Category Archives: Outdoor Education

Outdoor Education Winter Activities Kick-Off

By | Elementary School, Outdoor Education | No Comments

Riverstone Outdoor Education Winter Activities are in full swing! Our students step out of their comfort zones with opportunities to offer and receive assistance from classmates, which helps knit our community together in sometimes subtle, but significant ways. Likewise, teachers and parent volunteers help ensure that students know they are supported even when the going gets tough. Furthermore, the most important outcome from these activities are the attitudes towards outdoor recreation that take root during these long, cold months fostering an appreciation for shared outdoor experiences and for our natural environment.

For example, our Elementary students are getting valuable practice layering for the cold and managing personal equipment while also improving balance, endurance, and coordination through swimming lessons with our younger students in Preschool; ice skating at Ice World with PreKindergarten, Kindergarten and Grade 1; nordic lessons for Grades 2 and 3; and a 5-day McCall Outdoor Science trip for our fifth graders.

Grade 4 classes participate in SnowSchool on the slopes of Shafer Butte. The following is a post and pictures shared on the fourth grade classroom blogs by our teachersMs. Fitzharris and Ms. Smackey:

We began the winter session of our Outdoor Program with a layer of fresh snow on the slopes of Shafer Butte. Outdoor Education Director, Mr. Brock, had visited our students earlier this week to discuss the importance of layering during outdoor adventures. Much of what the students learn during these trips in fourth grade will serve them well when they spend several consecutive days and nights outside in the wintery mountains as Middle and High School students.

The fourth grade broke up into three groups to learn how to strap on snowshoes in order to navigate the terrain without getting stuck in the drifts of snow. Each group was led by a member of the Bogus Basin SnowSchool staff. These field instructors took their respective groups off into the woods to learn about hydrology –  the branch of science concerned with the properties of the earth’s water, especially its movement in relation to land.

The students conducted experiments to discover the powerful insulating effect of a snowpack as well as to explore the significance of the Boise River watershed on which life depends. The team accompanied by Ms. Smackey hypothesized the temperature at the bottom and top of a snow pit they dug using collapsable shovels, viewed snowflakes under a giant hand lens, and tried to determine which animal had left fresh tracks in the snow. They also cruised down slopes on their bellies like otters and were even given the chance to enjoy the inside of a five-person igloo! Each team worked independently, then met back at the Cross Country Lodge for lunch. The gorgeous weather and blue skies made for a terrific day of learning about winter ecology while enjoying the best of our Idaho winter.

Celebrity Reporters in Florida

By | Academic Excellence, High School, Outdoor Education, Student Travel | No Comments

Some of our rising Gr 9 and 10 students travelled to Florida this past week with Middle School Spanish teacher, Hilda Ramirez. We are sharing a note home to parents in today’s blog post to give you a taste of their adventures thus far:

Dear Parents,

We are all very sad that this is our last full day in Florida, the students were amazing and a joy to be around. They were always up for any adventure no matter what the weather brought!

As one of the newest members to this Riverstone group, it was a joy to see how well the students interacted with one another, and especially, how well they care for each other. Thank you for the opportunity to travel with them!

Please enjoy our last update by our three celebrity reporters, Javin S, James E, and Manaka G.


Hi, I’m Javin. Today we visited Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon Key.  There, we went searching in the ocean for wildlife. We focused on looking in tall sea grass. We used large nets to collect small creatures that inhabited the grass. We found a wide variety of animals, ranging from arthropods to mollusks. Some of the notable creatures we found were seahorses, a large horseshoe crab, and a sea cucumber. We also found many different kinds of fish. This was a unique opportunity to learn some interesting ecology about the Florida Key’s ocean wildlife. For me, the best part of this activity was classifying and naming every animal we caught. 

Hello, James here. Today we went to Robby’s in Marathon Key. It was an outdoor area with a multitude of local culture, similar to ‘Art in the Park’ in Boise. Upon arrival, we entered a small hut near the shore and supplied ourselves with small fish. We then walked down a dock and held the fish about three inches above the water, waiting for large Tarpons to jump out of the ocean and take the bait. After that, we went back to the market and viewed the various chefs selling homemade popcorn, drinks, and other foods, as well as artists and photographers selling their works. There was one person in particular who made amazing art with spray-paint and various tools. He sold his work for only $20, and I totally would’ve bought one if there was a way to take it on the plane without damaging it. 

