Our 8th grade class recently returned from its annual class trip, a 10-day wilderness adventure in New England. This 8th grade trip is a rite of passage for students, the culmination of progressively longer and more adventurous excursions undertaken by the class teachers and students over the years.
At Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor, we strongly believe these class trips are a vital part of the student experience. They foster a connection with the outdoors, offer opportunities for teamwork and class camaraderie, give some students an experience they might otherwise never have, and teach responsibility and self-knowledge. They also provide moments of joy, life-long memories, and shared experiences that further cement the bonds among the students.
Typically, a class’s first overnight trip takes place in 3rd grade, where the class spends a night at a farm. This supplements the in-class work of 3rd grade, where students learn about farming, shelters, and ways people have lived and survived throughout history. By the time they reach middle school, the students have been on several overnight trips. In the middle grades, they spend a few nights in a dark-sky area as part of their astronomy studies and travel to Hocking Hills, Ohio, to further their lessons in mineralogy and geology.
The 8th grade trip is a wilderness adventure experience. RSSAA has generally used two organizations to help us with this experience: the Northwaters & Langskib camp based out of Temagami, Ontario or Kroka Expeditions, based out of Marlow, N.H. Each offers a program of canoeing and camping that challenges the students physically; requires them to work together to set up camp, cook food, clean dishes, take care of the canoes, etc.; and provides an opportunity for self-reflection, community sharing, and social and emotional growth. These trips are usually undertaken at the start of the school year, or even before the school year officially begins, as they are an excellent way to launch the class into their last year together before high school.
As an 8th grader teacher, I have experienced both the Northwaters and Kroka experiences — both were incredible and so important for my students. Last year, my class went to Kroka and paddled down the Battenkill River from Vermont to New York — the same path taken by this year’s group of 8th graders. My class enjoyed the challenges posed by canoeing along a swift-moving river — we had to navigate rapids, hairpin turns, fallen trees, lots of rocks, and ever-changing water depths. Despite the challenges, there is little to compare to the feeling of navigating your way down an isolated, scenic river, seeing birds and other wildlife on the shores, discovering the best place to pitch a tent, staring a fire and making food for your class, and chatting with friends by the fire as the stars emerge.
As is the intent of a rite of passage, when a class returns to school following these trips it is evident how much the students have grown, both as individuals who confronted and overcame their own personal challenges on the trip, and as a group who discovered strengths and vulnerabilities in their classmates they never knew before and who return with a shared experience that belongs only to them. Each year there is inevitably a student or two who do not want to take on the expected rigors of the trip, but upon return they are always glad they did and many say they now feel like they could accomplish anything!
While the 8th grade trip is in many ways the culmination of these experiences in the grades and middle school, these types of trips continue for students at our high school. Ninth graders end their freshman year with a week at the Community Farm of Ann Arbor, while 10th graders take the knowledge they learned during their sophomore year for a week-long land surveying expedition at Camp Lookout on the northern shores of Lake Michigan. Seniors wrap up their RSSAA journey with two amazing adventures: a Zoology trip to Hermit Island, Maine, where they explore the flora and fauna of the ocean and tidal pools; and an adventure in Venice, Florence, and Rome, where they explore the artists, writers, and thinkers they learned about in the classroom for so many years.
These trips are a cherished and important part of our curriculum. I believe they play a central role in helping our graduates to be well-rounded citizens of the world, with the self-confidence to take off on their own life adventures.
Is it safe? Will they make good choices? What if something happens? Will they meet nice people?
These are just a few of the questions that might pop up when considering allowing your teen to travel - and they're all valid and worthy of discussion. But a question that might be even more important is, what will they learn? For parents, the educational aspect of travel is most likely the biggest reason why they send their kids on an overseas educational program with their school, like our senior trip to Italy. But what about travel with non-school groups - or even solo travel - for teens?
