Spend a day around school and you’ll often here a teacher or two talking about using a growth mindset or learning in our “stretch zone”. In education, this stretch zone is often thought of as the sweet spot between a student’s comfort zone and their danger zone. It’s a place where some risks are taken, but ones that students feel they can handle and won’t lead them to panic. The stretch zone is often thought of as where the most learning happens, since it’s beyond “too easy” and not yet at “too hard/scary”.
My stretch zone this year was camp. I had the privilege of going to camp with 3 of the 4 middle school grades this year: NatureBridge with the 7th graders in September, IslandWood with the 5th graders in January, and finally Orkila with the 6th graders in May during Immersive Week. And while I look back on each with fond memories, I can’t help but remember the nerves that I held at the beginning of the year around camp. While I loved field trips as a student, I have minimal experience with camping and the outdoors. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good hike, but as a transplant from Southern California, the wilderness of Washington (for a whole week – 3 different times!) seemed a bit daunting. Would I have the right gear to stay comfortable outdoors all day? Would it rain incessantly? Could I identify which plants were safe and which ones to stay away from? Would the food be okay?
As all of these questions ran through my mind, I thought about how this new experience for me was definitely out of my comfort zone. Never before had I spent so much time outdoors in one week. As the first camp drew near, these nerves didn’t totally subside, but they were also accompanied by a feeling of excitement – a feeling that assured me that I wasn’t totally headed for my danger zone.
While I didn’t feel completely in my element at each camp, I can say that I’ve grown in a multitude of ways because of these experiences in my stretch zone. As an educator, I was able to see the incredible benefits of outdoor education and how it allows for rich, experiential learning in our beautiful Washington state. As a new Seattleite, I’ve become more comfortable in the outdoors and more amazed by the incredible beauty that constantly surrounds us here in the Pacific Northwest. And while I will always gladly accept a night’s sleep in a cabin over a tent, I find myself looking forward to next year’s camp experiences and the joy that will come from once again being put in my stretch zone.