I’m Manaka. Today we went to the turtle hospital. We learned a lot of things about sick turtles and how they make them better. We watched turtles in the tanks. They help them get better so they can send them to the ocean. We saw at least 100 turtles in there. I feel bad for turtles that cannot return to the ocean. I hope people keep the ocean clean.

Gr 5 Snow Scientists

By | Outdoor Education, Uncategorized | No Comments

This blog was re-posted from the fifth grade teachers who are at McCall Outdoor Science School with our students:

“After a great evening discussion about the scientific method, we awoke this morning to a mix of rain and snow, which thankfully moved to snow and then even some sunshine. A delicious french toast, hash brown and egg breakfast got us off on the right foot, and, after a student-created weather report, we broke into day groups and headed into the field. Some groups went snow showing, some Nordic skiing, but everyone loved being outside. Science is happening everywhere: we have an ongoing soil density experiment observing surface run off and erosion, each group in the field is conducting their own unique scientific investigations, and the steps of the scientific method are being continually reiterated in new and different settings. Some groups began in snow science class in the classroom, profiling the layers of the snowpack, identifying snow crystal types, developing avalanche awareness during an awesome hands on experiment, and learning about all things snow. Know what Wumphing means, or where the subnivian layer can be found? Ask your snow scientist! Our first day as winter field scientists was a huge success!”

Persistence Pays Off

By | Elementary School, IB, Outdoor Education | No Comments

Kathie Stilinovich and Ilse Vallejos, our Pre-Kindergarten teachers, wrote the following intro and gathered quotes from our students about the Learn to Skate experience.

Learning to skate for the Pre-Kindergarten class is an introduction to the winter outdoor education program. Over the four weeks of classes, the students gain confidence in themselves and their ability to do something that might frighten them. With each passing lesson, we can see the students feel more courageous and find success in trying something new. Skating also gives them the experience in mastering something that is hard at first and teaches them to be persistent and not give up. Whether in our traditional classroom, the outdoors, or the skating rink, we encourage all of our students to be risk takers.

The following are quotes from a few students:

Dev: I love skating. We drum on the walls and then we blast off. It
was awesome. I fell but I got back up. I was strong.

Martin: Skating is fun. I fall down because it is funny. Sometimes you
just laugh about it cause it just happens. Then you get back up and
keep on skating.

Raya: Skating is fun because I can now ice skate well. The teacher
taught me how.

Alanis: I like to ice skate. I am not scared. Everyone is there.

Pete: I like to move on the ice. I like the teachers. They are fun.

Ben: I tried skating so now I am not scared. Skating is really fun.
You get to skate all around. You get to learn how to ice skate.

Orienteering: The Perfect Combination of Outdoor & Education?

By | Academic Excellence, High School, IB, Middle School, Outdoor Education | No Comments

For the uninitiated, orienteering is a little wacko. Essentially, it’s a running sport in which participants locate and visit a series of stations, or controls, as quickly as possible. But underlying the “running” part of the sport is complex decision-making process; in orienteering the route between the controls is not defined. Instead, each orienteerer makes his/her own decisions about the fastest or most efficient routes, and as the old saying goes, the shortest path between two points isn’t always a straight line. In fact, in orienteering, a convoluted route can be surprisingly fast!

During October and November, students in Grades 8 and 10 have been learning how to read maps to identify those fast and convoluted paths between points in courses around Riverstone, as well as in Ann Morrison Park, Stewart Gulch, and Idaho City. On the Riverstone campus, students used familiar paths, buildings and roads as “handrails,” “attack points,” and “catching features.” In Ann Morrison Park, Gr 8 students got a little trickier, “aiming off” to simplify the longer routes through unfamiliar terrain. With a bit more experience under their belts, the next stop for Gd 10 were the hills of Stewart Gulch near the base of Bogus Basin Road where “spurs” and “reentrants” complicated every decision; students had to stop, think, and decide, “Up and over, or contour around?”

