As I mentioned previously, I chaperoned Andrew's (10) fifth grade class for a four day, three night field trip to Islandwood, a 255 acre outdoor learning center on Bainbridge Island near Seattle. (Here's a link to the Live Maps view of Islandwood. You can also get a "bird's eye" view of the facility.)
I must admit, the trip was much more enjoyable than I expected. First, the facilities are incredibly nice; it's not like any camp I've ever been to. Islandwood was donated by Paul Brainerd (founder of Aldus Corporation) and has a donor role that's a who's who of the Seattle wealthy (apparently Steve Ballmer hosts the fund raising dinners at his house, for instance.) As a result, they appear to be incredibly well funded. The facility is constructed and operated as a demonstration of eco design principles and is LEED Gold certified. Everywhere you look, there's a sign saying how the toilets are saving water, how the counters were made from recycled yogurt containers, how the wood was recovered from state highway projects, etc. They even weighed all of the compostable and non-compostable food waste after each meal to teach the kids to take only what they need. (By the last meal, we only had three pounds of food waste for 100+ people. This is crazy low; apparently most Americans each waste four pounds of food per day.)
During the day, we broke up into field study groups of eight kids, two instructors (masters students in education), and an adult chaperone (e.g. me). We visited some of the various ecosystems within Islandwood such as the harbor/estuary, pond, and bog. We also did team building activities on their teams course. The instructors did a good job keeping it fun for the kids, using games and hands-on activities. I especially enjoyed the owl/mouse/seed game where they had the kids learn about the balance of nature. The kids were divided into owls, mice, and seeds. The seeds had to go plant themselves, a few seconds later the mice had to pair up with a seed, and then a few seconds later the owls would try to hunt the non-paired mice. There were some rules about what happened if you were caught, etc. and over a few rounds, you could see the mice numbers fall when there were too few seeds, etc. This was especially clear on the chart they created. Neat stuff and the kids had fun.
Another highlight for me and many of the kids was a night hike. We walked through the woods with no flashlights or other illumination. I was surprised how well I could see after a little while. We talked about night vision (rods and cones), listened to the forest (they did a blindfolded "trust walk" which was interesting), listened to some stories, and did the wintergreen Lifesaver trick (they really do spark when you bite them -- cool.)
The meals were good. Most of the food was made from scratch on site (e.g. they baked their own bread) and were very accommodating to the various food restrictions the kids had. The kids ate a lot and many gushed about how good the food was. I think many families don't cook much at home so the food really stood out for them.
We also lucked out and had good weather (read: it didn't rain or snow) the whole time. Given this was only a week after the massive rainstorm that hit the area the week before, I feel very fortunate indeed.
The kids were much better behaved than I expected. The Islandwood staff commented on that as well. The only real bummer was a few kids and a teacher in my dorm got sick (projectile vomiting, etc.) Other than this small outbreak of typhoid (not really typhoid) it was a great trip. I also really enjoyed getting to know Andrew's classmates better; I hear their names all the time, but I don't know many of the kids well. It was a great opportunity for me.
I highly recommend anyone who gets the chance to attend one of the programs at Islandwood.