set of teaching material, but having different kids each day requires you to be flexible in your leadership and teaching methods. I also think that communication and delegation of tasks are vitally important as an instructor. My leadership style is to control tasks and situations and I tend to want to take on all the tasks, but I learned to trust my team and know that we all are going to accomplish the work that needs to be done. We built off of each other’s strengths and encouraged each other through their weaknesses, and I think that having mutual respect along with love and support for our team was what allowed us to thrive and grow together.

How did SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program allow you to grow as a leader?

SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program allowed me to gain independence and confidence as a leader. My biggest weakness is confidence when it comes to leadership situations. Typically I have sustained a supporting leadership role in other aspects of my life, and was used to being a co-leader, but SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program pushed me into a central leadership role. This allowed me to become confident. I learned that being a leader doesn’t mean you have to do things perfectly. Our team brought leadership down to a human-level where it’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing the best that you can every day. We all came from different backgrounds and all with different strengths. Some of us with science backgrounds, some teaching, some recreation, and all our different backgrounds and personality traits shined in different ways. It made me feel like I brought something to that table as a leader in my own way.

Erin showing that sometimes you got to get “creative” in the field when teaching!  Photo Credit: Dennison Webb

What do you feel was the most challenging aspect of working as an Field Instructor?

Learning and mastering the material and getting the hang of the routine of the day was the most challenging part for me. I think it’s easy to get comfortable talking about the same things each time, but because we always mixed up the tasks of who was teaching what, it required me to broaden my understanding of all the aspects of SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program. I needed a wide range of knowledge, spanning from tree identification to snowpit protocol, to classroom topics, and have the ability to answer student questions along the way. I had to learn how to explain complex topics to young students and modify my answers for a specific audience of 5th graders. This was challenging because I didn’t want to over or under explain subjects.

5th-grade SnowSchool Experience students thrive when they are exposed to SOLE’s rich and rigorous place-based, experiential education.  Photo Credit: Dennison Webb

What do you value about outdoor experiential education?

I think that experiential education, especially in the outdoors is absolutely phenomenal! The best way to experience anything is through hands-on learning and kids learn so much through being outdoors. I did my senior project on the importance of recess for students and how much it truly matters for developing brains. Kids learn important social skills, and outdoor activities encourage and morph social experiences. Outdoor experiences dramatically improve performance in the classroom and reduce the distracted behavior. SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program brings that experience one step further, by adding education to outdoor recreation. Students are able to touch, feel, and hypothesize about their environment, and use science to explore those curiosities. They learn how to be apart of a team; how to take care and watch out for one another in a potentially harsh environment, and how to make sure that everyone is included and cared for. I saw kids helping one another in real ways by offering granola bars to other students that are hungry and cold. These kinds of programs are what plant the seed for kids to acknowledge the value and importance of our local mountains and how they affect our daily lives.

Students love Erin’s energetic and fun-loving apporach both in and out of the field! Photo Credit: Dennison Webb

Did SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program assist with providing experience for you to fulfill your career goals?/What will you take away from this experience?

I strive to one day become a child counselor and my experience with SOLE helped me to learn how to establish relationships with students. Even in the short amount of time I got to spend with the kids it was easy to see which students were living in low income and poverty households. It was those kids that I really tried to reach out to and make sure they had a good experience at SnowSchool. It made me realize that although Sandpoint is small, it is very socioeconomically diverse and it became very apparent when working with students from all around the district and I developed a strong sense of empathy about it as a leader. I learned how to work with young kids, as well as how to work with adults from different walks of life. Our daily debriefs taught me how to be honest with my teammates in a healthy and constructive way. I will definitely carry those skills as I continue on my career path.

What is your favorite snow crystal?

Stellar dendrites and plates!

Through her formal education and passion for the outdoors, Erin served as SOLE’s Youth Advocate & Intern Field Instructor for SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program during the winter 2018-2019 season.  Erin plans on attending the University of Montana in Missoula; studying Cognitive Neuroscience and Social Work, working to become a Clinical Counselor.

Interested in becoming a Youth Advocate or Field Instructor?  Contact us today or apply here.

A summer of exploring, learning and develop a sense of belonging…

Ten sets of eyes are peeking from behind the trees, and little giggles burst out here and there. We are playing “Camouflage”, which is one of the favorite games for the eleven children in Session III of SOLE’s Junior Naturalist Experience SM summer camp program. Children ages four through ten are hiding in the forest, looking at the game leader, who is trying to spot them.

“I see you, Rhys!” says Sophia, our current leader. Her brother, a bold four-year-old, comes out smiling from behind his favorite hiding spot.

“What type of tree were you just hiding behind, Rhys?”  Rhys smiles and wiggles and tells me that it’s a western red cedar.  I then ask him, “how do you know that?”.

