Programs at High Trails are designed to help those who come here to learn to love the land and feel the spirit of the wilderness. Often in modern society, as we orient ourselves more and more to the digital world, we tend to forget the importance of natural rhythms, the awe of a beautiful sunrise, the elegance of a single blossom, and the wonder of stars. These events take time to know and enjoy.
The enjoyment of nature, like the enjoyment of art, music or literature, is a creative act. It is not a matter of passive exposure but of active involvement. It cannot be taught from books alone but must be experienced. Programs at High Trails are planned to deepen our intimacy and understanding of our natural surroundings. We can come to realize that we are dependent on one another, all related to the movement of the whole – always on the way to becoming something else.
SENSE OF THE EARTH
Education is not a simple matter. The evolution of ideas is the result of the thinking and discoveries of many people of the past and present who devoted their lives to discovery, research and innovation. The branches of knowledge continue to grow at increasingly faster rates.
Astronomers and cosmologists look further into space, while physicists and chemists have pushed the limits of smallness; both change the way we view the universe. Geologists and geographers have charted mountain ranges and plumbed the depths of the seas to give us an understanding of how things have become what they are and how they continue to change. Botanists, biologists and ecologists continue to investigate and classify the natural world, and a great variety of medical, physiological and psychological experts work with human life, health, and behavior. Art, writing, technology, politics, economics, religion – the list seems endless and complexities unfathomable.
As a result, individuals find themselves in narrower segments of the learning spectrum. Mastery of knowledge in a single discipline easily takes a lifetime and, in order to achieve expertise in any area, an individual’s concentration may focus exclusively on one particular problem or field. Yet, in direct contradiction to the specialization it causes, all of the knowledge accumulated by man points to one overpowering concept: Everything, living and non-living, is interrelated. There is an all-inclusive unity in nature, which binds the destinies of all life – past, present and future. In order to place the endless stream of knowledge in perspective, this understanding of the wholeness of the Earth’s systems and the interconnectedness of all life becomes especially important. We are learning that the Earth is whole as well as round.
Learning of the natural wonders of the world we live in and understanding the oneness of nature should be a part of everyone’s learning experience. All of us need the opportunity to feel and know the life history of rocks, to touch and understand the functions and wonders of trees and flowers, to run soil through our fingers and delight in recognizing it as a slice of time.
Gaining perspective of the whole earth is a major emphasis of the High Trails experience. Students can store new perspectives and bring them back to urban communities to catalyze new meanings for everyday life and build a lasting feeling of respect for the Earth. Children can move imperceptibly yet significantly forward toward more meaningful lives when they see adults they admire place a high value on such things as a sunrise, a field of blowing grass, the sound of the wind, or the quake of an aspen leaf.
SENSE OF COMMUNITY
The residential experience at High Trails emphasizes the art of living with other people – how to work with them and for them, learning when to lead and when to follow, and how to share adventures in the outdoors. These and other social skills are best learned first-hand, and the community situations at High Trails offer many opportunities for social growth.
These opportunities in daily living can help give children the chance to grow and to develop their own particular talents, as well as help them to realize this potential in others. We can also learn that joy and delight are not dependent on material things, but thrive instead on a state of mind that includes heightened awareness and understanding of simple and natural things. Through the friendships made, the fun we have together and the cooperative efforts undertaken, a sense of community is developed that can go far in helping to recognize the urgent need of all humanity to work together to solve the problems we face. The diversity of people gives us infinite avenues for further discovery when all ideas are met with openness. Students will internalize these experiences and can transfer the underlying social skills they acquire to their school and neighborhood communities.
SENSE OF SELF
Away from home, each student has a chance to further develop independence and self-confidence. The program at High Trails allows for time to examine our individual life styles, feelings, value systems, decision-making, and the scope of life itself. Opportunities for reflection and space to record thoughts are important parts of the day.
Creative use of leisure time, a sense of adventure, independence, love of simple enjoyments, reawakening of a kinship with the Earth, appreciation of solitude and natural beauty, understanding natural process’ – all of these and others are increasingly important in our hurried and screen-oriented society. The need is not for more brains; the need is now for better understandings to govern our actions and attitudes. We must fuse reason with compassion to reach viable solutions to human problems, and to fully appreciate the planet we share.
SENSE OF WONDER
The Sense of Wonder is the true backbone of the High Trails curriculum. It is based off the idea that the prelude to genuine education is the cultivation of receptive learners. The modern mainstream education system emphasizes the individual improvement of intellect often by rote memorization or mastering of concepts. By empowering students to fully actualize their natural curiosity we increase the natural receptivity of learners beyond the normal aptitude that is expected by traditional academic institutions. Instead of focusing on the increase of individual intellect the Sense of Wonder encourages learners to engage their curiosity to contextualize themselves in their current environments.
This philosophy is founded on the idea that the best teacher is the here and now. While in the field setting, High Trails Instructors do not demand that students focus on anything other than their surroundings. We are not so much interested in what the students already know so much as what they want to find out. The Sense of Wonder uses whole-brain based learning techniques that engage kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learners to explore natural habitats and their inhabitants that they find interesting. This effectively allows students to practice being present and thus not only become more observant, concentrated, and attentive in the outdoor setting but in the classroom as well.
The Sense of Wonder is the antithesis of the “don’t touch that!” attitude towards young people. Instead, young learners are told to actively engage in their surroundings and thus become active participants in their own education. Through heightened perception of their world students not only become better learners but also grow as explorers, seekers, and engaged social citizens.