Traveling is the moment when the textbook comes alive, when everyday objects look completely different and when common greetings sound exotic. For teens, traveling abroad is exhilarating, stimulating, frustrating and—whether they're looking for it or not—extremely educational. Experts say that the educational benefit for teens goes far beyond learning historical facts, architectural styles, conversational phrases and even a working knowledge of a foreign subway system. Travel is an excellent way for students to develop the vital skills like critical thinking and problem solving that will enable them to compete in an increasingly globally interdependent economy.
“I think the biggest thing travel does for teens is to help them to see beyond their own somewhat limited world and to see how other people live,” says Christine Schelhas-Miller, who taught adolescent development at Cornell University for many years and is the co-author of Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years.
Travel is particularly good for developing critical thinking as it forces teens to examine their own values and beliefs from the perspective of a different culture. They become aware of aspects of their lives that they have taken for granted and never examined. - Christine Schelhas-Miller
Improvement in critical-thinking skills can translate into big gains in the classroom. Travel can help students develop all of what educators call the 4 Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation), says Dr. Jessie Voigts, who has a PhD in international education and runs wanderingeducators.com, a global community of educators sharing travel experiences.
“Travel encourages critical thinking (especially when comparing intercultural differences), problem solving (in so many ways—money, transportation, food, events, cultures, languages, etc.) and communication (both verbal and non-verbal, which is key to any communication event, globally),” says Voigts, author of Bringing the World Home: A Resource Guide to Raising Intercultural Kids. "It also encourages collaboration (working together with your travel partners or locals to fulfill your basic needs), creativity (finding a creative solution to a travel problem) and innovation (whether it’s a way to hold your luggage together with whatever is on hand or finding a new route in an unfamiliar town past a parade to get where you need to go).” And, through these experiences, teens are becoming more flexible and adaptable along the way, two more skills that are essential in the 21st Century’s virtual workplace.
Our kids face an entirely different world than that of their parents and grandparents. They need more than school and college to get a job. They need to learn flexibility, adaptability, and other skills to succeed in today’s global economy. Our coworkers and neighbors are no longer just next door, but all around the world.
Traveling—not just being a tourist, but smart travel—helps teens learn flexibility and adaptability, and creates an open-minded worldview that allows teens to work well with others anywhere in the world.” - Dr. Jessie Voigts
It may take teens—and their parents—some time to realize that they have gained all of these skills from their travels abroad. But it probably won’t take anyone long to figure out that these teens have learned a lot about something very close to home: themselves. Unexpected events always happen to travelers and, when faced with these events without an adult to guide them, teens develop problem-solving skills and confidence in their abilities to manage their lives. When teens travel, they expect to learn so much about the other country, but may also make some important self-discoveries along the way.
Some Life Benefits of Traveling as a Teenager:
- Learn How to Save and Budget Money - Sure, learning about money starts at a young age, but there is real-life experience and deferred gratification in saving up all school year for an extended trip that a teen can proudly say that they paid for. Plus there's the skill of budgeting throughout the trip.
- Ability to Make an Itinerary - Itineraries are just as dynamic as the places visited and this will reflect upon your teens travels no matter where they venture. They'll build flexibility when they need to make and change their itinerary so they can have the best experience possible.
- Build Problem-solving Skills - World travel wouldn’t be complete without the occasional bump in the road. Dealing with problems like pouring rain when the forecast predicted sun or a broken suitcase zipper will make them a savvy problem-solver as they work through predicaments proactively and positively rather than allowing them to spoil the trip.
- Become an Independent and Responsible Young Person - When traveling around with family and friends, it’s super easy to follow their lead and let others take care of things like tickets, transportation, meals, itineraries, etc. – The list goes on and on. Traveling without the familiarity of people from home means your teen will need to take more responsibility for their own actions, as well as look out for those they are with. This means showing up prepared, making the effort to participate, and being accountable throughout the trip.