“Because of the bark, and the way the branches bend!” We high-five, and Rhys whispers to his sister that he can see somebody that she didn’t find yet.

The Junior Naturalist Experience SM Program is a 3 to 5 day place-based experiential education program, designed for children between the ages of four to ten to unplug and reconnect outdoors via exploring and learning in their local natural surroundings. Despite the noted age difference you might say – there’s a method behind the madness.  First, Nature Detectives (ages four to six) attend for the first three days, and Nature Explorers (ages seven to ten) come for full five days.  Secondly, I noticed how beautifully intentional how committed the older children were to their roles as leaders and responded towards their younger peers. When given the opportunity to guide, model, and mentor the younger children Nature Explorers blew me away at every turn.  This also, allowed me to come to appreciate the intentionality of SOLE’s program design.

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“We are very grateful for your program, my son LOVED IT and just couldn’t stop talking about what he was doing each day!”  

~ Junior Naturalist Experience Parent, 2017

The purposeful program structure to provide leadership opportunities for youth in the Junior Naturalist Experience SM Program, and all of SOLE’s programs, is just one example of the intentionality of SOLE’s program design that I have come to appreciate.  The other is the purposeful curricula that they use in the field.

Place-based, experiential education lessons are also blended with outdoor free-play. The children aren’t just hearing about their world they are also seeing, feeling and even smelling the wonders of their natural world while forming long-lasting connections between natural science and positive experiences that they actual choose and create for themeselves with peers.  It is through these teachable moments, that allows youngsters to develop and sustain meaningful relationships and lead their own learning while simutaneously satisfying their individual curiosity, allowing each Junior Naturalists SM to have more than just fun in the forest.

That said, having fun is certainly at the heart of the Junior Naturalist Experience SM program. Through structured games and outdoor free play, students are gaining confidence in themselves, developing social and emotional skills, and getting comfortable spending time the natural world. Free play provides opportunities for children to explore and enjoy their environment in their own personal way; fort building is often very popular when providing opportunity for outdoor free-play.

Speaking of which, we have hiked down a favorite resting spot, and a young boy named James calls to his friends, “Hey everyone! Come see my fort!”

Little heads pop up across the forest floor.

“How many people do you think can fit inside?” calls James.

Time to find out! I help the children over one by one, until eleven sets of bright eyes are peeking out at me.

As a summer Field Instructor, I had a wonderful time exploring North Idaho with all of the Nature Explorers and Nature Detectives during SOLE’s 2017 summer season. As an educator, the opportunity to lead creative, place-based experiential education lessons at both Round Lake State Park and the University of Idaho Extension campus was tremendously rewarding.

In closing, I sincerely appreciate SOLE’s dedication to providing quality experiential education pograms, which was evident every step of the way, from the field to the office.  In the future, I hope to see the relationship between SOLE and the Sandpoint community grow ever more cohesive; who knows maybe the Junior Naturalists that I got to explore and play with this summer will go on to enjoy SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience SM program and even the expedition-based summer programs SOLE offers for teens which could even lead to these young adventurers to creating and leading their own programs for SOLE in the future!

Exploring SOLE’s Junior Naturalist program…

SOLE’s Junior Naturalist Experience SM program offers a rich environment for developing a love of and stewardship for nature, strengthening self-esteem and confidence, and building leadership and outdoor skills.  Centered on a healthy balance of unstructured free-play and experiential place-based education, children are able to develop cognitive and social skills while also experiencing a rich interdisciplinary curricula that allows children to become immersed in the magic of their community’s natural resources.

Children walk away with a profound reverence for nature and exploration that they can carry into their future.  The skills they learn in the Junior Naturalist Experience SM program will help them solve real-world problems, become a stronger team member, strengthen themselves physically and mentally, and share compassion for all things living.

We have noticed that families that have offered their children this experience has enriched the whole family.  From scientific findings to lessons integrated in folklore and silly games – children bring home the fun and transferable lessons from their Junior Naturalist Experience SM.

My participation in instructing SOLE Junior Naturalist Experiences SM this summer has been one of great joy.  Sharing my passion for nature is something I have studied for and dreamed of.  After leading many different camps for various organizations, I find that SOLE offers the liberty to build a unique and creative curriculum with the flexibility to follow the children’s interests and other learning opportunities that inherently arise.

See you out there,
Hallie Reikowsky
Field Instructor

Click the following link to learn more about our Junior Naturalist Experience SM program.  Click the following link to learn more about Hallie or other SOLE Field Instructors.

