Do you have a fond memory of visiting the countryside when you were little? I do.
For me, it’s visiting my Auntie Annie and Uncle Don in Royal City, Washington. When I was in 7th grade, my parents bought me a plane ticket to visit my aunt and uncle for a week. They had a 5 acre lot of land, and no other neighbor was in sight for 10 miles. It was just me and the corn fields. During my stay, I learned how to drive a stick shift, 4×4, dirt bike, and a boat. Did I mention wakeboarding? And, of course, how to shoot a rifle. That was also my first time roasting a hotdog on a spit. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences that I fondly look back on whenever I get excited talking about Outdoor Education.
Even if you you don’t have a memory of visiting the country, you may have a similar experience from a beach trip to Thailand. Yeah… that one… I can picture myself lying on a beach towel on a hot rock in Belle Isle with a book in hand getting beautifully tanned.
Why do we reminisce on these fond memories? Because it made us feel good. Happy. Relaxed. Calm. Exhilarated. I’d argue that that is what nature provides for us.
When my students and I walk through the school gates to enter Yeong Heung Forest, we enter into an enchanting forest full of possibilities. Our school is on the countryside within a city. It’s the secret garden of Suwon. My students and I enjoy finding trees to climb, walking over a log, collecting rocks, sticks, tasting the delicacy that nature has to offer. Yes, we really do eat in the forest.
“But what about the risks?!” gasps a skeptic with raised eyebrows.
What about them?
Children need risk in their play. We tell our students, “Aim for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among stars!” – Les Brown. As we should. We’re asking children to dream big, but can we dream big without taking risks? When we take away risks from children, we keep them huddled in a protective bubble and to them, that becomes their reality. When we are scared, the children will be scared. When we encourage the children to be bold, the children will be bold. Yes, I’d argue this in teenagers, too. I was 13 on my Uncle Don’s farm, a city girl arms wide open to let nature in for the first time. It’s because of the opportunity that my uncle provided that I began to flee to the river or forest whenever I needed to recharge.
I’m sure as teacher we have observed in our students that there is an increase in risk taking between childhood to adolescence. Then there is a decrease in risk taking between adolescence to adulthood. There is research that suggests that heightened risk-taking during adolescence is likely to be normative, biologically driven, and, to some extent, inevitable.
As educators, let’s also aim for the moon and take risks by challenging the traditional classroom. Is this too radical? Just a stroll around the forest where our school conveniently sits? Just because our naked eyes don’t see the stars during the day doesn’t mean that they don’t exist; if we don’t look up and wonder, how will you ever see them sparkle?
Let’s aim for the moon and maybe, just maybe, we’ll land among stars!