Shelterwood Adventure Program Teaches Learning Through Play

Teaching teens to have fun doesn’t sound like that much of a challenge. But for the residents of Shelterwood, learning to relax and play doesn’t always come easy.

That’s why the Shelterwood Adventure program, also known as the Leadership and Positive Peer Culture Development program, is introducing play to young people in a new way, a way that creates meaningful interactions and lifelong lessons.

“So many of [the teens at Shelterwood] grew up so fast, they didn’t have time to be a kid,” Anna Reid, Activities Director at Shelterwood, said. “Through the program, they’ll build trust, safety and community while learning the RESTART values. This happens through experience and play, which is sometimes just creating the space to let ourselves be ridiculous!”

Shelterwood’s set of seven RESTART values (respect, empathy, safety, trust, accountability, relationship & community, teachable) are central to the program. In tandem with the Tucker Leadership Lab of William Jewell College, Shelterwood staff and mentors are using experience and games to help students learn how to truly apply those values.

A typical session of Shelterwood Adventure involves 3-4 hands-on activities and time to reflect. After collaborating and interacting, teens have the chance to process whether they succeeded or failed, why, and how they felt about it. So far, the program has offered opportunities for greater self-awareness for the students. For example, one student might express that she felt disrespected by another. While she learns to accept that feeling and behave appropriately, the other student is learning that her words and actions impact others.

“It gives the kids space to actively connect to their feelings and learn they’re not alone in feeling a certain way,” Reid said.

The program recently wrapped up its first cycle. Attendance for Shelterwood teens was optional, and those who attended were faced with the challenge of learning how to let down their guard, release their expectations, and try to relax.

“We’re battling against a change in culture,” Reid said. “Many of our teens don’t know how to give themselves permission to play. But having different students participate on different days planted some seeds and taught them really important things.”

As Reid and her team interact with Shelterwood residents in a new way, they are able to learn a lot about where the students are emotionally and mentally. In the first cycle of the program, this maturity level played a role in teens’ abilities to engage in the program. The Adventure team looks forward to partnering with Brain Balance to increase our teens’ participation and understanding in future sessions.

The partnership between Shelterwood and the William Jewell, Tucker Leadership Lab is strong and we are excited about benefits our teens will receive from the Adventure Program.
“[The Tucker Leadership team] has been flexible, understanding and great at accepting feedback and asking for it,” Reid said. “Our staff has learned a lot from them and how calmly they’ve handled different situations, giving our staff permission to play.”

While the program is in a break between cycles, Reid along with other Shelterwood staff and the team from Tucker Leadership Lab are already excited about the second round. To create a stronger foundation for the program, they’ve selected eight students who were invested during the first cycle to create a core team for the second cycle. This allows them to continue developing the strengths of the program and fosters its future growth for new students.

Learn how Shelterwood Adventure began and why it’s important.