“Just as young children generally don’t want to be carried around while they are learning to walk, early adolescents don’t want adults to make frontal lobe decisions for them while their frontal lobes are maturing!” – Robert Sylwester, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Oregon (1927-2016)
While the frontal lobe (which controls important cognitive skills, behaviours, and judgements in humans) requires serious support and development, our students need a lot of practice under real-world conditions, if they are to have a hope of getting it right when it matters most. In the absence of direct adult intervention, Middle School students need meaningful practice to master the self-regulation and responsibility they will need when they are eventually released “into the wild” away from the gaze of parents and teachers. Professor Sylwester would certainly agree and would have been a great fan of our annual Middle School ski trip.
Each January, an intrepid group of teachers makes the journey to the slopes of Northern Michigan with a large group of Middle Schoolers because they believe in the value of “learning by doing”. Besides the memories that such excursions create, they provide an opportunity for older elementary students to test their wings in appropriate ways – and in the knowledge that a trustworthy and caring adult is nearby where they are close enough to depend on, yet just far enough in the background for them to be able to put real skills to the test.
Such trips enhance curriculum by taking the schoolhouse outdoors where hours of outdoor physical activity and decision-making opportunities increase the engagement levels of all students. Our overnight ski excursion builds confidence and teamwork on the hills, in the dormitory, and in the dining hall. The majority of the students return from such a trip saying that they were able to connect with their classmates and teachers differently than when they are at school. These connections continue for the rest of the school year and often beyond.
Trips like this also show that it’s possible to learn from new experiences and from the inevitable mistakes that follow them (…like when you don’t follow instructions, eat too much junk food, or mismanage your own equipment). During excursions like this, students won’t always get it right the first time, but through experiential learning, logical consequences, and support, students may just learn to think differently about taking responsibility and trying new things – and trying again, if it didn’t go their way the first time.
Why do we include such a trip in our annual calendar? We believe trips like this help to prepare students for real life because “life” doesn’t happen in a controlled environment or via micromanagement.
Adapting to a changing atmosphere, working in groups, and learning to work with others in, sometimes, less than ideal circumstances are all factors our students experience during our trips and ones we believe are valuable.
Mostly, excursions like this align with our belief in the value of “exploring opportunities”. At Matthews Hall, we believe that a child’s growth is fostered through a broad range of academic, fine art, athletic, and other endeavors and we do our best to encourage all students to engage in these pursuits.
For it is only by trying something – whether it be an instrument you haven’t played before or a downhill slope for the first time – that you begin to realize your potential. We hope you agree that at MH our teachers cheerfully provide such opportunities in a safe and supportive space.
Ric Anderson, Head of School