A fresh perspective from the field…

Ever since I started working with SOLE I have learned so much about others, as well as myself.  My first experience with SOLE was in 2014 when I was enrolled as a student on a SOLE GAP Experience SM with Lake City High School in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho.  This snow-based experiential education program provided exposure to the basics of snow science for myself and 10 other peers.  We learned the importance of Snow Water Equivalency (SWE), how to measure it within the snowpack, and how it (and other factors) effect the stability of the snow-pack.  Most notably, I learned that I was a very influential leader.  Another part of the program that has truly stuck with me from then on is how leadership styles and roles can vary and adjust to the given situation.  Examples include using a more direct leadership style when something needs to get done right away or to delegate to provide more group-related ownership and provide additional leadership opportunities for my peers.

Some time after this experience I was offered an opportunity to develop my skills as a Field Instructor for SOLE.  During the summer of 2015 this process began during a SOLE Journey Experience SM when I accepted the offer and packed my backpack for a 16 day trip into the Cabinet Mountains of Montana.  During this SOLE Experience SM  the other Field Instructor and I helped a 15 year old boy with finding his true self as well as learning outdoor skills. For a student it may be hard to see how setting up camp every day relates to the real world.  It is simple from an instructor’s point of view. It shows determination, organization, time management, repetition, and that it is okay to ask for help! But what I took away from that trip is appreciation. Appreciation has taught me that I grew up a very lucky child to have such a strong family. Since my trip I have not let that mindset slip away from me.

In the Summer of 2016 I was on another 16 day Journey Experience, this time with a 19 year old as the student. This trip was designed to assist this individual with Executive Functioning skills.  The 19 year young man, was able to accomplish amazing feats that even he thought he could never do due to his defined diagnosis and self-limiting beliefs.  As a Field Instructor I grew immensely as I gained the knowledge and power to view things in a new perspective.  Instead of seeing a student struggle and enabling them to complete a task and providing instant gratification, I made the conscious choice to allow them to problem solve for themselves, and use the learning strategies that we had been working with him to develop.  This approach allowed the student to feel much more accomplished in the end, and have a better understanding of how to approach a challenging situation in the future.

As a Field Instructor for SOLE, I love my job and enjoy seeing the growth-oriented outcomes of the participants I get to work with in the end. It is a job where I can wake up every day excited to help others help themselves, and then develop the essential leadership skills to help others.

“You know how to understand, but you need to understand how to know.”- Cody Jahns

See you out there,
Cody Jahns
Field Instructor

Winter Wildland Observations: SnowSchool Edition

I moved to Sandpoint, Idaho just over a month ago to work a winter season with Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education (SOLE) to grow as an outdoor educator.  Already two weeks into SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience SM Program,  and it’s been a blast getting students out and about exploring and learning in their backyards – even in the dead of winter.  SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience Program is part of the nation’s largest on-snow outdoor education program in partnership with the Winter Wildland’s Alliance.

10259230_1026398230716244_9085658990807065617_oOne of the goals of the nationally developed program is to encourage students to develop an affinity with their local environs and gain a better understanding of the importance of mountain snowpack and its relationship to their local community resources.  Encouraging students to make earnest, personal observations is a crucial part of that process.  As an educator, it can be a challenge to elicit such responses—Often students are challenged to differentiate between “identifying,” and “observing.”  For example, pointing at the ground, and asking students what they observe, students often say simply “snow,” and not “cold, sugary looking stuff.”

Here are a couple of tricks I have found to work well in the field:

  1.  Give the students a reason to look beyond the obvious.  Try showing students two similar specimens and asking them if they are the same species? Why or why not? Which one is better at growing here? How do you know?  Encouraging these connections gives students a reason to remember what they’ve seen and look beyond what they know, and gives them a chance to relate that information to the ecosystem at large.
  2.  Encourage students to ask the three following questions about your specimen outloud:
  3. “What do you notice about it?”
  4. “What do you wonder about it?”
  5. “What does it reminds you of?”  

These questions have been shown to encourage deeper engagement and personal connections between students and subject matter.   

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 2.56.32 PMAs part of the SnowSchool curriculum, students use magnifying loops to observe snowflakes to make connections to Snow-Water Equivalency (SWE) in the snowpack.  Using these prompts will encourage students to make more creative connections that will be more easily remembered later.  Rather than saying that the snow crystals “look like snow” or “look icy,” using these prompts will encourage more personal responses such as “reminds me of a pepsi can” or my personal favorite from the last course, “reminds me of smushed together crystal turdballs.”  While these answers might seem silly and off topic, they are actually indicative of a deeper cognitive process of connection-making students are involved in.   When teaching in the field, there are few things more disheartening than prompting students to make observations and getting responses that limit exploration.  These strategies will help minimize that possibility, and they will encourage students to have better recall when thinking back on their time in the field from the classroom.

Student observing snow crystals or “pepsi cans” using a magnifying loop.

See you on the mountain,

David Harris, BS
Intern Field Instructor
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