An Awfully Big Adventure

3/29/12 10:32 AM ASHLAND — In The Classroom: An Awfully Big Adventure

By Melissa Mercon Smith/Guest columnist 

The MetroWest Daily News 

Posted Mar 23, 2012 @ 11:00 AM 

“To live would be an awfully big adventure,” Peter Pan tells Wendy. Life at the Extended Day Program is usually one big adventure after another, and it’s about to get even more adventurous. Over the years, I have participated in various “Project Adventure” workshops, including “Portable Adventures,” “An Adventure Approach to Teaching Health and Wellness,” “Adventures in Building Community and Diversity,” and coming soon, “Adventure Programming.” With each workshop, the repertoire of ways to incorporate Adventure Learning into the Extended Day Program expands. 

With its focus on Challenge By Choice, goal setting and engagement, Adventure Learning is well suited to our afterschool enrichment program. An assumption of Adventure Learning is that adventures can take place anywhere there is an element of surprise, and a willingness to embrace the Experiential Learning Cycle, perfectly summarized by the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, “I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.” 

Embedded in this approach is that students are encouraged to take risks. Not necessarily physical risks, but to adopt the attitude of “I’ll try” rather than “I can’t.” For example, the third grader who has never played kickball is willing to put on her tie-dyed uniform, step up to the plate in front of 75 other students and give it her all. Helping students to transfer the new skills, confidence and sense of accomplishment to real life is the ultimate goal of incorporating Adventure Learning into the Extended Day Program. 

Challenge By Choice allows students to opt into an activity to the degree they feel comfortable with at any given moment. However, within that choice comes the personal responsibility for each student to stretch him or herself, and to contribute in some way to the group’s efforts. In “Mission Impossible” a student who is too timid to control the ropes might take part initially by making suggestions to the others, gradually working up to more active participation. 

Adventure Learning’s emphasis on SMART goal setting couldn’t be more appropriate to today’s educational environment. It seems that everyone is concerned about setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and trackable. What better way to become familiar with this concept than through an activity that requires teamwork, communication, respect, and where you are encouraged to imagine the impossible? All this while learning to celebrate your individual and team successes and process those times you might fall short. 

In developing an approach to life, I think these students said it best in their journal entries about their Adventure Learning experiences: “I like that we worked together to share, be safe, show respect, play with heart and have fun,” and “I learned to reach my goal, to work together and that we might be alike, we might be different, but we are friends.” 

What else can anyone ask for in this big adventure we call life?