My education philosophy perpetually changes the more I learn and experience. One of my core foundations that has remained throughout my entire professional career is that every child should have the opportunity to engage in meaningful play outside. In general, this can only be achieved if you are not afraid to get a little dirty.
I once had an art teacher that prior to making her first brush stroke would rub paint all over her hands and shirt. She claimed that in the past she was cautious about getting paint on herself while working which proved to be a creative distraction. She reasoned that if she was covered in paint before she started she could devote 100% of herself to her work. This idea has resonated with me since and I apply the same rationale to working outside.
Throughout the years I have noticed more and more youth I work with are a bit timid and apprehensive when first exposed to an outdoor classroom. I believe some of this apprehension is due to that fact that getting dirty outside is sadly becoming less acceptable in the urbanized world.
To nip it in the bud, I like to ask the groups I work with to pick up a bunch of dirt and rub in into their hands. This request is usually followed by nervous giggling and darting eyes; checking to see if mom or dad is around the corner. I always tell my students, and my adult chaperones, that today it is okay to get dirty and if they overcome the anxiety of getting a grass stain on their knee they will be able to take full advantage of the day, learn a valuable lesson or two, and maybe just maybe have a little fun while doing it.
I find that once they are comfortable with the fact that it is acceptable to get dirty, at least for the day, they truly start to relax, are more open to learning, and engage in meaningful play with one another and their surroundings. I believe kids need to be kids and we should be encouraging them to get outside and play. Parents and guardians be warned, if you send your child to Adventure Links they may just come home a little dirty, a bit tired, and a little bit more excited to interact with the natural world.
-Kyle Halstead | Program Coordinator