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“Seeing all the nature makes you feel like you’re meant to be there.”

“Marin Horizon’s Outdoor Education program is designed to inspire a love of environmental stewardship, of experiential learning, and to account for kids who are their best selves when they can be active and interact with nature,” says Jesse Pearson, 8th grade language arts teacher and former director of the Marin Horizon Experiential Education program. 


Says one fourth grader, “Seeing all the nature makes you feel like you’re meant to be there. It just feels right.”



Two features of our program are particularly unique: 


1) Our PE program is really an extension of our experiential/outdoor education program–PE Teachers Joel Booth and Stevie Lee are making use of the environment around our campus. 


2) We’re essentially surrounded by dedicated open space. The Homestead Valley Land Trust is a trail network that we can access within a quarter mile of our campus, and beyond that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Mt Tamalpais State Park are the spaces that our kids expect to spend time in. It’s all in our backyard!





Building life skills: safely interacting with wild places


Our program is designed to give kids practical skills and the confidence to become lovers of the outdoors themselves. We begin building skills and exploring the outdoors as early as Kindergarten and 1st grade, and by the time they are 7th and 8th graders, students know what they need to run an outdoor education trip and survive (and thrive) on their own. They know how to provision a trip, start a fire with minimal materials, prepare and store food, select a campsite, put up a tent, identify plant species, administer first aid, read a map and orient themselves. 


Our kids are getting off campus into wild spaces on an almost weekly basis, with Upper School kids doing more than 20 hikes a year. We hop on our buses and vans, and we’re out at Muir Beach, or Tennessee Valley, or Fort Cronkite, or we’re running the Dipsea and taking a dunk in Three Wells when the water’s warm. For almost every kid–even our most traditionally athletic kids–we hear comments regularly about how much they love that our PE program is not just confined to court and field sports.




In addition, all of our kids participate on overnight trips which grow progressively longer and more challenging (and fun!). Kids in Kindergarten have their very first overnight at nearby China Camp, by 1st and 2nd grade they’re farther away from home, and by 5th grade they’re going for three nights and they’re taking on leadership roles with the younger campers. By 7th and 8th grade, our kids are ready to plan and organize their own backpacking trips to more remote destinations.



Independence and freedom, especially from devices.


We are living in a world where kids are often handed some kind of an electronic device in 1st or 2nd grade. It may start with an iPad and by the time they’re in 5th or 6th grade it’s an iPhone. There’s a correlation, if not a causation, between devices and some of the stress and anxiety that we’ve been seeing among kids, as well as a sense of isolation or disconnectedness, ironically, from the sort of grounded world. 





Our goal is to get kids out into nature engaging in physical, not screen-based, modes of play where they get to troubleshoot in real time and cooperate and collaborate with their peers to solve problems–like getting a tent put up, or making plans to feed 14 of your classmates. These are the kinds of things that build not just confidence, but a real sense of accomplishment or achievement in tangible ways, rather than “I got to the next level in my video game” or whatever it is that masquerades as meaningful achievement for kids online.


Jesse hears from parents that they want for their kids to be independent and to have freedom. He shares, “I will sometimes push back on that and say, independence and freedom is not your parents’ ability to track you and know where you are at every moment of every day. That’s dependence. Real freedom and independence is when a kid feels, ‘No one knows where I am right now but I’m safe, and I got here on my own and I can get back on my own.’ And so we try to give kids, as they get old enough, that level of responsibility, and the appreciation for what it would mean to do that, and the desire to do it. I think that is one of the guiding principles behind why we do what we do.”



A chance for kinesthetic learners to shine.


There are kids for whom sitting at a desk in a chair with a chromebook for hours is not where they will be at their best. Often they’re kinesthetic learners and they need to be physically engaged whenever and wherever possible. 


We have many examples of kids who do not shine as brightly in the classroom, but emerge as leaders in outdoor adventures. They find themselve eager to read a map and chart a course, to encourage their peers along a difficult hike, and to help carry a backpack or put up a tent. 


Says Jesse describing one student, “Suddenly everyone is looking to him for his abilities and his capability as a leader and he gets to be the one who gets shout outs at our appreciation circle. Where often he has a sense that the other kids don’t want to work with him in the classroom, now he has a sense that he’s valued by his peers. That’s such a triumphant moment for him.” 



You can learn more about our Experiential Education program here.




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