- Break Stereotypes and Experience New Cultures - Unfortunately, people are often quick to believe stereotypes about other countries and their cultures, especially the negative ones. This is true of Americans' views of overseas destinations, as well as other countries negative perceptions of Americans. When traveling, your teen will have the opportunity to break this cycle by keeping an open mind and an open heart and sharing everything that it means to be a global citizen.
While every family and every teen is unique, when it comes to travel it's possible the pros outweigh any cons. Traveling teaches meaningful life skills, provides an opportunity to meet new people, facilitates cultural appreciation, and teaches the ability to adapt to new environments. Travel is a fantastic way of gaining these unique experiences which develop youth into more well-rounded citizens, all while having fun along the way!
Social and emotional skills are vital for a child’s future, and in young children those skills are undergoing great expansion. The child lives in the present moment and in a world of wonder which can make social and behavioral obstacles challenging. Wonderful opportunities present themselves during the child’s time in the classroom and at home, and adults can help support learning while meeting the child at the developmental stage that he or she is in. This topic is at the heart of Waldorf education.
Parents often ask us about strategies and helpful approaches to navigating discipline and conflict. One of the most important aspects that we consider is how the child views him or herself and others.
It is easy to categorize things into good and bad, right and wrong; but human interactions and social relationships are much more complex than that.
Every human being has experienced times in which they have been unkind, insensitive or hurtful. It is in remembering these times and seeing the other person as a striving human being, that we can work through conflict and develop empathy for others. The last thing that we want is a child to begin to feel as though they are a bad person and unworthy of our love and care. One of the things we aim to foster is an environment of inclusivity and seeing others as equally important and valuable.
Each child enters a class with his or her own wonderful gifts and challenges and grows tremendously from what each classmate brings to the group. The world of play offers a child a stage to try on many hats which may manifest in various emotions, behaviors and roles. Children will often work out some social questions and conflicts that they are trying to comprehend through their play. Through observing children's play, adults are given a window into things the child is trying to figure out, which are often questions of morality.
At RSSAA, children are encouraged to work challenges out first on their own to help them develop the foundation of lifelong communication and social skills. This is all done in the safety of a well-prepared and cared for classroom environment. The teacher works hard to maintain this environment while supporting the children in the class and the joys and struggles that they will experience together. At home, it is the same. The environment of family and the values that are set for how to treat one another allow the child a safe place to grow. Sibling interactions can sometimes be extremely difficult, but also tremendously rewarding. The same holds true for the interactions in the classroom.
The adult’s tone is important and should be relaxed and practical, stating observations or asking a needed question.
Approaching conflict without judgement can be one of the most difficult things for adults to do, especially when they clearly see a child do something unkind or hurtful. However, we have found that this is key to creating a space for growth to happen. By observing or sportscasting what you saw, without tones of judgement, a child can feel less defensive and better able to reveal the reasons behind their struggle. This can help take them out of the feelings of fight or flight and into a realm of learning and reflection. By speaking without judgement and describing another’s perspective of what happened, the children start to be able to see another person’s perspective, which in turn develops empathy.
Possible active observer statements:
I saw that Sally had it and Jim grabbed it
I have not heard you ask him for it
I see that Julie has many rocks and Jerry does not have any
You may ask him for a turn when he is done
You may talk to her first about that
When we have our coats on, we can go outside to play
When we are sitting and everyone is ready, we will pass the snack
Redirecting and engagement are great tools.
When situations are emotional, sometimes some breathing space and a shift of focus can make a world of difference. Redirecting the focus to a different activity with a child can shift the focus to practical work and engagement. Once the child is ready, the adult can invite other children to join. Often good work can bring two children together with a purposeful task and hard feelings start to dissolve. This could be all that was needed at the time to move past what happened, while other times the child may need this time to come to peace before bringing the conflict up in a way that they can talk about it. As the evening winds down it is easy to recap the day, acknowledging the areas you connected and the struggle that was had.
Acknowledging someone’s feelings can be powerful.
