Big Basin State Park
During their ‘Big Basin Day’ students learn about redwood ecology and the natural history of the redwood forest. They see 1,500-year-old old growth redwood trees and learn about decomposition while searching for the most famous invertebrate of the redwood forest: the banana slug. Opal Creek runs through the park, providing students with the opportunity to search for and identify aquatic insects. While learning about the history of California’s first state park, students get to visit Big Basin and the Mother of the Forest, turn over logs searching for insects, salamanders, newts and millipedes.
On their site day, students get to explore the 17 beautiful acres of the Sempervirens facility. They spend part of their day in our organic garden and orchard, exploring the beautiful flowers and fruit trees that grow there. Students also have the opportunity to pick up a chicken, pet a goat, and work in a garden bed, planting seeds, pulling weeds and working on other garden projects. There is also a low-ropes challenge course where students work together to complete challenges such as the whale watch and nitro crossing.
Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz
At Natural Bridges State Park students search for sea stars, hermit crabs, and anemones in the tidepools. During the fall, they learn about the thousands of monarch butterflies that migrate here each year. Natural Bridges also has a marsh where students look for birds and learn about all of their incredible adaptations. They also get a chance to explore the shoreline while keeping an eye out for harbor seals, sea lions, dolphins, whales, and sea otters that might be swimming by.
Content and Curriculum
On all three days, curriculum is correlated to the 5th or 6th grade science standards. Our program has a perfect format for lessons on: geology and erosion, energy flow and food chains, the water cycle, ecology, sensory awareness, photosynthesis, weather, pollination, watersheds, and Ohlone Native Americans. We ask teachers to make requests about what curriculum they would like us to focus on with their students.
All meals are eaten family style with students passing serving bowls around the table. All meals are nutritious, kid-friendly and well balanced, and we have the ability to accommodate a wide range of dietary needs. While in the dining hall, students learn about which foods can be composted and weigh their food after each meal to cut down on food waste. Rumor has it that if the whole dining hall gets zero food waste, the outdoor school principal will dance around with the food waste bucket on his head!
Town Hall Meeting
Students debate a development issue by role playing and voting for whether or not a wind turbine farm should be built in the forest overlooking the outdoor school. While developing and presenting their arguments, students learn important critical thinking skills, and have a chance to work on public speaking and debate skills while using their power to vote.
Students are encouraged to be silly and dance to fun songs sung and played on electric instruments by our naturalists.
Students are empowered to face their fears of the dark by hiking through the forest without a flashlight. During hikes, naturalists may focus on astronomy, night vision (rods vs. cones), owl calls, nocturnal animals or storytelling.
Each night finishes with a campfire where naturalists sing songs and tell stories. Before the site day and night hike, students will sing song to introduce some of the themes of the day. Songs cover topics such as decomposition, adaptations, nocturnal animals, plant parts, the web of life, etc.
On Thursday night, students feel empowered when going up on stage and performing environmentally-themed skits that they have developed with their counselor’s guidance about their cabin’s endangered species name. Students work together throughout the week to practice their skit and be prepared to present it to their classmates at skit night.
Exploring New Horizons at Sempervirens provides high school counselors who stay in the cabins with students during the week. Our Program Coordinator will go to a high school in the same area as the grade or middle school, and interview and train high school students to act as counselors during the week. We welcome teachers to be involved in the recruitment and selection process. Teachers may request students whom they wish to be counselors and may be a part of the interview and training process, if they are interested. Counselors are interviewed and trained by our staff before they are selected to come and volunteer for the week at our school. The high school students selected will meet at your school and ride the bus to the outdoor school with the students.
Famous Naturalists and Native Species
Each trail group at Exploring New Horizons Outdoor Schools is named after a famous naturalist, and each cabin group is named after an inspired species, such as the Marbled Murrelet. Excellent pre- or post-research activities for students can be created surrounding these noteworthy naturalists and species. For a current list of our famous naturalists and inspired species, please contact the program director.