Should You Be a Cabin Leader? My Experience As An Outdoor Ed Counselor

4 mins read

[vc_column column_padding=”no-extra-padding” column_padding_position=”all” background_color_opacity=”1″ background_hover_color_opacity=”1″ column_link_target=”_self” column_shadow=”none” column_border_radius=”none” width=”1/1″ tablet_width_inherit=”default” tablet_text_alignment=”default” phone_text_alignment=”default” column_border_width=”none” column_border_style=”solid” bg_image_animation=”none”][/vc_column][/vc_row]The words Outdoor Ed conjure up memories of lukewarm food, muddy shoes and, for some, traumatizing cabin experiences involving puke. So, when I signed up to be a Cabin Leader at Outdoor Ed for a week,  I was more than a little anxious about my decision. My anxieties were wrong, however–Outdoor Ed was not anything I’d expected. If you’re interested in being a Cabin Leader, here’s everything you need to know about the week in the woods.

Rundown of the Week

A quick summary of what happens during the five-day Outdoor Ed experience:

Cabin Leaders travel to and from Outdoor Ed on the same loud and rocky bus as the campers. On the first day, Cabin Leaders attend a crash course on the basics for the week, to be thrown into the abyss of angsty preteens with a fifteen minute prep. They’re assigned to a cabin with 12-16 campers and a respective day-guide, or Naturalist. The Naturalist takes you and your campers on all the hikes, adventures, and activities scheduled for the week. 

The days at Outdoor Ed include: 

  • Beach Day: Visit Pescadero beaches and pick up hermit crabs
  • Big Trees Day: Hike among trees over 100 years old and learn about Redwoods (ft. the iconic trees Big Red and Dead Fred).
  • Garden Day: You visit the beautiful Outdoor Ed garden and learn about composting.

Other than a daily hour of free time (that feels like ten minutes) and a 15-minute staff check-in, Cabin Leaders are with their cabin 100% of the time. For us, the day starts at 6:45 am and ends at 10 pm. Two out of the four nights are the tumultuous shower nights (believe me, getting 16 girls to take 2-minute showers each is no easy feat) and one night there is a free hour of Cabin Time.

What Was it Like?

Very tiring, but worth it. 

The days were long, and the complaints from the campers were never ending. Waking up at 6:45am and having the motivation to corral all of the kids out of bed and go on the trek to the dining hall was a daily struggle. Maintaining the peace between a bunch of 12 year olds is one of the hardest tasks I have ever encountered, between getting them to go to bed on time and stopping all out war from breaking out when someone lost us the Zero Food Waste award (see Food). My patience was constantly tested, having to repeat instructions and discipline over and over again, and there were moments I was ready to drop everything and let the kids do what they wished,  Lord of the Flies style. 

However, even though they were exhausting, the greatest part about Outdoor Ed was the students. Learning about them throughout the week, leading them in time-killer games, hearing their surprising insights at mealtime, and reading them bedtime stories were my favorite parts of the day. 

Separately, the staff at Outdoor Ed were awesome. I have never met people more genuinely happy and excited to be in nature. When it was 7am and I was surviving on my lukewarm cup of coffee the Naturalists were already decked out in costumes and singing choreographed songs to the campers. My Naturalist, Glacier, was extremely supportive and took the reins during the day, giving me a much-needed break from the role of authority for a couple of hours. 


Despite the tall tales of the awful food at Outdoor Ed, in reality it was actually great. 

No, I’m not lying.

Pancakes, tacos, tomato soup, grilled cheese, and chicken teriyaki were all on the menu. They offered delicious food accommodations for all diets (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc.), not to mention the coffee and tea bar for the staff and Cabin Leaders, or the secret stash of snack contraband for the Cabin Leaders.

One of the highlights of meal-time was the Zero Food Waste challenge. Every meal, students were incentivized to only take as much food as they needed, and at the end of the meal if your entire cabin had zero food waste you stand up as the Naturalists chant the iconic Zero Food Waste song to the tune of “We Will Rock You” by Queen: 

Zer-O, Zero-O


No More!”

Workload Catch up

When I returned home, I faced a week of missed schoolwork and spent my entire weekend catching-up. Some of my teachers were willing to let me skip assignments or give me extensions, but I still spent most of my lunches taking tests or asking questions about the lessons I missed. If you are someone who hates missing school and is not willing to spend your weekend and subsequent week catching up, workload is a big factor to take into consideration. 


The Night Hike: Naturalists take you and your campers on a thrilling 30-minute hike in the dark. The Night Hike was definitely my favorite activity at Outdoor Ed.  My campers stepped out of their comfort zones below the backdrop of a  sky untouched by light-pollution.

Final Campfire: Final Campfire is the perfect way to end Outdoor Ed. The staff bring out their acoustic guitars and sing all the songs that the campers have learned throughout the week, and then campers get the chance to perform the skits they’ve prepared. My campers were adorable. The night ends on a peaceful note with a soothing guitar song dismissing each cabin in verse.


Overall, I had a wonderful time at Outdoor Ed. Even though it was tiring, and I had to catch up on a lot of work when I returned, I learned more from my week at Outdoor Ed than I would have if I’d gone to school. If you have any interest in being a Cabin Leader, I strongly encourage you to try it. The staff will be there to support you, and it’s a great environment to learn about yourself, responsibility, and leadership.  

How to Apply

Go to P-5 to talk to Mr. Stuart and fill out the application in time for the deadline.

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This is Sarah's third year in journalism. She loves writing in-depth pieces about problems in our community, school, or society and advocating for various solutions. Outside of journalism she enjoys reading, baking, spending time in the outdoors, and playing with her dog.

1 Comment

  1. Wow, Sarah Weintraut, you have captured Outdoor Ed brilliantly! What a terrific article, and what a great way to help students consider whether they might want to be cabin leaders. My own three kids (Ms. Keller, Mr. Keller, and Mrs. Walton, all now teachers in the Menlo Park School District) LOVED Outdoor Ed, and two of them became cabin leaders. For one of them, being a cabin leader was a life-changing experience. I am SO excited because one of my grandchildren will be going to Outdoor Ed this year. I’m designated to pick her up at the end, and I can’t wait to hear her stories. I remember my kids coming back filthy, starving, exhausted, and SO happy. Thanks, Sarah, for capturing the experience!

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