Thompson Island Challenge Course and Climbing Wall

Challenge Education on Thompson Island: What It Is and What It Isn’t

If you’re reading this, no doubt you have seen pictures from our challenge courses – images of individuals dangling from ropes high in the air or leaping off of telephone poll towers into the treetops. But you may not know the educational philosophy underlying these daring activities. So here’s a basic breakdown of what we mean when we talk about teaching through challenge:

It’s Not All Theoretical – It’s Experiential and Sustained Across Multiple Experiences

We not only talk to our students about embracing challenge, learning from failure, and overcoming obstacles. We offer them opportunities to put these ideas into practice and experience what this process feels like. By putting students in unfamiliar situations and asking them to engage with their environment in new ways, we coach them to hone in on both their internal monologue and emotions. They must also navigate sensory input and demands of the challenges to work past roadblocks to achieve their goals. Students are offered opportunities to experience and work through a variety of challenges, including critical thinking skills during science lessons and obstacle course negotiation on the island’s high and low ropes courses.

It’s Not Competitive, It’s Collaborative

Challenge on Thompson Island is as much about teamwork as it is each individual’s journey. To quote an old Outward Bound adage, we view program participants as “crew not passengers.” Some challenge activities make this concept explicit: like hoisting team members one by one over a sheer wall twice their height. Other activities, such as ascending the Alpine Towers, may look individualized from the outside, but in reality rely on the support of team members on belay providing safety measures and encouragement from the ground. Participants on a challenge course are encouraged to draw strength from their team even as they discover inner strength within themselves.

Success Looks Different for Each Student, It’s Always “Challenge-by-Choice”

Thompson Island’s approach always conforms to the Outward Bound “challenge by choice” model, an approach that meets participants where they are and always seeks to provide each individual with an appropriate level of challenge. Educators offer expert coaching and encouragement that guides students through each challenge, creating an experience centered on personal awareness and growth.