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On-Site Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

Playing in the Leaves

dirt road through a forest

I cried after watching a commercial last night.

No, it wasn’t a commercial with babies in tires, or one about a service member who makes it home in time for the holidays, or even a Hallmark movie special. It was a Toys’R’Us commercial. A group of kids were going on a field trip to the forest. While on the bus the guide tells the rather disinterested group that instead they are going to Toys’R’Us- the bus goes wild! Granted if I was being driven to jury duty and the chaperone told me I was going ANYWHERE else, I would squeal with delight. What made me so sad was that the idea of being outside was so enthusiastically trumped by the idea of being inside.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE toys and Toys’R’Us. I plan on plunking down a fair share of change there in the upcoming months as I stock up on SkyLanders SwapForce for the holidays. My mom still loves to tell the story of a how a few years back while buying me the Barbie I wanted she had to reveal to her co-worker, she was purchasing it for her 27 year old daughter. I still have the YuGiOh Blue Eyes Ultimate Dragon an ex-boss gave me and have had serious conversations about passing on my Wolverine and porcelain dolls to my own children. So please, don’t take this as a slam against toys or Toys’R’Us.

What is this post about then? It’s my plea to get children, and adults, outside.

fall foliageTo quote Emerson “live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air.” There are so many fun things to do outside no matter the season. Enjoy the fall and play with the leaves. Check them out with a magnifying glass or use them for a crafts project. Crunch them between your fingers. Float them in puddles. Be like Leo Buscaglia*, “get wildly enthusiastic about little things… play with leaves… skip down the street and run against the wind.” *if you don’t know who he is look him up on YouTube, he is a kick.

In the winter, take some time to check out the sunset since it sets at an earlier time. Inspect things that freeze. Breathe the cold, fresh air. Let the sunlight in when you can. Investigate the weather and what causes fog, snow, or what ever your winter is like.

Live vicariously through others.

If you can’t make it outside, bring it in. Read books by Jack London or Laura Ingalls Wilder. Display Ansel Adams photography or other pictures of nature. Display gourds and decorative corn so kids can check them out- and touch them too.

Lie on your back and check out the sky. Look at the clouds. Watch the birds fly by. Roll over! Lay on your belly. Watch ants do what they do. Check out the other bugs or look for budding plants.

As J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” You never know what adventure you may encounter. Go for a stroll around the campus or park grounds. Skip, jump, hop, gallop, wiggle or do what ever moves you to move. Just get outside and go somewhere.

Play in the dirt, sand, or mud- just get dirty!

enjoy getting outside in the city by jumping in puddlesBuild sandcastles, mud pies, or re-creations of the aqueducts. Dig holes just for the sake of digging a hole. Build forts out of twigs, fairy houses out of leaves, and homes for unknown critters. Pretend to be a tree.

Grow things. Flowers, vegetables, fruit – whatever you can grow. This was the first year I actually got my garden at home to produce. No, I did not find the magic mixture of nutrients and water; it is because this was the first year by kids decided not to play “Mr. McGregor’s Garden” in my garden box, digging up all my little budding carrots. Why? They were too busy climbing trees and writing “I was here” on the tree trunks.

If you can’t grow your own garden, go visit a local garden or nursery. While the commercial might have you thinking the kids will be bored stiff experiencing nature, make it fun. Do a scavenger hunt in a local rose garden; read stories in a grove of trees in a park. Use whatever natural resources you have in your neighborhood.

Learn where our food comes from. Try growing a garden comprised of salsa, pizza, or spaghetti ingredients. Go on a field trip to a farmer’s market or find a local Community Supported Agriculture farm to tour. See if the farmer will come to your program and be a guest speaker.

Outdoor education and experiences isn’t just for 6th-grade camp.

It can happen with all ages, anywhere and anytime. I had the honor of meeting and learning about some amazing outdoor educators in my younger years. Two of my favorite, lesser known mentors, have always been Phyllis Ford and Cap’n Bill Vinal.

girl playing outsidePhyllis Ford once told me that outdoor education just needs to follow the LAWS – light, air, water, and soil. If you have all four elements plant life will grow. Try some experiments- what happens if you plant something and forget one of the LAWS? Cap’n Bill Vinal was the focus of a historical figure exploration. At first when I was assigned Cap’n Bill, I was a bit bummed. Why couldn’t I get someone “good” like Ansel Adams or John Muir or one of the camping greats, like Luther Gulick. But then when I got to know the Cap’n, I realized just how cool he was. He would take groups of youth out to the plains and investigate wagon wheel tracks. It is amazing what you can find in a small square of land, if you look close enough.

Henry David Thoreau wrote “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Let’s not short change the youth we serve by only giving them play experiences that involve plastic and electronic toys. We must remember to connect them to life, to the outdoors, to dirt.

For breakfast, I had three mini egg white tacos and a diet Coke!

This post originally appeared on the Breakfast Club Blog on November 1, 2013.

Author Profile: @eppispeppy

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