Outdoor Education

Heading Home

By Tom Holland August 6, 2019

We field many different calls from families throughout the year, seeking advice on a variety of topics. Right now, we have heard from many parents who seek to help their child make a smooth transition back to their life at home after their time with Wilderness Adventures.

People are astounded to find out that re-entry is not always easy for students. That does not mean they do not love you or that they are not excited to eat your home cooked meals. However, Wilderness Adventures is an immensely impactful and intense experience. You take 5 to 14 kids, put them together for weeks on end and all they have is their team. They are challenged in new environments. They have been tested by the elements and they have forged strong bonds with other students with whom they will forever be linked because of this intimate collective experience.

When I left Wyoming all those years ago after my Wilderness Adventures trip, I, like many of my friends on the adventure, could not stop crying. I loved this crew, I loved myself in this setting. I loved that the distractions of high school were non-existent on our journey. I loved that they saw me laugh so hard and they also were comfortable seeing my cry.

When I returned home, I was excited to see my family and friends, but in the back of my mind, for the first few weeks, I really walked in a fog, looking at people and thinking ‘you just don’t get what I just did.’ And I could not really explain it. People knew I backpacked through Wyoming and they thought it was cool, but the bonds of friendship, the confidence I had gained in myself, and the inside jokes I had, were challenging to translate.

Consequently, after I got back, I did things that would take me back to my time in Wyoming.

I slept in my sleeping bag for weeks.
I put small glow-in-the-dark star stickers on my ceiling to remind me of the night sky out west.
I made a music mix of every new song I learned on the trip and played it all the time.
I bought a backpacking stove and made dinner for my family on it.
I began to request to do my own laundry.
I read quotes constantly-thinking back to all the quotes we had read through the summer.
Heck, I even bought some iodine tablets (used to purify water) just to show my dad the taste.

I share this with you because you, as family members, can support this process. First, do not let it shock you. Celebrate the moment. Much like at the outset of a trip, we make sure that kids know that homesickness is a natural occurrence.

Most importantly, endorse their new positive behaviors. They just went for weeks without their electronic devices. They did their own laundry. They shopped for food as a team and they gave more high fives than can be counted. They spent each evening reflecting on the day and looking ahead to the adventures of tomorrow. When they turn to their electronic device as a crutch, remind them their time being electronics-free.

Support their new friendships. These friends play an important role, as they were a part of these magical moments. Seize upon the experiences of the trip and challenge your child to take their new self, discovered in the wilderness, and be that person daily. I am always indebted to my parents as they knew I had found something special and they encouraged me to live like I did on Wilderness Adventures, everyday. Maybe not the iodizing every ounce of water part, but living life as my best self.

And when you find your child in your backyard sleeping in their sleeping bag, don’t frown because of the oddity of the moment, but smile because of the gift you gave them.

This post was originally published in July of 2017.