Upper Group Kayaking Adventure

October 8, 2010

I had the privilege of observing as Walden’s Upper Group class recently completed a series of three kayaking expeditions with Cal Adventures at the Berkeley Marina. Kayaking is an example of the Upper Group’s annual fall excursions, which are aimed at giving the students an opportunity to learn something new, push themselves in a new situation, and work as a team. Past trips have included a ropes course, archery, rock climbing, and swimming. These trips are a fun and practical way to prepare the students for their overnight camping trip, which will take place in Marin County October 26-28, 2010. They are also deeply embedded in Walden’s curriculum and philosophy with regard to collaborative and hands-on learning.

Sea kayaking is particularly special to teachers Jo and Jon since Walden has a nearly twenty-year history of working with the skilled leaders at Cal Adventures. Not only did the students acquire new skills in a supportive and cooperative environment, they also had a chance to experience the San Francisco Bay from a different perspective. Traveling along the coastline, Jo and Jon even managed to weave in a little geography related to the class’s current unit on ancient Greece.

To observe thirty-one children working together toward a common goal, both in small groups and as a whole, is truly remarkable. One can see the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) social interactions as the kids perform every task from paddling in groups of two to three, to docking their boats, mastering the lingo of kayaking, rinsing off wet-suits and carrying boats up from the dock. The kids experience hands-on how to maintain safety in tandem with fun, how to carry themselves in a new and possibly uncomfortable situation, and how to balance the desire to be accepted by their peers with the importance of being true to themselves.

Just as in their classroom at Walden, Jo and Jon did a masterful job giving the kids the right amount of freedom and responsibility. It is nice to see teachers who are so deeply invested in helping their students negotiate the challenges of being themselves at the same time they are in community and working as a team. It is also telling to observe Walden students interacting with adults. Walden students see their teachers as collaborators and have an expectation that they will be respected and treated as equals. Since Walden students have many chances to hone their social skills every day at school where there are ongoing cooperative learning experiences, group and individual awareness activities, and discussions happening whenever the opportunity arises, they were able to figure out how to maximize teamwork and accomplish the tasks at hand in a cheerful and productive way.

As the Cal Adventures leaders “circled-up” with the students to close the final kayaking excursion, it was clear how much the students enjoyed the trip and how inspired they were to have participated.

Sarah Cheney
Upper Group parent

Previous post:

Next post: