What Happens on Insight Days

Madeline Troyer, Assistant Instructor at POBS

Special Guest Blog Post by Assistant Instructor Madeline Troyer

Backpacking has changed who I am as a person. Through backpacking, I have learned the importance of finding joy even on the worst days, how to care for others, what it is like to slow down in life and enjoy the presence of other people and nature, and so much more.

I was inspired to share this experience — of only living out in nature with what you can carry on your back — with students. So when I started as a new staff member with the Philadelphia Outward Bound School this August, I was most excited for the “exped” backpacking trips.

But due to Covid cancellations, I have only helped to lead one week-long exped trip. The rest of my time has been spent leading Insight Days.

Insight Days are when middle and high school students come to the Philadelphia Outward Bound School to engage in a series of activities, each with the purpose of challenging the group in a particular way. What has surprised me most about my time here at Outward Bound is how valuable Insight days really are. I have seen kids come out of their shell, form friendships, and overcome challenges.

“I love to see students come to Insight Day and realize it is okay to let loose and just be who they are.”

Students support each other at the goal pole.

One example is the Goal Pole, which involves students climbing up a telephone pole, standing on the top, and then jumping off while other students belay them (pull the slack out of the rope as the student climbs to keep them from falling).

Some kids leave saying “wow, that was such a cool, fun experience” but many leave having gotten the larger lessons such as learning trust, what support can look like, and what it feels like to be outside of their comfort zone.

There was one day where I had a student who was a bit of a problem. She was bossy, controlling, and a slight bully. When we got to the goal pole her confidence was high and she was sure she would easily make it to the top. We got her hooked in and then had her check-in with her belay team. As she looked to each team member she made the comment about how she should have been nicer to these people considering that they now hold her life in their hands.

Then as she started to climb the fear set in and she slowed down. Her belay team stepped up and rather than bully her about being afraid, they cheered her on as she slowly started to make her way to the top. After she got down she spoke about how important the encouragement was in getting her through her fear.

One of my favorite parts about Insight Day is seeing kids come out of their shells. I have fun leading Insight because I can be weird while having fun with the kids. I can make up stories and run around playing games. But some kids come and I can tell they are just not into it. Just the other day there was one girl who came who didn’t play the name game (we always start the day playing a game to help us learn the students’ names). She stayed to the back of the group, and was silent for the whole morning.

By the end of the day we were playing Gelfling Tag (a game similar to freeze tag but with a fantasy twist) and she was the one who was most into this running around imaginative game. When we were wrapping up she just kept asking to play more games and was teaching us her favorite song. I love to see students come to Insight and realize it is okay to let loose and just be who they are, rather than hiding behind a veil.

Insight Day students on lunch break

The students aren’t the only ones who benefit from Insight Days, as I learned myself. For Insight Days, we schedule out progressions of games for the day so they build up to larger challenges. Personally, I am someone who likes to make a plan and then stick to it. Insight has taught me that plans change and to be okay with letting go of my need for control.

One day we had just finished a late lunch and the kids were leaving early. I was all ready to gather them together so our group could get in one quick last initiative.  My co-leader looked at me and said “I think we could just let them have free time for the rest of the day.” I had an internal struggle as I felt like we needed to be doing something. But as I sat there looking at the kids having their free time over lunch, I realized how that free time with no schedule can be just as important as a well-planned out day. The kids had time to just be kids; connecting with each other, playing in the field, and having time without cellphones.

Can one day consisting of only a few short hours actually make a difference in a child’s life?  If it is an Insight Day, it can!