For three decades, Shore's seventh, eighth, and ninth grade classes have journeyed into nature for overnight outdoor adventures just as the school year begins. The storied trips to destinations such as Squam Lake, Yarmouth Island, and Hosmer Point are hallmarks of the Shore education, remembered by generations of students as among the foundational experiences of their lives. Relationships forged through challenge, exploration, and shared discovery are at the heart of Shore's program. Fifth and sixth graders embark upon their own versions of these off-campus adventures in the spring, and at every age, Shore students find themselves learning and growing outdoors—in newly completed outdoor classrooms, on the playground, in a forest, on the coastline, and in their community—throughout the school year.
An increasing number of educational researchers and teachers are recognizing the benefits of this kind of beyond-the-classroom learning as they make new findings and develop new philosophies about the importance of first-hand outdoor experiences. Outdoor play, ropes courses, wilderness challenges, hiking, group games, and even camp chores such as preparing food for peers and digging outdoor latrines are now seen as not just activities to enjoy or challenges to be endured, but as rich intellectual, social, and emotional experiences that pay big educational dividends, and help children acquire critical skills such as resilience and cooperation which they draw upon all year long.
Hence the rich curriculum of outdoor experiences that runs from Pre-K through Grade 9 at Shore. The newest of these are in Shore's recently completed outdoor classrooms—one an expansive learning garden, and another an unstructured wetland environment. Especially for Shore's youngest students, being in nature encourages so much that is of value, says Head of Lower School Sara Knox. “In nature, children take risks in a way that looks different from the types of risks they typically take during the school day. They learn about balance and safety. They learn to make sensible decisions and recognize that it isn’t so scary to try things that feel new or different.”
In Shore's Upper School, experiential education goes well beyond the curriculum in the classroom. Frequent service learning opportunities and challenging excursions in the wilderness ask older students to examine their place in the environment, to learn to give and accept help from their peers, to face risk and even failure in difficult situations, and to find sustenance in the community that they help to build with fellow students and teachers. As many advocates of outdoor and experiential education argue, learning is not a special skill that happens separate from everything else, guided solely by teachers in a traditional classroom. It is fundamentally about raising children who are curious and engaged in the world. And for Shore's ninth grade students, the world has indeed become a classroom: a new week-long trip to Costa Rica situate students within unique and unfamiliar environments that challenge their view of the world and require them to undertake the hard work of observing, questioning, and understanding communities and environments they've never encountered.