Outdoor Education Programs FAQ


Where is our classroom?

Only 12 miles away from downtown San Juan Capistrano off the Ortega Highway (RT.74), our location on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest and Casper’s Wilderness Park provides the perfect place for learning outside the classroom. The Lazy W Ranch is nestled within 467,600 acres of protected park lands.

What is the Lazy W Ranch?

The Lazy W is a summer camp and retreat center owned by the United Methodist Church through their CalPac organization. The Ocean Institute has been leasing their facilities for outdoor education programming each school year since 1982. The Lazy W staff manages the facilities and provides the food service during our programs.

What is the weather like?

Typically days are warm and dry and nights are cool. The weather is generally mild, but in the early fall and late spring day time highs can reach the mid to high 90’s. In the winter, night time temperatures can drop into the 40’s with the very occasional frost. We get occasional rains in February and March.

Do you teach science and history?

In addition to the traditional science programs for 5th and 6th graders, we offer California History programs for 4th graders. Historical topics include: the gold rush, Spanish colonization, the Mexican/Rancho era, Native American survival, and archeology.

What is living history?

All of our historical programs are taught using a technique called “living history” where the students get to participate in hands-on activities based on the lives of people in the past and the instructors are often in costume and playing characters from those eras.

How long are your programs?

Our traditional programs are 1-3 days in length, but if dates are available, we are willing to work with your school to put together a custom 4 or 5 day program.

Can you prepare a custom program or itinerary for my class?

We are happy to work with your school to come up with a program specifically for your students!

My trip includes a visit to the Ocean Institute’s main campus in Dana Point Harbor. How do we get to/from there to/from the Lazy W?

Transportation to or from the Lazy W to Dana Point Harbor is included in your program fees. We use Certified Transportation Company for all of our bussing needs.

Please note: If your school bus is picking your students up from a different location than they were dropped off in, it is up to you to make sure the drivers know where they are going.

Also, if your trip includes a visit to Mission San Juan Capistrano, the bus that dropped you off must wait there and then transport your group to the Lazy W.

What are the minimum and maximum numbers of students for your site?

Our minimum number of students is 30 and our maximum is 120.

However, we can accommodate smaller classes by scheduling multiple groups up at the Lazy W together (subject to availability). Each school would have their own cabins and instructors, but the playground and dining hall would be shared with students from other schools.

How many chaperones are required?

Our minimum ratio is 1 chaperone for every 9 students. Our maximum is 2 chaperones for every 8 students. If you would like to bring additional chaperones, we may be able to accommodate that, but additional fees will apply.

What are the responsibilities of chaperones?

Chaperones play a key role in the supervision of the students during the day. Each chaperone is assigned to a hiking group with their child and they stay with that group all day. When an Ocean Institute staff member is not present, the chaperones are the sole adults responsible for the students in their cabin, including overnight.

Do you conduct parent meetings before the trip?

Our staff will come to speak at your back to school night or a parent meeting at no additional charge. We highly recommend this for first-time schools!

Also, new in 2014 we are offering chaperone training, to help prepare the adults who are coming along on the program. Please call for more information and availability.

Can parents come and go during our program?

We operate like a school with a closed campus and parent chaperones are expected to stay onsite for the duration of the program. We understand that special circumstances arise, but any planned departures must be approved by the Outdoor Education Director in advance.

What are the responsibilities of classroom teachers during the day and night?

During the day most teachers like to spend some time with each hiking group and get a chance to enjoy camp with all their students. We ask teachers to identify students who might pose challenges for our instructors and stay with them if need be. Teachers are also responsible for storing and distributing any medications that students might need during the course of the program. During the night, teachers are provided private accommodations, but they are given a camp radio and expected to be on call in the event of an emergency.

Can my school still participate if we are unable to utilize parent volunteers?

The Ocean Institute is unable to provide overnight supervision for students at this time. However, some schools have been able to bring substitute teachers and other school support staff (coaches, etc.) to chaperone the students overnight.

What kind of facilities can you expect at Lazy W Ranch?

Keeping with the natural surroundings of the camp, the facilities at Lazy W Ranch are kept in a rustic style. The accommodations include single room cabins that sleep 10 people each with centrally located bath houses for students and chaperones, a private lodge for teachers, and a centrally located dining hall that can seat up to 140 people.

What is the food like at Lazy W Ranch?

The Lazy W Ranch staff provides family style and kid friendly meal service and can accommodate most allergies and special dietary needs. A salad bar is available at dinner and a cereal station at breakfast.

What if my student has a food allergy or dietary restriction?

We can accommodate most food allergies and dietary restrictions if we know about them in advance. Please make sure your student’s classroom teacher is aware of your student’s needs so that they can communicate them with the Ocean Institute staff.

What should my child bring to the Lazy W?

Parents will be provided with a packing list from their classroom teachers. We require students to wear long pants and close toed shoes during all organized activities at the Lazy W. We discourage students bringing electronic devices of any kind.

Who are the Outdoor Education Staff?

Ocean Institute instructors all have a four-year degree in science, history, or education. They have experience teaching groups of young people and are trained in Ocean Institute teaching techniques and program curriculum. Students arriving at Ocean Institute programs with their school group are divided into activity groups of 12 to 15 students with an instructor assigned to each group.

Additionally, there are four program administrators, one of whom will be assigned to your school’s program. They are with your group for the duration of your program, responsible for health, safety, program logistics, and are on-site and on-call overnight in case of an emergency.

Do you have medical staff onsite?

All of our instructors have CPR and first-aid certification from the American Red Cross.

Our program administrators have Wilderness First Aid or higher level outdoor industry specialty medical certification.

We do not have a nurse on staff, but if it is a requirement for your district, we can provide one for your program (additional fees may apply).

How do you deal with homesickness?

The Ocean Institute strives to keep students engaged during Outdoor Education programs. In the event of homesickness, teachers and chaperones are the first to address the issue (there is at least one adult responsible for each cabin of students). Our program administrators are trained to deal with homesickness and defer to teachers on the decision of whether or not to contact home. We highly encourage students to avoid contacting home unless absolutely necessary.

Can I contact my child while at Lazy W Ranch?

There is no cell phone service at the Lazy W, and in general, teachers and school staff handle all direct communications with parents. We do have a land line that can be used to reach students and staff in an emergency. This number is provided to the school and teachers.

My child has special needs, can he/she still participate?

Our goal is to provide a quality educational experience for every student who would like to attend one of our programs and we will make every effort possible to accommodate all students’ special needs. Please have your student’s classroom teacher coordinate these accommodations with the Ocean Institute.