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!

Why is outdoor free play important for your child?

Since inception SOLE has facilitated programs which highlights outdoor free play for youth. From exploring a wetland with peers during our Stewardship Experience program, or just getting ‘down and dirty’  building a fort in our Junior Naturalist Experience summer programs, youth are constantly immersed in natural learning environments where they are able to freely explore their local wildlands while also learning about the natural systems which exist.  

When at SOLE outdoor free play provides the ideal ‘habitat’ to develop the whole child.

Even with our intentionally-designed curricula as the framework, youth are consistently provided unstructured outdoor play, or as it is commonly known free play, during most SOLE Experiences SM which starts in our programs for youth 4 years of age.  While our organization is an obvious proponent for purposeful experiential and outdoor education curricula, we also actively support personal and group exploration outdoors.  At SOLE, free play can be considered as moments where youth naturally engage with themselves and their peers without direct facilitation.  It is in these moments when youth really heighten their emotional, social, physical and mental well being.

Getting ‘down & dirty’ during a Junior Naturalist Experience at SOLE!

Free play is capable of developing the executive control center of our brains at an early age.  In fact, it’s been shown to have a negative impact on children’s brain development when they are removed from this critical learning environment.  As we dig into it bit further, we can naturally see how developing higher order skills like critical-thinking and problem solving can occur without direct facilitation from simple endeavors like building a fort with a friend. It’s not to say that a deeper level of comprehension of lesson objectives cannot be attained through effective facilitation – it can. However, there is still much to be said for those opportunities where individuals take ownership of their learning process and freely explore the moments, especially those in nature. And the benefits do not stop there.1

When exploring what’s ‘out there’ we engage our physical self into wild landscapes.

Free play promotes physical well-being. Current research shows the decline in outdoor and physical activity for youth, including free play opportunities. There is also a growing body of evidence, which shows the correlation between the decrease in physical outdoor activity and childhood obesity. Also, there are current studies that show that children are most physically active when provided these very opportunities.2

Another benefit is supporting positive attention. In fact, when children are provided the opportunity to immerse themselves in outdoor free play, they are often more attentive and respectful when re-entering a more structure learning setting.

Also, free play provides the opportunity for actual social engagement and character development. Establishing and maintaining friendships is a tremendous outcome of free play. By providing opportunity for children to freely engage their peers is naturally how we learn to relate – an essential life skill.  Children are also learning from their failures, and mistakes allowing them to develop the 7 C’s of Resilience a cornerstone of most SOLE programs.  These essential life skills have also been directly linked to future positive outcomes, including academic achievement. 3

It’s kind of hard to NOT have a good time, when you’re getting ‘down and dirty’ with your friends!

Lastly, is the shift in affect, which is achieved through free play. Children who experience free play are naturally happy.  And isn’t that how children should be?  They are doing what they want, how they want.  Hey, don’t get me wrong I am NOT saying that we should hold boundaries and set-limits with youth, however, there is often space for them to explore that which is inherently valuable – their own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Whether it’s genuine happiness, or cognitive development, the importance of outdoor free play is undeniable.   SOLE will continue to provide opportunities for children to engage in this manner. With an increase in actual “screen time” the importance of providing these opportunities is paramount. If not now, when?  And what will the outcome be if we do not provide these opportunities?

Youth can engage in this manner in summer and school programs, including those listed below.  All summer programs are currently open for registration and enrolling strong.  For more information and/or to register for upcoming SOLE Experiences simply click on one of the programs below or go to our registration form to begin your process.  Feel free to contact us if you have any other questions or needs!

december

No Events

january

07jan8:00 am5:00 pmFeaturedSeasonal Experience | Open ProgramAIARE Avalache Rescue Course | Ski/Board | Backcountry / Lodge-Based | Co-Ed8:00 am - 5:00 pm PST Downing Mountain Lodge

08jan(jan 8)8:00 am10(jan 10)5:00 pmFeaturedSeasonal Experience | Open ProgramAIARE Level 2 Course | Ski/Board | Backcountry / Lodge-Based | Co-Ed8:00 am - 5:00 pm (10) PST Downing Mountain Lodge

08jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

10jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

11jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

15jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

17jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

18jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

19jan(jan 19)8:00 am21(jan 21)5:00 pmFeaturedSeasonal Experience | Open ProgramAIARE 1 (Level 1 Rec) | Ski / Board | Youth Specific (16 - 25 y/o) 8:00 am - 5:00 pm (21) PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

22jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

24jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

25jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

29jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

31jan9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

february

01feb8:00 am03(feb 3)5:00 pmFeaturedSeasonal Experience | Open Program AIARE 1 (Level 1 Rec) | Ski / Board | Women's Specific 8:00 am - 5:00 pm (3) Libby, Montana | Cabinet Mountains, Montana

01feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

05feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

07feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

08feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

12feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

14feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

15feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

16feb(feb 16)8:00 am18(feb 18)5:00 pmFeaturedSeasonal Experience | Closed ProgramAvalanche Education Experiences | AIARE Level 1 Course 8:00 am - 5:00 pm (18) TBD

19feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

21feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

22feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

26feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

28feb9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

march

01mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

05mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

07mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

08mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

12mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

14mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

15mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

19mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

21mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

22mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

26mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

28mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

29mar9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

april

02apr9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

04apr9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

05apr9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

09apr9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

11apr9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

12apr9:00 am1:30 pmFeaturedFieldwork Experience | SnowSchool | School ProgramSnowSchool Experience | School Progam9:00 am - 1:30 pm PST Schweitzer Mountain Resort

may

No Events

See you out there,DennisonTeaching
Dennison Webb, M.A.
Founder | Executive Director

1 http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/06/336361277/scientists-say-childs-play-helps-build-a-better-brain

http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/485902

https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/02/15/how-free-play-can-define-kids-success/