Over the years that Navigation Games has been bringing kids to orienteering, we have been open to all opportunities. We’ve shown up at birthday parties, summer camps, Bring-Your-Child-To-Work Days, city-run festivals, and regular orienteering meets.
We ran weekly after-school classes, parks & rec classes, “guerilla” events in local parks (just show up and get kids from the playground to try it out), and public “Glow in the Dark” Score-Os at night. We started the orienteering team at the local high school (and won Nationals!), and inter-mural teams at middle schools. We worked with amazing classroom teachers to create orienteering adventures throughout the year in grades 1 and 2, and in 5th grade. We took middle and high school students to the woods for a day of team orienteering after some preparatory skill-building exercises on campus. We’ve also wanted to engage adults: we did a session at the local senior center; we gave a talk to the Sons of Norway; we’ve done corporate team-building; and we set up Forest-X races (trail running with a map - take shortcuts if you dare!).
One day a Cambridge Physical Education teacher contacted us and asked if we might introduce orienteering in her classes. We developed a progression of lessons that can be taught in PE class. Over the next few years we rolled the unit out to all 12 elementary schools in Cambridge, and began working with PE teachers throughout the greater Boston area. We now see in-school PE as a fantastic way to bring orienteering to every kid in America, and are doing what we can to realize that dream - by providing information, a beginning kit, lesson plans, workshops, and any other support we can think of.
We would love to work with other educators as well, of course - math, science, elementary teachers, other youth-serving organizations. But PE is where we are currently able to expand most rapidly right now. It’s a good fit.
Working in schools is great because you reach every kid. Training educators is great because it amplifies our reach exponentially.
We have become curious about what works in other parts of the country and world to get orienteering into schools.
In the USA, many high school associated Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps units do orienteering and compete at meets. The Washington Interscholastic Orienteering League is a long-running, very successful school league. There are half a dozen small companies that bring orienteering into schools on demand. Orienteering USA has coach training programs and certification.
Internationally, there are a lot of people working with schools. In both Ottawa and Edmonton, Canada, the orienteering clubs deliver orienteering to schools - nearly 10,000 kids just in 2023, in each case. Norway recently received a large grant to improve orienteering in schools; they built a database which now has maps of 1,260 schools. A recent program in the Czech Republic provides a resource with 250 activities that teachers can use. The Danish Orienteering Federation ran an initiative in 2023 with schools, with well thought-out goals and procedures. The sCOOL program in Switzerland; the new orienteering program in Australian schools - there is a lot going on. We are just beginning our international conversation.
From learning about these programs, here are some takeaways for what leads to success:
Work with younger children. Play games. Minimize instruction and maximize experience. Include teamwork and collaboration. Make it fun.
To get teachers to teach orienteering, make it easy for them. Provide maps and equipment and lesson plans. Align to the learning standards they are held to.
Figure out how to make it financially sustainable. Do you need an initial grant for program design? Do you need paid staffers? How will you bring in income? Can you make it so that schools have relatively little cost once the program is up and running?
Know your goals and design your program accordingly. If you want kids to love the program, make it fun. If you want them to learn and have it stick, it’s not just a one-time experience. If you want them to orienteer outside of school, build the path to make that an easy journey.
So - please join us Thursday at 8:30 pm (eastern time) on Google Meet! (The Forum will also be recorded.)