Outdoor Education @LJCDS

Outdoor Education (OE) is an important element in our school's mission to provide educational and personal growth experiences in a wide variety of ways so that our young people truly receive a well balanced education that prepares them for a fulfilling life. Being an independent school in San Diego means access to world class destinations within quite reasonable distances. California has some of the most interesting and beautiful places on Earth and we are proud that we take our students out to experience some of them.

LJCDS - A proven leader in outdoor education

LJCDS is a proven leader in providing a consistent, high quality OE program. We've been operating successful OE experiences for more than two decades. In fact, OE has evolved into a core part of our school culture. For over 20 years our students have shared their OE tales with younger siblings, friends, parents and relatives. It is both a fact and inevitable that the topic of OE comes up in one speech or another at every single graduation and Grade 8 promotion. The shared experiences, bonding, character development and personal growth is powerful, palpable and highly valued by the vast majority of our students and their families.

Developmental programming

Each grade has its own destination and developmental programming. Each trip has its own outdoor sports component, science thread, character development unit and intentional challenges meant to give our young people opportunities for leadership, problem solving, discovering grit and tolerance, and having quality, healthy time in nature.

research shows the benefits to children

There is growing research touting the importance of children spending time in nature. There is evidence that being involved in outdoor activities increases academic success. Click the links below to read a few articles on Outdoor Ed.

Edutopia Article

Association of American Colleges and Universities

Research paper from U. of Wisconsin

Research paper from the American Institutes for Research

Here is a dozen more articles discussing the benefits of Outdoor Ed.

Proposal for Improving the OE Program

  • Establish the position, Director of Outdoor Ed (or Experiential Ed, or Field Studies)***
  • Make OE a K-12 program. Make it something that is embraced by all grades, divisions, by the trustees, involve parents more, and make it amazing.
  • Form a team of core members that will be the main faculty on all school OE trips as necessary. End the requirement that grade level teachers attend the trips. If a teacher does not want to participate, they shouldn't. The need for genuine enthusiasm is crucial for students to understand how to cope and tolerate things such as inclement weather or challenges with activities.
  • Offer a stipend to core OE staff.
  • Offer training such as Wilderness First Aid certification to core OE staff.
  • Create a thematic template for each trip. Template will identify the following for each trip: 1)outdoor sport(s) that will be the athletic component. 2) Science component. 3) Character development goals. 4) Artistic component. 5) Leadership component.
  • Return the Grade 5 trip to Anza-Borrego and return the Grade 6 trip to Joshua Tree. Changing those destinations was unfortunate. ***
  • Presently both Grades 5 and 6 have ropes courses as their primary activity. Ropes courses should not be the main point of an overnight OE trip. Instead, all Grade 5 and 6 students should have a single day field trip to the SDSU Challenge Course at the beginning of each year for team building and bonding. OE trips should be nature based and MUST be to destinations worthy of our integrity and efforts. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Joshua Tree National Park are VERY worthy destinations. Malibu and the San Bernadino Forest are not.
  • Identify and create single day opportunities for lower school students. Possible destinations: Mission Trails, Chula Vista Nature Center, tide pools, Balboa Park, any local playground/park, the SDSU Challenge Course, etc.
  • A day in Torrey Pines should be a requirement at least once per year for all LS grades.
  • Allow Seniors to act as mentors on trips. Invite Seniors and maybe even Juniors to attend and act as "Junior Counselors." As the majority of our Upper School students will have attended these trip, it would serve as an outstanding cross divisional opportunity within our community.
  • Lower school students could have a "camp out" on campus some evening during the school year. Maybe even two per year. They can play flashlight tag, hide and seek, spend the night in a tent with friends or parents, and begin feeling successful with spending the evening outside.


Over 20 years ago, LJCDS decided to include Outdoor Education as an annual and ongoing part of the school's curriculum. For the past two decades thousands of CD students have participated in a variety of different trips.

Grade 5 used to visit the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The largest state park in California. They took the 2 hour drive east from our coastal campus up through our mountains and on to the other side where our neighboring desert is. They would set up tents and camp for two nights. Activities included a 3 mile round trip hike up a gentle slope into a canyon to a rare desert oasis. Students would get to cool off and get wet under one of a few small waterfalls flowing down the canyon slope. They could explore in and amongst the hundreds of Fan Palm trees. They would learn about very rare desert riparian ecosystems and witness life thriving along the water's edge. This trip took place in mid to late March, right in the prime of the annual wildflower season. People from around the world visit Anza-Borrego for its annual bloom. We used to take our students to their own "backyard" and provide them with this opportunity.

Grade 6 used to visit Joshua Tree National Park. JTree is considered a rock climbing mecca. People from across the globe visit the park and challenge themselves up one of the literally many thousands of identified rock climbing routes. We would take our students for 3 nights and four days (Tues and Fri being mainly transportation days). Building on the camping skills and experiences of the Grade 5 Anza trip, this high desert trip increased the challenges presented to our students by adding in technical rock climbing, scrambling up a boulder field and making their way through a talus cave system. All three of these activities are very different from what most children get to experience and therefore, both intense and life enhancing.

Grade 7 has been hopping on a ferry to Catalina Island for over 20 years. On the island, they get to snorkel, kayak the shoreline and hike up to some amazing view points. They even have the chance to put on wetsuits and check out the ocean at night where phytoplankton, lobster and the mysterious octopus could be present.

Grade 8 gets the children up to California's spectacular Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park where they don cross country skis and snow shoes for a Monday to Friday experience.

Upper school Freshman have had some alterations to their trip but the reality is that the 9th grade program is not a well received program. This should be addressed and repaired.

Sophomores have choices and that is excellent. Providing set destinations to lower and middle school students is appropriate and gives them all a variety of places and activities. By tenth grade they should be able to make the choice where they'd like to go. Options are Zion National Park, the Dominican Republic (community service trip), the Channel Islands and a couple other choices that vary.

Created By
Todd Mitchell


Photos by Todd Mitchell

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