Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Payson Arizona Challenge Course & Training

Project Adventure recently completed installation of an extensive challenge course for the Payson, Arizona Unified School District. Donna Moore, coordinator of Health and Physical Education for the Payson schools had previously developed a challenge course program through a PEP grant for a school system in Safford, AZ.  Project Adventure’s Bill Bates worked with her to apply for the Payson PEP grant.

The extensive course includes a climbing tower, a dual zip wire and a wide variety of low and high elements. A team of physical educators from Payson’s high school, middle school and elementary schools have participated with exuberance in a series of trainings including Adventure Programming, Adventure Curricula for PhysicalEducation and a Technical Skills Intensive.

Click here to read the article from The Payson Roundup

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When doing team development, why focus on trust and building relationships?

by Peter Aubry

This question often arises when working with a client to design a team building day. It usually comes up in the process of creating a needs assessment. Sometimes this is followed by a request to just focus on problem-solving methodology and to stay away from the interpersonal dynamics on the team or individual team member needs. This area of work is often referred to as the “touchy-feely” aspect and many clients don’t want any of that in their program!

Amazingly enough, this request not to get “too touchy-feely” is made by a variety of clients including social service agencies, schools and corporate groups.

When this concern comes up, I usually address it in the context of the John Adair model. 

The Adair model indicates that, in addition to communication, motivation and vision, the leader must attend to building the team, developing individuals and, yes, accomplishing the task.

In my experience, trust is the most essential element in good work relationships and especially in developing high performing teams. Although trusting each other at work makes everything much easier, it is not easy to achieve. In many work worlds, employees are rewarded for controlling and protecting information that insures they keep their position in the company. Knowledge is power and security, right? Expertise, technical or otherwise, makes you irreplaceable, right? So why share information and expertise in these environments?

Clients often ask, “Can we build the team and not deal with the problem of relationships on the team?”
How would you respond to this?
One answer I offer is that they can, but then, do they really need a team? Wouldn’t they be better served by a ‘work group’? A work group can deliver solid performance results when all is said and done. The work group has a central leader who directs various functions with all members reporting directly to him or her. They deal with all the conflicts and issues and are ultimately responsible for the results. So…yes you can deal with just the task at hand. Why then would you want a team? In their book The Wisdom of Teams, J.R. Katzenbach and Douglas Smith suggest that work groups are used when organizations are not looking for significant incremental performance results. A Real Team, on the other hand, is looking to achieve significant results, sometimes exponential, and has a group of people “who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold each other accountable.” Therefore, if we are going to build a team, don’t we have to address the people side of the equation?

There is a tendency in some work cultures to avoid conflict or have management deal with conflict. This can stem from an underlying mistrust in the organization, other individuals, the team or the team leader, etc. So how do you build a team of people if they are going to avoid conflict or have underlying trust issues? I would venture to say that you have to focus on relationships and the subject of trust as it relates to the team.

What would you say? At Project Adventure, we address this topic by having teams develop norms of behavior that allow them to deal with the issues that arise in an environment of safety. Having the ability and resources to deal with conflict that naturally arises on a team is critical. It is also important to define those issues that management, human resources or leadership must deal with versus the team.

Team Norms can be developed and tied to organizational values. If values are not specific, and stated, they can be developed as part of the leadership team development.

Moving a team toward high performance must include focusing on the relationships and trust that exist on the team as well as the level of commitment of individuals on that team.

How do you address team development at your workplace? Do you work as a team or as a work group? What helps your team to function better?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PA's Most Important Innovation?

by Dick Prouty

Recently, I was speaking to a group of visiting trainers who were being certified to deliver programs for us. I was speaking about our history and discussing the theme for our 40th anniversary this next academic year. Our theme is: 40 Years of Innovation.

One participant asked this question: What do you think has been Project Adventure’s most important innovation?  

“Hmmm..big question,” I said. I paused for a long two or three minutes as I reviewed the many options that came to mind. I had often thought of PA’s history and our creativity, but had not tried to weigh the value of them compared to one another.