Finally, this Tuesday, Gr 10 students travelled to Idaho City for orienteering with a twist. In a “Score” course, instead of being told to complete the course in a prescribed order, students were given 45 minutes to visit 12 controls in any order they wanted; collect points for every control, but get penalties for going over 45 minutes. In addition to making small decisions about getting from control to control, students had to identify the most efficient way to connect all the dots. Impressively, some students completed the nearly 3km course, with almost 150m of elevation gain, in terrain riddled with knolls, reentrants, spurs, old mining ditches and paths, in forest that obstructed their view, making critical route choices and reassessing their position every step of the way, in just over 30 minutes. Needless to say they were breathless as they sprinted back from the final control, sweating despite the near-freezing temps!

Spatial awareness, critical decision-making? Check. Initiative?  Yep. Personal responsibility in environments with elevated risk? You bet. Fresh air and exercise? Absolutely. Oh, and they can read a map!

How would you fare on this course….?

Riverstone Is Where I Grew Up

By | Academic Excellence, IB, Outdoor Education | No Comments

We asked Director of Outdoor Education, Ben Brock, to write a testimonial for our Annual Fund. His letter was so moving we wanted to include it on our blog, especially for our alumni to see.

In the 14 years since I joined Riverstone I have known (yikes) hundreds of students.

I have had many in class, sat around campfires with most, and encouraged a few stragglers along trails around the west.

Whether they are Preschoolers or Seniors, I am amazed at how our students carry conversations, staggering in both depth and breadth, with each other, with their teachers, with total strangers, and sometimes in languages I can’t even identify.

I watch with pride as wins are starting to rack up on the hardwood and on the soccer fields. I watched with pride as students held their heads high through the tough, early winless seasons too.

I’ve read dispatches from adventures through the years to Peru, Alaska, D.C., McCall, knowing that new perspectives are on their way back to this little campus in the desert.

I can remember what many of our Seniors looked like in Kindergarten. I marvel at how they have welcomed late-comers into our community. Alumni gatherings are the highlight of my year; our community extends long beyond commencement.

Another significant time of the year is when I can listen, on the last night of the annual Senior Trip, to students reflect on how far they have come through the years. In many ways, I think it catches them off guard to see how much they’ve grown.

As I write, however, trying (probably in vain) to highlight the mind-boggling range of experiences that have guided Riverstone students as they’ve grown through the years, I’m struck by how much I’ve grown here as well.

I was 25 years old. I’d never taught before. Aside from my four year stint at college, I’d never really lived away from home. Riverstone teachers took me in; rare was the weekend or vacation that I didn’t get asked to join a crew of teachers on the river or in the mountains. Riverstone families took me in; I was invited to Bar Mitzvahs, citizenship ceremonies, and weddings. Riverstone students took me in. They asked me to help them start a soccer team. They invited me to their competitions and performances. Their artwork decorates my house.

Riverstone is not only where I’ve seen kids grow into amazing young adults, it’s where I’ve grown up. It has challenged me, taught me, and rewarded me.  I can’t think of anywhere else I would have rather spent the last 14 years.

And I give proudly to the Annual Fund knowing that it helps make My Riverstone an even better place for my daughter, in her first year of Riverstone Preschool to grow up too.

Ben Brock

Not One Unclaimed Sock, Glove, or Hat after 3 Day Yurt Trip!

By | Academic Excellence, IB, Leadership by Example, Outdoor Education | No Comments

The following blog entry is a letter that Ben Brock, our Director of Outdoor Education, wrote to Grade 8 parents last week.

“I didn’t want to wait too much longer to let you all know what a great time I had working with the Grade 8 class last week. From pre-trip responsibilities, to on-the-fly decision making, to trip wrap-up and gear return, this group of students proved that, even with a wide range of outdoor backgrounds, they are up for whatever challenges I throw at them. We enjoyed a wonderfully mild and sunny Wednesday, made the most of soggy conditions on Thursday, and tromped out victoriously on Friday. I’m always happy when, even though it’s not expected, a few hardy souls sleep in a snowcave. I’m even happier when we clean the yurt after all is said and done and have (GASP!!) not one unclaimed sock, glove, hat, etc! Very impressive!

Next stop: 5 days in Hell’s Canyon!!

Some lessons learned along the way (from student activity booklets, which will serve as preparation aids for this group of students when they go winter camping in Grade 10 as well as for next year’s Grade 8 class.)

  • “My base layers are my favorite piece of outdoor gear.”
  • “People will help you when you need it but you need to be willing to help as well.”
  • “I’d bring another water bottle next time.”
  • “Don’t overpack and don’t underpack!”
  • “Snowcaves can keep you warm.”
  • “Drink water!”

