Educational Philosophy

Our teaching philosophy is simple: learning happens best when one experiences it. Lives it. Breathes it. Hands-on activities combined with an unbelievably beautiful campus make our living laboratory the kind of educational experience you can’t get anywhere else.

From pre-schoolers to grandparents, we offer classes designed to incorporate many different learning styles. Our curriculum has been the model for other environmental learning centers around the world and embodies over thirty years of refinement by our program staff.


Holistic Approach

The environment embodies all things – people, places, histories, and more. And environmental education explores the science of ecosystems, plus relationships between people and their environment. We encourage students to consider how their values and behaviors can influence and ultimately impact the world around them. Our curriculum provides hands-on, memorable experiences that involve the whole person and address multiple learning styles.

Social-Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning—empathy, respect for difference, communication skills—have been an important focus of quality environmental education. Each year, Residential Environmental Learning Centers (RELCs) collectively touch the lives of roughly two million youth across the United States who spend multiple days with sleeping away from home, sharing meals with classmates, and learning in outdoor settings. In addition to their many other functions, RELCs serve as ideal settings for supporting student growth in social and emotional learning (SEL). 2018-19, Wolf Ridge partnered with a consortium of residential environmental learning centers from around the country to develop “Grow Outside: A Social and Emotional Learning Toolkit for Residential Environmental Learning Centers.” The project’s resulting website provides tools educators in the field of environmental education––current research and best practices that will help youth build the critical social-emotional skills that are so essential to the health of our society and our world. Learn more about social-emotional learning through environmental education.

Curricular Content

We choose curricular content based on the local, natural, and cultural history of Minnesota, as well as broader environmental issues. Science-based classes provide opportunities to learn more about our planet and how it works; cultural history classes give a glimpse of the way our predecessors interacted with local ecosystems to create a life for themselves; current event classes help us to understand emerging issues; personal growth and team-building classes develop skills for meeting personal and group challenges, and outdoor skill classes help students discover ways to keep learning about their environments for a lifetime.

Education vs. Advocacy

Wolf Ridge is an educational facility, not an issue advocacy organization. However, we do advocate for a well-educated citizenry that is able to act together for a quality environment. Our approach in class is to provide unbiased fact-based information paired with personal experiences, allowing our students to form their own opinions and ultimately guide their personal actions. We keep our staff informed and updated on multiple viewpoints of issues, providing the background they need to facilitate class discussions from multiple perspectives.

Outdoor Classroom

Our campus is nestled between beautiful Lake Superior and the rustic Boundary Waters, drawing the best from each location. We put a priority on getting our students out of the classroom and immersed in the natural beauty of this area. Our ecosystems are varied: from maple hardwood ridge tops to mixed boreal forests, quiet streams to the Baptism River, cliff-bordered lakes to wetlands, and high ridge tops to broad valleys.


We welcome and encourage students and visitors with a diversity of beliefs, abilities and life experiences. Our curriculum strives to present differing perspectives, encourage students to consider new ideas, develop critical thinking skills, and foster a love of lifelong learning. We train our staff to be informed educators whose classes facilitate respectful discussions.

Educational Learning Theories

We are a school for students of all ages. We implement teaching strategies designed to meet the needs of individual students with a variety of backgrounds and levels of understanding. Our Naturalist Training Program, in partnership with the Antioch University New England Master of Environmental Studies graduate program, keeps our staff current on new learning theories.

Curriculum Concept Framework

Wolf Ridge’s Curriculum Concepts reflect years of program development. The concepts provide the instructional matrix from which all of our current and future activities will be developed. We pull curriculum from concepts like natural resources; ecosystems; natural systems; biodiversity; ecological adaptations; population ecology; human culture and history; personal growth; team building and outdoor recreation.