Here are some of the significant innovations of our 40 years that came to mind.

Challenge Course:
Before PA, there had been a few elements called a Ropes Course at OB. But PA basically invented the modern challenge course.
New Static Challenge Course built for the Girl Scouts of Rhode Island

Academic Adventure based Integrated Curricula:

There had been experiential curricula using projects for more than a hundred years before PA in various schools settings in many countries, but PA put the risk edge in it. Three examples are:   
  • Adventure Based Counseling
  • Behavior Management Through Adventure (BMTA)
  • RESPECT program is a structured, research-based program that adapts the proven concepts, strategies, and tools of Project Adventure’s experience and adventure-based instructional methods to change a school’s learning environment.
Artwork by: City Year & Timilty Middle School Students - Boston, MA
Then there are our big three cornerstones!

Experiential Learning Cycle!
Challenge by Choice!

Full Value Contract!

Development of an Activity Base:
The activities published in Silver Bullets and QuickSilver and all of the other PA activities in publications or not. Used by literally hundreds of thousands of teachers and counselors world wide!

Quite a list of innovations and inventions of PA!

Then, I gave this answer to the participant: 

Facility-based Adventure Education!

“Before PA,” I told the participants, “adventure education was thought of as a wilderness experience. Then Jerry Pieh and the crew at Hamilton-Wenham Regional School System in the 1970s developed a way to replicate the outcomes of Outward Bound by integrating its principles and concepts into a high school curricula. That eureka moment,  the conceiving of this integrated experiential curricula program called Project Adventure, launched a whole movement that is now called facilities-based Adventure Education, as opposed to wilderness-based Adventure Education, in the traditional Outward Bound model.”  

So, yes, Project Adventure, in and of itself, was a huge innovation, and, and in my humble opinion, really its biggest.

PA launched a movement for facilities-based adventure education that has now grown to be worldwide and far bigger in terms of numbers of students reached each year, than the original wilderness-based adventure education movement.

Now entering its fifth decade, PA is coming full circle with our new Building Respectful Learning Communities. BRLC is a way to get all of the outcomes in a school or agency to be more powerful and amplified. But that is a story for another blog…..

What do you think?  What is PA’s most important innovation? How has it affected you and helped you to be a better facilitator/teacher?

Let me know at

Monday, July 18, 2011

PA Goes Green-er

Project Adventure’s Office Recycling Program

Although Project Adventure staff have been recycling to some extent for many years, the program has been intensified and energized since we moved to our current office building.
Staff are now encouraged to have bins in their own offices. There are signs throughout the building reminding people to Recycle. Our office cleaner supports and monitors our efforts. We have become more sensitive about paper use. Staff is also encouraged to drink Beverly water which is safe rather than bottled water.

PA’s Challenge Course Design and Installation (CCDI) department recycles all of their used steel cable and aluminum hardware in a 15 cubic yard capacity metal recycle dumpster which is
CCDI Recycling Dumpsters
Retired Strandvice, ready for recycling
maintained by Waste Management Co.  A week ago the dumpster was emptied with a total weight of 4.5 tons!  Our installers are even taking it as far as dismantling retired strandvices to separate the different metals, making it easier to recycle and more cost beneficial.  The money gained through this recycling initiative is used to purchase new tools and equipment for the CCDI department.

PA Staff Garden
Recently PA staff worked together to create a staff vegetable garden on Moraine Farm.  The project, headed by Norrie Gall, is well underway with three lush beds containing a wide variety of local vegetables.

Project Adventure Leveraging Technology

Project Adventure’s recent push into a web-centric future holds many significant green initiatives. With tools such as email blasts and online shopping carts, we are effectively able to reduce the amount of waste that we were producing.

Website (
A new website provides the hub of our online presence and enables us to share valuable information about our business without sending hard copies and also saves time. Our e-commerce capabilities allow us to steadily decrease the number of paper orders that are being processed.

The Cloud
Today we are able to share information with each other internally through the use of “the cloud”!  By hosting our information within a web-based server, we are able to share information among staff, anywhere in the country. Viewing these documents online drastically cuts back on the amount of printing and faxing needed.

