For fifth or sixth graders, Outdoor Education can provide many challenges. Students are adjusting to living away from home and at the same time sharing a cabin with a large group of other students. Your job is to create a comfortable social climate in the cabin. This may involve coaching your whole group on cooperation or talking one-on-one with a student who is upset. Below are a few topics which you may need to address:
Some students may have strong negative reactions to being away from the normal surroundings and routines of their home. Though the problem of homesickness is ultimately an emotional one, it can also appear as concrete physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, and nausea. Your understanding, support, and encouragement of students who are struggling with homesickness may be critical for their successful completion of the week at Outdoor Education. Some strategies for counseling a homesick child include:
- Focus on the positive experiences at Outdoor Education, rather than dwell on the condition of homesickness.
- Encourage the student's day to day successes by keeping him or her involved in all activities. If a child is busy having fun, he or she will 'forget' their homesickness.
- Be supportive, but firm. Let the student know that it is not an option to simply go home. Nor is the student allowed to call his or her parents. For many students, the first night is the hardest.
- Inform teachers and the Outdoor Education staff about homesick students. Consult with staff and teachers to get individual advice.
Outdoor Education is designed to include any student who is able to participate. Sometimes, cabins will have students with physical challenges or special medical concerns. We need cabin leaders to be extremely sensitive to the needs of all students. You are to make sure everyone is treated with respect by their peers, including students who wets the bed (BW on medical form). We want everyone to feel comfortable, not embarrassed, in their student groups.
Occasionally, a group of students will have a hard time getting along early in the week. This is often caused by a few kids with annoying types of behavior. Sometimes, a group will 'scapegoat' a less popular child who has unusual ways of getting attention. Cabins may also become divided between different schools. Whatever the situation, having a cabin discussion about the problem may prove helpful. The Outdoor Education staff is available to help facilitate a meeting. Usually having an outside person run the meeting will help the students take it seriously. We use the Conflict Resolution format to run respectful and effective discussions.
Cabin leaders can play an important role in guiding students on how to resolve conflicts. Below is an effective outline of how to address a dispute between students. Many students may respond readily to this procedure, since it has been used extensively in the school system.
Steps Toward Resolving Conflicts
- Stop. Cool off.
- Talk and listen to each other.
- Find out what you both need.
- Brainstorm solutions.
- Choose the idea you both like best.
- Make a plan. Go for it!
- Treat each other with respect.
- No interrupting.
- Work to solve the problem.
Encourage students to use I-Messages as a format for expressing their thoughts. This allows students to take ownership of their feelings rather than blaming others.
"I (feeling) when you (specific behavior) because (how it affects me). And I would like (what would make the situation better for me)."
For example: "I get angry when you tease me because it embarrasses me in front of our whole cabin group. And I would like that you would respect me by leaving me alone and not teasing me."
Conflict resolution material reprinted with permission. For more information contact Barbara Porro at 438 Quartz Street, Redwood City, CA 94062. (650) 365-5123.
© 2017 San Mateo Outdoor Education