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Wilderness Programs for Adults

Day, M., & Petrick, E. M. (2006). Designing residential wilderness programs for adults.  Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company



Something mysterious, unpredictable and exciting often results from time spent in settings little touched by the ubiquitous hand of human beings – time spent in wild places. The size of these wild places can range anywhere from the pristine lands covering most of the state of Alaska to a patch of wildflowers in a city park. Though we often live in close proximity to such places, we tend to establish only slight relationships with them. One of the main themes addressed in this book is how adult residential education programs, when located in wilderness settings, can dramatically strengthen these relationships to the mutual benefit of the individual and the planet. At a time when research and experience acknowledge the physical and emotional benefits of frequent encounters with wilderness, wilderness remains at risk, and our technological society makes it ever easier to function in isolation from the natural world.

This book is also written to acknowledge another relationship individuals can develop when participating in adult residential education programs. This is the relationship with the child who resides within each of us. Some child-like behaviors are released quite naturally in a residence environment while others need to be redeveloped, such as keen observation of surroundings, alert senses, life lived fully in the present, and unquenchable curiosity. Reconnecting to these characteristics is a major component of the programs we design and describe in the pages that follow. Many of the illustrations in the book come directly from the authors’ work in wilderness settings but the underpinning assumptions and programmatic techniques may be applied in a variety of general education or personal renewal endeavors. At its heart, this work is about revitalizing the human spirit, especially with regard to relationships – with others, with the child within, and with wilderness.

The chapters that follow reflect the impact of two powerful 20th century social movements in the United States. The first, beginning in the 1920s, was the adult education movement. Due to ever-increasing amounts of leisure time, discussion ensued as to ways more and more adults might engage in both individual and social improvement. The other was the wilderness movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. Resulting from a fusion of politics, science and vision about the value of wildness, this movement forged new management policies favoring natural regulation and the preservation of natural conditions.

Through sensitivity, commitment and opportunity, these two social movements provided a framework for redefining relationships to the natural world. These efforts also lead to creative ways to strengthen bonds between people and wilderness. This book is written to support the efforts of both educators and individuals seeking new ways to connect with the natural world.

Michael and Ellen have been in the business of providing residential education in wilderness settings for over 20 years. Each brings a unique perspective and a wealth of experience to this effort. Their experience encompasses audiences both young and old, spans coast to coast, and has occurred within the realms of academia, natural resource agencies, and non-profit organizations.

The book is organized into seven chapters.  Chapter 1 introduces a rationale for conducting adult residential education programming in wilderness areas. It also provides a general context for the design of such programs, stressing the natural bond that exists between people and wilderness.

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are the primary how-to sections of the book and are aimed at practitioners already engaged in or considering adult residential education in wilderness areas. Chapter 2 explores pre-event issues such as forming a planning committee and defining its makeup and role, creating a vision, deciding upon a program, finding a location and facility, selecting speakers and materials, attending to meals and logistics, determining fees, and marketing the program.

Chapter 3 focuses on running a residential education program. Issues examined include orientation, introductions and climate setting, community building, guidelines for organizing daily activities, suggestions for program presenters, and conducting the wrap-up session. Special attention is given to strategies for facilitating learning and making the program meaningful as well as enjoyable.

Chapter 4 focuses on post-event activities such as debriefing instructors, writing thank you notes, constructing and sharing group photo/scrapbook/memento materials, conducting follow-ups and a final evaluation.

Chapters 5 and 6 are written for a broader audience – program planners as well as  general educators and individuals – and cover suggestions for helping people more fully experience wilderness surroundings. Chapter 5 is devoted to sauntering. Techniques are presented to facilitate active exploration and openness to novelty and discovery in natural environments. Chapter 6 is devoted to a powerful reflective and recording tool, that of journaling.

“Final Thoughts,” Chapter 7 revisits major themes introduced in the text with special attention to components of adult residential education in wilderness areas that easily transfer to and are applicable to everyday life. It also explores the overall value of designing adult residential education programs in wilderness areas.

Three appendices are also included. In Appendix A is a sample of a preliminary program advertisement. Appendix B includes a sample of packet materials mailed to participants a few months prior to a program: welcome letter, agenda, and clothing and equipment lists. Appendix C is a sample program evaluation form.

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