Remote access for employees not working from our headquarters in Beverly has also allowed us to downsize our physical infrastructure resulting in the use of much less energy. Our new space is much cozier, but we like it here.

In the past, we produced a publication called ZipLines, a magazine that was sent to thousands in the adventure education industry. While we no longer publish ZipLines, we are focusing on utilizing our Blog as a new resource for our clients to access valuable PA and industry information. By sharing information electronically, we are not using all of the paper that we had in the past.

Social Media
Social media is another great example of how we are connecting with people without having to send print materials. The utilization of Facebook provides us with the opportunity to update our extended community on a regular basis.  Our YouTube channel provides the opportunity to share videos with the world.  We encourage our trainers, clients and extended networks to share their adventure education video experiences to continue showcasing the impact of our work.

The use of webinars allows us to hold meetings with people from all over the world with the single click of a button. This technology allows us to use less gasoline and eliminates all of the energy associated with travel.

Email Marketing
For the past few years, Project Adventure has focused more on reaching our clients through email marketing techniques. By doing this, we have drastically reduced the amount of print materials that we send out. Help support our efforts by clicking here to join our mailing list!

Individual PA Staff Green Initiatives

Much of the energy behind PA’s current program comes from the green initiatives of individual staff. The following are examples of this inspirational commitment.

Nate and Michelle
Hollis, NH

After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Nate and Michelle became more aware of where food comes from. They began to purchase food more locally – from a farm stand down the street and farmers’ markets. They have also begun to grow their own food. After a trip to Costa Rica, they decided to turn their lawn into a more edible landscape of herbs. Currently, they are partnering with their neighbors to raise free range chickens and to create an edible garden for children in the neighborhood.

Other initiatives that Nate and Michelle have taken on are:
•    As often as possible, not buying bottled drinks
•    Compost year-round using a method known as vermi-composting (
•    Use a clothesline.
•    Consider where things come from before buying. Use essential oils for cleaning, e.g., clove oil rather than bleach.
•    Drive a Prius and a Subaru Outback.
•    Try to work at home whenever possible.

Beverly, MA

In a recent conversation about personal efforts to live more ‘greenly’, Norrie said, “I’ve begun to change my relationship to Stuff.”

In the process of this change, Norrie taught herself to sew and says that she will soon debut a skirt that she made from curtains that once hung in the PA conference center. She has also re-covered used chairs with curtains from PA. Additionally, she has made dolls for her baby out of her old clothes. And, this year, she made all of her Christmas gifts.

She has also given away many books, learned how to can and buys clothes for herself and the baby on consignment which says is not only more economical but also more fun.

In the food realm, Norrie says that, after reading Food Matters by Mark Bittman, she has begun to have two of her three meals a day be vegetarian. She has also made most of her own baby food and buys organic, following the guidelines of what is good to buy organic.

From biking more to gardening and hanging clothes on the line, Norrie says that life is good for her and her baby. Her exuberance affirms that.

Beverly, MA

Suzanne has participated in Beverly’s Community Garden in the past, but has since become a backyard gardener, growing raspberries, rhubarb, grapes, tomatoes and various herbs. She also believes in making food “from scratch”, not purchasing processed foods. She buys locally and is a member of Moraine Farm’s CSA.

Suzanne also uses a clothesline and waxes poetic about the scent of sheets that have hung on the line.

When she can, Suzanne walks to work.

PA Staff - Vehicles
When you arrive at Project Adventure's headquarters it is clear that the majority
of the staff are driving Subarus.  After speaking with the owners, it was apparent that Subarus are preferred not only for their exceptional performance in New England weather but also Subaru's sustainability efforts

CSA  (Community Supported Agriculture)

Thirty acres of Moraine Farm land, owned by the Batchelder Trust, was donated to
the Trustees of Reservations. The trustees in turn have donated 2-3 acres to the Food Project (a program that teaches children how to farm).