Whether a child is sad, angry or upset, stating that out loud gives the message to the child that you see that something is bothering them and can help them learn about identifying and coping with their emotions. Sometimes it is helpful to recognize the child’s feelings simply before moving into practical ways to resolve the situation. An adult saying an acknowledging phrase helps the child feel connected to the adult or group. Here are some example phrases:
It looks like you are upset.
I’m sorry that happened.
That must have felt....
Reconnecting is key.
Showing that you care about a child in the moment of struggle lets them know that you still have a positive view of them and they are valuable. Reconnecting could be as simple as saying: “I know that you are such a kind and loving person. I remember how you found that beautiful rock the other day and brought it home for your brother. It’s okay to get mad, but we need to make sure no one gets hurt.”
Adults make mistakes too: let them see how you handle it!
It is important that the children can see that adults can make mistakes too, and that we are always trying to do our best. We work to be a model worthy of imitation, and that extends to our social interactions with the children and other adults. It is powerful for a child to see an adult make a mistake and then work to fix it, whether it be apologizing or having honest communication with someone.
It is ideal for the child to initiate resolution.
When children have a social conflict, it is ideal for the child to initiate resolution first. Ideally, they will grow the capacities and skills to navigate all the social and emotional struggles that will happen throughout their childhood and adult life. However, sometimes an adult is needed to help facilitate. This is one of the hardest things to get right. Once a teacher starts to see a pattern emerging then he/she moves towards more direct forms of interventions. Otherwise, simple redirection or a listening ear can be just the right tool. Not every moment needs to be talked about with an adult, and sometimes the children can come up with a compromise that is unfair in adult eyes but perfectly fair in theirs. Give them a minute (or a few) to try to figure things out, if it feels safe to do so.
Being accountable is an important thing to learn.
Taking accountability when someone does something wrong can be hard: no one wants to do something mean or wrong to those they love. Accountability without blame can be accomplished if we can help children to feel comfortable in a somewhat uncomfortable situation. Reminding in a firm but loving way that unkind words and actions can and do hurt. This can be truly recognized when the children can be brought together in a safe and productive way through meaningful activities.
Sometimes children need a break from one another in play.
Sometimes children can just be in a bad mood and that is okay. We can help their friends find other play options while giving the upset child room to have the quiet space they need to work things through. There are times that children can be purposefully exclusionary and in those situations we can say “We play with everyone”. Sometimes there are children at the stage where they can only play with one or two children at a time, and it's important that we help protect that space for them.
Therapeutic stories work wonders while bringing imagery to situations.
If a problem seems to be reoccurring or to have an underlying impulse, the teacher may decide to bring a therapeutic story to help the child move through the problem in an imaginative way without the child feeling the weight of his/her actions attached. Sometimes a story is told in the moment, where other times it is told to the group many days in a row or sent home with a child to be read before bedtime. This can be easily done at home. They can be stories of animals, little boys and girls or even stories of you as a child. Author Susan Perrow has an amazing collection of already written tales for various behaviors such as: grief, hitting, grumpy moods, or being shy.
An apology should not be forced.
Instead of forcing an apology that is not heartfelt, modeling caring behavior and inviting a child to participate in it can help facilitate healing between children. A child can help fetch a bandage or ice pack, or possibly rub the other child’s back or offer a hug. Depending on the situation, a teacher might give verbal prompts such as “Sometimes if I hurt someone by accident, I say ‘I am sorry, I didn’t mean to do hurt you. It was an accident.’” A child may choose to try a verbal apology or not, but either way the hurt child is helped by this.
Nourishing the physical body.
If a child gets a bump or bruise, a deep breath, a drink of water or bite of food can do wonders. Also, braiding or combing hair, applying lotion or a little massage can bring a child back into their body and help them feel well cared for. Possible tools we can use for comfort are: ice pack, essential oils, rescue remedy, cream, and a bandage.
It is important for the adult to later process and reflect on challenging situations in order to get a bigger sense of what happened and what is happening. Tracing the steps backwards to what lead to the issue can help the adult find the catalyst and that can help them avoid the situations in the future.