As always, thank you for entrusting us with your children’s safety.”

A special thank you to our two Grade 10 Outdoor Leadership students, Mikayla and Quinn, for their help and guidance during the trip!

Slow Is Smooth and Smooth Is Fast: An Adventure in Rain & Snow

By | Academic Excellence, IB, Outdoor Education | No Comments
The following was an email sent from Ben Brock, our Director of Outdoor Education, to parents of our Grade 10 students last week.
Dear Parents, 
Just wanted to say that despite some of the most challenging conditions I’ve ever led a trip in, I had a wonderful time with the Grade 10 class these last few days.  
As we climbed up Bogus and it continued to rain even as we pulled into the Nordic Center, we knew we were in for a “treat.”  After making the decision to send one group directly to the yurt to get it heated up, the other group proceeded to our campsite as planned to give it our best shot.By about 2:00pm, however, it was clear that, despite our best efforts, a night in snow caves and tents was just not in the cards. You’ve all seen pictures of the resulting evening that we (all 32 of us!!) spent “drying out” in the yurt.  
Luckily Thursday brought us clearer skies and we were able to travel back to our campsite, about a 35-minute snowshoe from the yurt, and spend the day completing our unfinished snow caves, analyzing a pretty uniquely saturated snowpack and generally enjoying the temporary lack of rain. We headed back to the yurt for dinner, built another snow cave for good measure, and even had four hearty souls decide to sleep out under the “stars” even with snow in the forecast.  
This morning, as the rain returned, we spent about an hour talking through some of the challenges we faced and how we overcame them, and about how some backcountry concepts such as “summit fever,” and the “halo effect” can be avoided (ask your kids…). We also talked about how, when things get tough, and decisions are made quickly, mistakes become more likely (in our urgency to get moving and have as much time as possible to get camps constructed food went to the yurt). A saying I introduced to them is “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”  A few extra minutes double-checking our sleds would have saved significant amount of time and energy. 
In all, many good lessons were learned on this trip, as is often the case when you find yourself in trying circumstances. It wasn’t the trip we envisioned when we put it on the calendar in July, but it was well worth it.  
Thank you all for trusting me with the safety of your children.
And finally, none of it would have been possible without Lisa Armstrong and Tami Dougherty; they are incredibly caring and competent…and fun! I’d go on a trip with them anytime!

Should 4th Graders Go to Snow School?

By | Academic Excellence, Elementary School, IB, Outdoor Education | No Comments

At the end of their four week session at Bogus Basin’s Snow School, Grade 4 teacher, Jennifer Clayton, asked her students to write a five paragraph essay addressing the question, “Should 4th Grade go to Snow School?” Here are a few excerpts from their papers:

“All 4th graders should go to Snow School because it is good exercise, good learning and great thinking.”

“You learn how to make a shelter and how to survive alone in the wild.”

“You learn how to think like an animal.”

“Fourth graders get to belly slide, play games and have fun! Belly sliding happens on steep hills.”

“They will track snow shoe hares and spiders, but the spiders are very tricky.”

“Kids get to learn awesome things like how to make snow blocks and how to make an igloo.”

“They will get great exercise. Stomping around in the snow and up steep hills will really hurt their legs. But their legs become stronger.”

“Fourth graders should go to Snow School because they will get outside and still learn.”

So…have our 4th graders convinced you that they should go to Snow School??

National Orienteering Coach Leads Clinics with Riverstone Kids

By | Athletics, High School, Leadership by Example, Outdoor Education | No Comments

Erin Schirm, Orienteering USA’s Head Junior Coach, visited Riverstone February 3-4 to conduct workshops for students interested in improving their abilities in this growing sport involving navigation and endurance. Erin found out about Riverstone when Alex P (’14) and Ben Brock, Director of Outdoor Education, applied for a grant with OUSA intended to help grow the youth orienteering movement.

Riverstone was the only school in the country to be awarded the grant. As the Head Junior Coach, Erin wanted to come see what Riverstone Orienteering is all about (orienteering is a major component of PE for students in Grades 8 and 10). He was very happy with what he found! Fifteen students braved the freezing after-school workshops and most left asking when they could do it again! With Erin and OUSA’s generous support, look for more orienteering opportunities in the future!