The CSA’s season runs from May to October.  Shareholders buy a season’s share and whatever is harvested during a week is divided evenly among them. Shareholders receive notification by email when the crops are ready.

North Shore Sustainability Partnership (NSSP)

History and Mission
Moraine Farm Advisory board’s long standing member Caleb Loring helped Project Adventure to establish the North Shore Sustainability Partnership in January, 2009.

NSSP provides participating North Shore schools and colleges with a forum for collaboration to significantly advance their sustainability education and sustainability operations initiatives. The scope of work in each participating school is to be enhanced by collaboration with the other schools and engagement with their extended school communities.

The NSSP sustainability mission is to be achieved by engaging participating school communities in active pursuit of the following goals:

1.    To advance existing and new green initiatives that address degradation of the natural environment and
 climate change
2.    To develop and share sustainability curriculum and student-led efforts
3.    To foster habits and cultures of generosity, responsibility, and an ethic to ‘give back’
4.    To build community and pro-social skills within and across school communities to support sustainability education and practices

These goals will be pursued by sharing promising practices, pursuit of collaborative projects, and by schools supporting each other for achieving agreed upon goals.

Common Projects
Bottled water elimination has been significantly advanced in all participating schools. For some schools, this initiative has been extended from school-based to educating and influencing family behaviors.

Another common project is the support of local food production and awareness of local food consumption benefits. This involves the possibility of school food services buying locally, schools and families joining CSAs, growing food on campuses, students volunteering on farms and mapping environmental impacts or energy savings achieved through local food consumption.

What you can do to help
You can support our efforts by doing the following:
- Like us on Facebook to get frequent PA updates and special deals on products!
- Subscribe to our Blog to learn more about PA and the Adventure Education Industry.
- Join our e-newsletter mailing list to receive important updates and special deals.
- Subscribe to our YouTube channel for fun industry-related videos.
- When you take a workshop here at Moraine Farm, be sure to utilize our recycling receptacles.
- Call us if you have an old Challenge Course that is no longer in use.  We would be happy to help dismantle and recycle it or potentially get it back up and running! 978-524-4500

Monday, June 13, 2011


Submitted by Gerry Hinman, Berkshire Farm Center Coordinator of Therapeutic Recreation and Project Adventure & Adventure Based Counseling enthusiast.

While at a PA debriefing workshop with Jim Schoel, I had an opportunity to add a new tool to my tool bag – actually it was 10 oddly-shaped rocks. At first, I was very skeptical. While building a tower of his own, Jim instructed the group members to grab as many rocks from the bucket and “do something” with them while reflecting on their lives. Being a veteran adventure practitioner, I reserved judgment and went about the task of “doing something” with these rocks. Minimally, I felt that I would build the biggest tower of the group and impress my fellow group members. My first attempt went very well. I immediately built an impressive tower and it was almost complete when I decided to add just one more rock and it came crashing down. Uggh... I would have to begin again and I was quite frustrated as I attempted to attain my prior success. This time I was far more rational and logical about my placement of rocks and still…disaster. Finally, after much effort, I had reached the height that I once attained and I went for the rock that had toppled my first attempt. It was then that I paused and looked at what I had accomplished and said to myself “be satisfied with what you have accomplished.” It was a fine tower and I did not need the stress of having it come crashing down again. Throughout the remainder of the day, I felt myself drawn to looking at my rock sculpture and the way that these solid objects rested upon themselves in a precarious manner and that, at the very bottom, the foundation was balanced by the smallest of stones. I saw the frailty of life in my little sculpture and how it can all come crashing down if we don’t know when to say “enough.”

When we processed the activity in the workshop, I was amazed to see how everyone had taken a different approach with their rocks. Some used the rocks to tell the story of their lives, with the rocks representing people. One person created a replica structure of a place where he used to live which had been a sanctuary for him. I thought hard about how the experience related to my life and was stunned to realize that everything about the process was like my life. I realized that I am always pushing “things” to the limit and that never knowing when to say “enough’s enough” often has unwanted consequences such as stress. I realized that I do better and enjoy the process better when I don’t over think what it is that I am doing!

