At blueFire, we believe that the best wilderness therapy programs not only offer therapy in a wilderness setting, but they also use the wilderness as a tool for therapy and experiential learning. A similar concept applies to our academic programming: experiential learning is built into every part of our wilderness therapy program, rather than as a separate element. Through daily experiential learning opportunities, students can earn credits that can be added to their school transcript and help them stay on track academically.

How Does a Wilderness Environment Encourage Experiential Learning?

Many of the students that come to blueFire Wilderness don’t necessarily have extensive outdoor experience, which means that learning opportunities take place daily. This initial learning curve can feel frustrating at times, but it also sparks a willingness to try new things and consider alternative perspectives. 

In a wilderness environment, teens are constantly learning from their experiences in a way that feels natural. Experiential education uses metaphors for students to have a learning experience when they don’t even know that they’re in the middle of it.

For example, a therapist might recommend a book from the desert library and ask them to journal about ways they related to the book. This assignment involves the same critical thinking and writing skills as composing an essay, but they are more likely to feel personally invested in it. The same applies to their natural curiosity about the plants, animals, and constellations they are surrounded by in the woods. 

While at blueFire Wilderness, students can earn credits in:

  • Environmental Science:

Our backcountry environmental science covers a variety of topics including exploration of plants, animals, the effect of wind on the earth, light and the importance of water in our ecosystem.  Clients learn to focus on and appreciate the wonders of being outdoors, the variety of plant and animal identification, basic classification of living things, basic ecology and the effects of the changing environment.  With their interdependent relationship in the ecosystem, they come to understand that every plant, microorganism and animal exits within a complex network of interdependence and gain a basic appreciation for the preservation of the wildlife habitat.

  • Character Education:

Our students communicate with family members in order to evaluate and take responsibility for past behaviors while developing newer and healthier ways of being. They participate in weekly sessions and communicate with a therapist to help evaluate their situation, their interactions with others, life as it was before coming to the wilderness and how life might become after leaving the program. Group therapy sessions support self-evaluation and disclose the impact of thoughts and actions on self and others. Clients practice and use appropriate communication techniques within our group settings. This includes self-monitoring of both personal experiences and awareness of other students.  Clients develop an attitude of respect and concern for peers, the group, the staff and learn to be accountable for choices and actions in all settings. 

  • Life Management:

Clients are encouraged to participate in journaling and experiential, interpersonal self-analysis. Their journal entries or other writings focus on communication relating to self, life experiences and the group. In a neutral environment, away from technology and negative influences, students can look inward and focus on gaining a better sense of self that will lead to success, heal relationships and allow the conveying of thought and feelings. This kind of experiential learning examines real needs and allows the thinking outside the box that leads to creativity. Clients who enter with a poor sense of self and are insecure are able to develop introspective contemplation, be creative, and participate in open and honest communication they can share with others.

  • Psychology of Daily Living

While in the wilderness, students are taught to practice the seven principles of “Leave No Trace” outdoor conservation including planning ahead and preparing to travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of others. They learn to repair sewing, basic craft skills, and knife safety. They master survival tools necessary for building fire pits, sump holes, fire making, tying knots, fire building, strong shelters, and eating utensils. They are taught the importance of keeping clothing in working condition and dry and learn how to keep safe, warm, fed, and hydrated. Life management teaches self-monitoring techniques, physiological responses, and proper care of the body including care for minor stress injuries, i.e., pulled muscles, strains, and sprains.  

  • Health Education

Clients learn a lot about nutritional foods and how food affects health and activity levels as they practice cooking healthy meals for themselves in a primitive setting. They learn to adjust to a regular and healthy sleeping schedule, and they accept and adapt to disconnecting from the internet/media while learning to calm the mind in a healthy way.  Wilderness students learn the fundamentals of first aid, like how to prevent and treat minor wilderness injuries, including bruises, scratches, and blisters. 

  • Physical Education

Clients participate in daily outdoor physical education and fitness activities with an emphasis on flexibility, endurance, cardiorespiratory and muscular strength.  They track the logistics of daily activities, including tracking miles traveled. Clients set up and break down daily campsites, following low impact and leave no trace camping rules. Clients carry a survival pack averaging 35-45 pounds while hiking up to five to seven miles five days a week. 

blueFire Wilderness Can Help 

blueFire is a wilderness therapy program for students ages 11-17 who struggle with mental health disorders. We offer experiential education and adventure activities to help students remove themselves from their fast-paced lives and stay engaged in a peaceful and natural setting—the wilderness. Clients will learn skills that will help them develop their independence and gain a newfound sense of self-awareness, responsibility, and confidence. blueFire offers the opportunity to learn new healthy activities, nutrition habits, and communication skills; all things that are transferable to the real world. This program is dedicated to inspiring a positive change in the lives of young men and women and helping them step their best foot forward towards a bright and healthy future. 

Contact us at 1-844-413-1999 to learn more about integrating academics into wilderness therapy. We can help your family today!

Previous reading
Targets of Bullying More Likely to Experiment with Substances
Next reading
Working Through Body Memories in Teens with Trauma