Scenic view of trees at camp

Outdoor Educators

by Valerie MorbyPosted Oct 9, 2019

Travis with wallaby at Outback critter room

Have you wondered what happens at Pine Cove during the rest of the year? Great question. Camp certainly doesn’t stay empty! On the weekends, you’ll find lots of retreats groups enjoying our facilities and activities. During the week, however, it’s all about outdoor education!

Pine Cove’s Institute of Wilderness Studies, or IWS, hosts and teaches hundreds of school groups each year! Students and teachers get to experience tons of hands-on learning and up-close critter encounters at both of our Central Texas (CTX) and East Texas (ETX) locations. And we couldn’t do any of it without our stellar, energetic, and knowledgeable staff! They fearlessly feed our animals, run awesome activities, and teach plenty of classes.

We wanted to shine a spotlight on this awesome crew of IWS staff, so we spoke to them about their experiences and some of their favorite things about teaching outdoor ed.

Most of the students who come to IWS are fifth graders—not always the easiest crew’s attention to get. Good thing our instructors have lots of fun ways to keep students engaged! Some like to make jokes, give fun examples, or ask lots of questions. Also a big hit? Games!

“I like to play charades or fun games that pertain to the lessons,” explains ETX IWS Intern Kennedy Bromhead. “I also like to use funny examples when teaching certain topics to the kids. It helps them to remember what I’ve taught them, but they also enjoy it more.”


Some staffers even take it one step further, like Timbers Lead Instructor Drake O’Bryant, who says, “I make it more enjoyable by including jokes, as well as putting my face in the mud to make them laugh during Earth Science.”

Earth Science is certainly a favorite class for our instructors to teach, along with Airborne, Nature’s Niche, Aquatics, and Teambuilding. Running the zipline is a top pick for Caitlin Wolf, ETX IWS Intern. She loves getting to watch kids challenge themselves and overcome fears! 

Travis Stedje, Critter and Program Facilitator for IWS Central Texas, agrees. He says the zipline is a great way for students to overcome their fears, and sometimes the chaperones and teachers get to take part as well! 

Last spring we had a teacher who was terrified of heights,” says Travis, “but when she got to the top of the zip tower, all of her students started chanting her name! This is pretty common at IWS—teachers and students get to see each other in a new light and in new situations which can foster deeper relationships.”


Critter Room is another popular subject for our instructors. “My favorite class to teach is the Critter Room because the facts about the animals are so unique to how God designed them!” shares ETX IWS Intern Riley Severide.

Our IWS program hosts students from both public and private schools. We make sure all of the teaching for our public schools reinforces what students are already learning in their classrooms through our TEKs-aligned curriculum. The bread and butter of our science classes is the included activity, which allows students a hands-on experience that makes the information they’re learning unforgettable! An example of this is our Aquatics class. After learning about the Food Web, students get to create a hypothesis, fish for organisms in our lake, and discuss the results of what they find! 


Many students who attend IWS with their public schools would not have the opportunity to come to camp otherwise, and we get to see them come alive as they ride (or even see) a horse for the first time, build relationships through shared experiences with their peers and teachers, and meet awesome Pine Cove staff who remember their names! 

When students from Christian schools attend, in addition to teaching our curriculum, our instructors teach them all about how God created everything they’re studying! There are some pretty cool ways they do this. ETX IWS Intern Morgan Cherry likes to go into detail about how God created the earth in the perfect place, and ETX IWS Intern Madison Carr emphasizes how small details are no mistakes. 

Ranch Lead Instructor Jacob Cottrell links up the things they are seeing and experiencing with God’s intentional design.

I tell them to look at the trees and tell them how they sway with the wind because God created them to do that. Just like how the zip tower moves so that it doesn’t break, we took a page from God’s design book since it’s the best to make the safest, most fun thing at camp,” Jacob explains.


We love what ETX IWS Intern Kayleigh Smith has to say about one of her classes. “In Nature’s Niche, I try to show them how everything in the water and carbon cycle was created by God in such a way that if something was taken out of its role, it wouldn’t be a cycle anymore. Just like the students were created by God for a purpose and have a role in their schools and homes!”

One thing that surprises many people is how many different animals Pine Cove keeps on property. The kids love getting up close and personal with scaley or furry creatures, and we love showing them! A surprising favorite? One of our snakes, Reese Slitherspoon!

“I love Reese!” says ETX IWS Intern Nikki Camp. “Snakes are such unique creatures, and I love using Reese to help display how each animal is designed differently.”


Our three-toed sloth Chewy has been around for a while now, but he’s still pretty popular!

It’s very cliche, but Chewy is my favorite,” shares Ranch School Relations Coordinator Brooke O’Bryant. “Everything about him demonstrates how God designed him uniquely and with intention and purpose. He’s too complex to be an accident. Not a fast-moving creature? Well, he can swim and hold his breath to keep him safe from the very fast jungle cats that are his predators. Plus, I love that it looks like he has a comb-over.”


East Texas isn’t the only place with cool creatures, though! Central Texas has plenty of awesome animals, including a wallaby and tons of neat birds.

“We have a Blue and Gold Macaw named Pody. He can be pretty grumpy, and he sometimes likes to scream in my face,” Travis explains. “But the kids absolutely love him. As soon as he sees them coming, he will start dancing, waving, and talking. Seeing the joy and wonder on kid’s faces makes dealing with his bad manners totally worth it!”


Speaking of happy kids—they say some pretty hilarious things! We asked the IWS staff to share some of the funniest things they’ve heard a student say, and they did not disappoint.

“One time a kid asked why there were ‘spaghetti strips’ on the ground,” says Ranch Lead Instructor Brittany Taylor. What was the student referring to? Pine needles!

Ranch Seasonal Full-Time Staffer Aaron Dunn’s story of the funniest thing a kid ever said to him was a little more personal, unfortunately. “A student once told me I resembled a packet of mayonnaise.” (Don’t worry, Aaron! You look nothing like a condiment!) ETX IWS intern Jourdan West can relate. A student once told him, “Deposition isn’t even a big word. Did you go to college?”


Our favorite funny kid story, however, has to be something overheard by Ranch Site Director Joey Smith. “When talking about how many hours our Two Toed Sloth sleeps, a kid said, ‘I would sleep that long if my dad didn’t want me to be productive,’ with a very obvious roll of the eyes.” Honestly, that’s pretty relatable!

All in all, we think the Institute of Wilderness Studies is a pretty incredible program, full of tons of opportunities for learning, personal growth, and funny moments. But it’s more than that! We also asked our IWS staff to describe Pine Cove’s outdoor ed program in just a few words. We’re going to leave you with just a few of the words they shared!


Interested in bringing a school group to Pine Cove’s Institute of Wilderness Studies? Visit

Valerie Morby

Social Media and Copy Manager

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