I decided to take these rocks back with me and rebuild them in my office. I set the rocks on the table in my office until one day I had time to rebuild them. A funny thing happened, however, when one of my employees sat down and built a rock sculpture with “my rocks.” My first reaction was disappointment which immediately turned into a smile as I realized that these rocks would be used to build over and over again and that each sculptor would have his or her own story. His rock sculpture fell the very next day and I noticed the look of disappointment on his face and reassured him that this was good and that now someone else would have an opportunity to re-build it and learn.

Today, that someone was me. I re-set them up as a reminder that no matter how strong we are, it is often the smallest things that keep us standing tall and sometimes the key to happiness is knowing when “enough is enough.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stories from the Playground

Stories From the Playground: An Introduction

Welcome to the first post in our blog series, Stories from the Playground a series of posts directly from the implementation of PA’s Peaceable Playgrounds model at several local schools.  My name is Suze Runnells and I am a Youth Specialist, Trainer and Consultant and have been working with PA for about ten years. I found the following article in the New York Times, and have shared my thoughts and reflections on the article as well as some thoughts on how to make recess successful playtime.

What is the quality of the recess experience at your school? Are students thriving at recess? Do staff feel comfortable managing recess? I work with elementary schools supporting them in creating positive school-wide culture. Many school communities are struggling with unstructured playtime. Recess is a perfect time for students to be active, get fresh air and practice skills they are learning about how to play with one another: In other words, unstructured play is valuable and critical to youth development.

What is the recipe for a successful recess? Students and staff need to know what to expect and what is expected of them. The following ingredients are helpful in co-creating a positive recess time that promotes students to build autonomy.
  1. Recess Guidelines: Clear and agreed upon norms of operation including how equipment is used, stored and cared for; which activities are to happen in which areas of the playground; grade specific guidelines; line up process, posted basic rules for games such as four square, consistent consequences for positive and negative behaviors, etc.
  2. Full Value Contract: Commitment from community members to 4-6 positive ways to treat one another. Discussed and defined by community and publicly displayed. A great place to introduce and practice the Full Value Contract is in Physical Education class using Project Adventure’s Adventure Curriculum for Physical Education. Example: Play Fair, Play Kind, Play Safe, Let go and move on and Fun for All (adapted from the curriculum).
  3. Skill Building for Staff and Students: Offer opportunities for staff and student development. Project Adventure’s Peaceable Playgrounds model offers training and consultation for staff to increase their skills in group management, leading cooperative games aimed at teaching students skills in how to play successfully together and guidance in creating opportunities for student leadership.
Click here for the New York Times article

    Thursday, March 31, 2011

    Tag: Increasing Activity, Increasing Skills

    Increasing participation and physical activity in a tag game, increases opportunities for learning social and emotional skills.

    By Nate Folan

    “Tag, you’re “it” and your goal is to get everyone out!” Or is it? Tag games, by their very nature are games of speed, agility, and elimination, unless you change the rules. Project Adventure has been changing the rules of education for 40 years. It’s no shocker that within the field of experiential education, the rules of tag have been adapted to increase participation, increase physical activity, and develop social emotional learning skills. Here are a few of the adaptations:

    Consider the classic tag game Everybody’s It. In Everybody’s It, anyone can attempt to tag anyone else at anytime. Once a participant is tagged, they are “out,” unless you change the rules. Usually if someone is out during a tag game they either take a knee or sit right where they are or leave the area of play. Once providing opportunities to get back “in” increases participation, physical activity, and social interaction. A well known and simple rule change is that anyone who is still “in,” or moving around, may high ten frozen participants allowing them to get back in and attempt to tag others again. The high ten allows more participants to play the game for longer periods of time, while creating a social dynamic of helping others. And, in some cases, it allows some people the chance to help themselves. If there is no one left to tag, there is no game to play.

    The competitor in each of us may challenge this. However, changing the rules, or perhaps perspective in this case, allows a competitor to see that trying to get more tags in a particular amount of time may be more fun and challenging than trying to eliminate everyone. It also provides choices for players who care less about the number of tags they get and care more for how many people they have helped or how few times they have been tagged. These choices create social and emotional learning opportunities for goal setting, helping others, and asking for help, to name a few.

