Trail Teachers

Here’s an average week at Aptos-based Web of Life Field School for naturalist and outdoor education teacher Kristen Morse:


Naturalists arrive and familiarize themselves with trails. There are always last-minute changes to lesson plans.


Students arrive, between 80 to 100 kids, divided between four or five naturalists. The students move into their cabins (“They bring these enormous suitcases. It’s really cute,” says Morse), are split into groups, and take a two-hour hike. The hike sets the tone for the rest of the week. In the late afternoon the kids play, then eat dinner afterwards. Then comes campfire, a 50/50 mix of science-based songs and stories and pure entertainment. Each naturalist has an assigned night for “tuck-ins,” when they go to the cabins and read a story or soothe fears.


Hikes begin with a skit or song. If they’re in Santa Cruz, Wednesday is spent at the creek, with the next day a trip from the woods to the beach at Natural Bridges, so students explore two different habitats. During the day they are journaling, writing poems, reading stories, and playing games. Come dark, they go on a night hike, no flashlights allowed.


Another full day on the trail. Morse often initiates a solo hike, during which kids follow cards she’s laid out. Capping the day is a Town Hall Meeting, with hypothetical controversies such as whether to build a mall near riparian habitat. The naturalists play developers, and the kids become senior citizens, unemployed construction workers, business owners.


Kids write a letter to themselves about their memories for the week and their goals for next year. Morse tries to ensure that the concept of interdependence will survive the drive out of the woods, suggesting, for example, using a travel mug instead of paper cups, an act that over time conserves tons of resources.

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