Life in Our Foothills – March 2024 – The Adventure School – Learning Through Adeventure

Published 2:58 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2024

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Education is not just about textbooks and classrooms. It is about exploring the world, asking questions and finding answers. The Adventure School in Tryon, run by Mike and Mattie Carruth, is a unique educational institution that takes this philosophy to the next level.

Founded 25 years ago by Mike Carruth, the Adventure School is a place where children can embark on a journey of discovery and adventure. The school’s philosophy is simple: let the child lead the curriculum, and the adults are there to supervise and guide. The Adventure School is a family endeavor, with Mike and his daughter Mattie running the school with a shared passion for outdoor adventures, question-asking and problem-solving. 

The Adventure School describes itself as “a source for uncovering strength, joy, and connection through shared experiences in the backyard, the wilderness, and the world.” Since its inception, numerous children have come through its doors, where most of their time is spent outside learning about nature and, most importantly, having fun while learning. 

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Mike Carruth’s expertise in organizing outdoor corporate team-building retreats inspired his wife, Marianne, to suggest that he turn his skills into something closer to home for children. Soon after, the Adventure School was born on their property off Highway 176. Over the years, the Adventure School has become an institution that has impacted and inspired many students. 

The Adventure School’s programs cater to children of all ages. The Wild Child program is for potty-trained children aged 3 to 6, taking place twice a year in the fall and spring. The program helps children learn to develop healthy relationships through guided, unstructured playtime. 

The Adventure Youth Group program is held in the spring for 8 to 12-year-olds and is the program that started it all. Mattie herself took part in the Youth Group and now leads it with her father. The program has been around long enough that many of the past attendees have now sent their children. The Youth Group is a co-ed, outdoor recreation and leadership-focused program where students participate in various outdoor activities. 

Adventure Saturdays happen once each month and are for kids aged 5 to 12. This program takes place on the campus, a beautifully landscaped area complete with creeks and a shallow pond designed so that if a child falls in, they can easily walk out. In the outdoors, everything can provide a learning experience for the students. The students learn through games, boating, creek exploration, fire building and camping skills.

The Adventure School also hosts numerous summer camps. Wild Weeks for ages 5 to 12 are intentionally unstructured day camps. Kin Ye, a term passed down through the Appalachians to describe a deep connection between friends, is for ages 8 to 12, where campers build friendships through shared adventures. The Counselor-in-Training program for ages 12 and up helps campers develop leadership skills, often becoming counselors after being campers. Multi-adventure camps for ages 12 to 15 allow young teens to get a taste for multiple types of outdoor adventuring. They engage in basic outdoor living skills and participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, paddling, biking, rafting and climbing. And the Teen Backpacking Expedition is for ages 14 and up, where teens spend five days and four nights camping in the wilderness. 

Mattie, after spending time teaching fourth graders in Seattle, has returned home to the area where she is using her Wilderness Leadership & Experiential Education degree to work with her father and the children handling a lot of the day-to-day management of the school. Even when she was living on the other coast, she was helping run the school returning in the summers. It’s also important to note they are both Wilderness First Responders and one of their helpers, who came through the school, is a local paramedic. 

“I was a 4th-grade teacher in Seattle, and one of my favorite parts of teaching is letting kids work through stuff and being there to support them,” says Mattie. “With our preschool programs, it’s really fun to see the kids figuring stuff out in a safe environment where we are there to answer their questions.”

Mike explained that a program named Outward Bound helped to inspire his founding of the Adventure School

“There wasn’t anything in my educational background that got me into this,” says Mike. “Through Outward Bound, I realized that programs of those types have for getting people to open to new possibilities. Once I went to Outward Bound, I realized there were a lot of opportunities to learn and grow through high-challenge adventures. And I wanted to do that, and I had to piece it together myself because there wasn’t a program like the one Mattie attended available at the time. 

“The best compliment I ever got was from a 12-year-old girl who came with her cousin from Spartanburg. When she got home, her Mom asked her how it was, and the little girl said, ‘It was so not organized.’ Our goal is for the kids to do what they want to do and not what we prescribe for them to do, and if it takes more staff to accomplish that, we bring in more help.”

The Adventure School’s programs are not just about having fun; they are designed to help children develop essential life skills and values. The school’s philosophy is centered around the belief that children learn best by doing, and the Adventure School provides a safe and nurturing environment for children to learn through experience. 

In addition to their regular programs, the Adventure School also provides custom programs for adventurers of all ages. The staff at the Adventure School work closely with each group to develop a program that meets their specific needs and goals. 

The Adventure School’s impact can be seen in the lives of the children who have attended its programs. Students have even pursued careers, inspired by their experiences at the Adventure School. The school’s philosophy of learning through adventure has even benefited the families of its students, who have learned to appreciate the value of outdoor education and the importance of letting children lead their own learning. 

The Adventure School is a unique educational experience that has proven to positively impact the lives of children and families in and out of the Foothills area.  It is a community of adventurers who are passionate about exploring the world and discovering all it has to offer.