Fifth graders explore science and team building skills during annual outdoor learning experience

Every year, fifth grade students at Prairie Ridge Elementary spend three days immersed in the outdoors. At CalWood Environmental Camp, students stay from Wednesday to Friday, learning Homesteading and Orienteering skills. The idea came up two years ago, when staff wanted to create a signature event that fifth graders would remember. “We have kids from last year coming back and reminiscing about our trip to Cal-Wood.” says Jeff Cannon, a fifth grade teacher at Prairie Ridge.

For about a third of the students, this is their first time camping away from their families, though the activity packed three days leave little time for homesickness. “We talk extensively about what they will expect to see and do, about how their time is spent doing so many activities and learning about themselves and their classmates that they don’t have time to even think about home.” says Andrea Antill, another one of the fifth grade teachers that goes on the trip. They also take the trip early in the year, which gives teachers a good indication of student background knowledge and lays the foundation for science lessons throughout the school year.

During the trip students study orienteering and homesteading, which is a continuation of what they study in fourth grade. “The students get to visit an actual Homestead on property and learn about what life was like in the 1800’s, complete with sawing wood with a two person saw, making butter, and acting out what it would be like to attend school in the pioneer days,” says Cannon. Orienteering lessons focus on reading compasses and maps, and students also participate in plenty of team building activities over the week. This gives students the chance to see what they’ve learned about in action and build teamwork skills along the way.  

Classroom teachers incorporate the team building activities into the school’s daily movement time, and “All of the lessons done at Cal-Wood serve as base knowledge to be further supported in the classroom, some with the support of science kits provided by the district,” says Elana Wolfinbarger, fifth grade teacher. Though the biggest takeaway, she says, is the team building between students. “By the time the trip ended, kids were listening to other ideas and points of view, and working problems out together...New friendships have blossomed, and there is a better sense of camaraderie and trust, after having ‘lived together’ for 3 days.”