Thursday, June 3, 2021

2011 - Leadership and 5th Grade Rules!


(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)

I have spent nearly 11 years (of my 40) working at different camps helping to provide Outdoor Environmental Education with different schools in California, Florida and New York.

Most of those schools sent fifth grade classrooms (with some exceptions) as part of their science and learning modules. Some of my favorite times and greatest learning happened in 2011 with an exceptional team of leaders who are all still working in some capacity as youth development professionals. (Matt Sheah, Paul O'Brien, PattyHart, Laura Kerigan, Amanda Dove, Steve Waterman, Paul Cary, and Zach Tarbell)

I think back to my own fifth grade experience here in the United States and it was perhaps the best year of my elementary education as well. In another BLOG, I wrote about Mrs. Fox, my fifth grade teacher and all the great stuff we learned from her that magical year. I shared the picture below of some of those lessons:

My lessons from 5th grade.

Happy 5th graders like to learn at a different rate than they did just the prior year. Hank Pellissier who writes on education and brain development has shared that "By fifth grade, your child’s brain has created a unique "self" due to its one-of-a-kind neural pathways. The upgraded analytic ability also enables fifth graders’ noggins to become keenly, painfully aware of how they fit, or don’t fit, into certain social groups. Partnered with dramatic imagination, your child may feel lonely and unaccepted, a social failure with fragile self-esteem." (See the full article here)

Having led hundreds of outdoor environmental education sessions at four different camps over the last 40 years, this is the age group I greatly enjoy when it comes to learning.

That "fit" that Pellissier mentions comes off as an exuberance of learning new things. By the time those same students are in sixth grade, their awareness to social pressures diminishes their love of learning. The love may still be there, however they are less likely to show it in any group setting for fear of being misjudged.

The opportunities to attend summer camp and outdoor education session has diminished over the past year. As circumstances change, I highly encourage those educators and youth development professionals to embrace fifth grade learning and think about ways we can share those in person experiences again.

While the growth in their prefrontal cortex grows; the passion to learn in a outdoor setting can really set the stage for science, math, and outdoor activities that will last a lifetime.

Putting students in an outdoor setting (that often times are their first experience "on their own" without parental influence) brings those fifth graders into a cross road of imagination and learning. 

I recall so many nature hikes that brought students face to face with a tree that had been through a forest fire and asked them to use their imaginations on what they see about the tree and what they can learn about life.

Or that giant Champion Lodgepole Pine (I wrote about on a previous Blog 1989- Stewardship) where 10-12 youth could hold outstretched hands and while holding hands wrap around the base of this tree. We would hike past the tree to a neighboring meadow where we would look back and have a somewhat unobstructed view of the entire tree. About a third of the way up, the tree split into two different trunks. It was estimated that the tree was hit by lightening at the time of the Revolutionary War and grew in the split trunk format from that time forward. The absolute wonder of looking at a thing so big that has lasted as long as the United States has been around.

Nature P (Paul center) and OE students circa 2011

While you may not be able to keep your child safe from some scary places in the world; you can gift them with an opportunity to share the wonder of an outdoor setting. Consider a outdoor education session through your school or local camps in the United States (Find a camp). 

There are also hundreds of free and fee based lessons available online at sites like Outdoor Families or Project Learning Tree.

Here's what I know; FIFTH GRADE RULES!

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