    High Ten is one way to change the rules of tag. Here are a few others:
    •    Ankle Biters – In many tag games, once a person is tagged, they simple take a knee where they were tagged. From there, an exciting addition to any tag game is to allow these tagged participants to tag other peoples from their knee. If tagged by an Ankle Biter, a player must take a knee, just like everyone else and may continue to participate as an Ankle Biter. Using this rule provides an opportunity to develop the skill of awareness.

    •    Pop-up Tag – Adding Ankle Biters provides an opportunity to add another participation increasing option called Pop-up or Pop-up Tag. Using this variation allows participants who are successful in making a tag from their knee to “pop up,” move again, and attempt to tag others. Another way to say this is, when an Ankle Biter tags someone, “they go down, you go up.” The learning opportunity here comes from the opportunity for someone to help themselves. It also creates the need for players who have not been tagged or have returned from being tagged to be more aware of all players.

    •    Tag ‘em – If Pop-up tag is a good variation, Tag ‘em is a great variation. It adds the elements of awareness and surprise. When a player is tagged, they again take a knee and remain where they were tagged. Instead of being able to help themselves this time, they must rely on their own observation skills and the helpful will of others. Tagged participants must be aware of who tagged them.  They then track (with their eyes) this tagger until they get tagged. Once the person who tagged them gets tagged, they are able to get back in. In doing so this person may even surprise others because as some players are getting tagged, other players are randomly returning with little indication. From this participants learn to have greater awareness, expect the unexpected, and be quick on their feet.

    •    Add On – Simple right? Once someone has been tagged they add on or join the person who tagged them, by holding hands or linking elbows with the tagger. Now the two or more people who are linked together continue playing as a team attempting to tag other people or teams. To reiterate, if someone is tagged by another person or team they add on to who tag them and play continues. This participation increasing concept has been popularized and most notably associated with the tag game called Blob Tag (aka Tusker Tag).  However, when using this variation in an “everybody’s it” game, such as Everybody’s It, Knee Tag, or Step Tag the game may simply be called Add On Tag. For fun though, we could  go with the Blob Tag theme and have names like Every-Blob’s It, Blob Knee Tag or Blob Step Tag? Have you ever played any of these? No? Me neither, I can’t wait to try!

    These rule changes, or should I say rule additions, are great for tag games such as Everybody’s It, Knee Tag, Step Tag, and Asteroids. They increase participation, increase physical activity, and create more social emotional learning opportunities. Play with these ideas and let us know how it goes.


    Friday, February 18, 2011

    Up in the air: Ropes course offers challenges


    Check out one of Project Adventure's recent installations. Many clients call seeking ideas on how to get the most out of their challenge courses.

    This is a great example of the many different ways one can utilize this tool, both programmatically and fiscally. This college-owned facility is serving students, faculty, community members, military, and local school groups. They have gotten creative.

    If this course really excites you, we are hosting three workshops here in 2011. See a full list of our workshop offerings at Project Adventure Workshops.

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    NY Times Article: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarket?

    I wrote the book Achieving Fitness, An Adventure Activity Guide because I knew that my three book series Adventure Curricula for Elementary, Middle School and High School were both excellent and lacking something. Many of the activities are not very vigorous or aerobic. They are great for teaching social and emotional skills, but I thought we could do more.  In researching for Achieving Fitness, An Adventure Activity Guide, I learned a lot about the benefits of exercise and the brain, much of which is cited in the introduction to this book.  

    However, the data in this article does not appear in any of our publications. In this article, you will learn even more about what is physiologically happening to a child’s brain when he or she engages in aerobic activity. There is more than a chemistry change going on. There is more growth. In this case, size matters.  So, if you are interested in the positive effects of aerobic exercise on a child’s brain, read on!  If you are still defending your program, read on. This continues to support why active learning is so effective.

    Jane Panicucci