Thinking, Feeling, Knowing and Telling

By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant 

IMG_9918Last week we talked about “transformations” and “confirmations,” and touched on the power of stories.  Those of you who’ve had little prior experience working with children in natural settings often have stories involving transformations.  Your stories speak of children who become their “best selves” when in a Nature Explore Classroom.  They also describe the deeper levels of engagement you are able to reach with children while outdoors.  Those of you with strong backgrounds in nature-based play are more likely to have experiences that confirm nature’s value in your ongoing relationships with children.

Yet what do we learn from these stories: our own stories, and those of others?  How do we think and feel about our experiences with children in outdoor classrooms? How do we communicate what we’ve learned from our experiences?

Perhaps we can find answers to these questions by first questioning ourselves.  Let’s start with one of the most highly reported transformations that emerge from outdoor classrooms; the changes seen in children with attention deficit disorders.

If you have seen a child who has trouble focusing and sitting still indoors, attending closely to something that interests her outdoors, how do you process what you’ve seen?  Do you “think” you’ve seen a relationship between the outdoor classroom and this behavioral change, do you “believe” this relationship exists, or do you “know” it to be true?  If you have seen this change in more than a few children does your relationship to this observation change?

Paraphrasing dictionary definitions; we can say that to “think something” means ‘to have a particular opinion, belief, or idea about someone or something.’  This is similar to “believing,” which is defined as to ‘accept (something) as true; feel sure of the truth.’  To “know” is to ‘be absolutely certain or sure about something.’

468_007For those of us who regularly communicate our passion about outdoor classrooms—how do we talk with others on the subject?  Speaking for myself, I’ve frequently seen a level of mature cooperation during self-directed social play in Nature Explore Classrooms that is much higher than could be expected indoors, or on a traditional playground.  I don’t just think or believe this to be true; I know it to be true.  When I talk with people on the subject (which is as often as possible), I don’t use the word “know” in relation to this benefit of outdoor classrooms, I just state it as a fact.  I only bring in the power-word “know” if talking with a skeptic, and only after first simply stating what I see as the facts.

Of course I qualify what I say about outdoor classrooms because not all are equal.  A poorly resourced and poorly designed outdoor space with inadequately prepared staff will not produce the results I’ve seen.  That’s where the extensive research and field-testing, and the years of nationwide experience in space design and staff development, that are unique to Nature Explore, come into play.

Based on having seen what I’ve seen and heard what I’ve heard in effective Nature Explore Classrooms, I simply skip “I think,” and “I believe,” and go straight to statements of fact when talking about them.  In-depth and ongoing research conducted or overseen by the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation merely corroborates much of what I know.  Research is important to people who haven’t experienced a Nature Explore Classroom.  Yet “seeing is believing” was never more true than it is of Nature Explore Classrooms.  But I’d change that to “seeing repeatedly is knowing” in my case.

What do you “think,” “believe” or “know” about how children and adults are changed by their experiences in Nature Explore Classrooms?  If you talk with others about your perceptions, what do you say and how do you say it?

Possibly you are regularly in a Nature Explore Classroom with children and don’t see the transformations that so many other have related to us.  We’ve found in these rare situations that something in that environment needs adjustment.  If this is your experience, and you believe your outdoor classroom could be more effective, please call Nature Explore.  The staff is dedicated to assisting all clients reach transformational potentials we know are attainable.

One of the great joys of my life is visiting Nature Explore Classrooms, and just watching the children.  But it never stops there.  Children can’t resist me, nor I them.  I always end up in the middle of the action.  These experiences always fuse happiness and hope with my thinking, belief and knowing.

This is my transformation, and I wish it for everyone who has, works with, or knows children.  Whether you think, feel, or know that you’ve experienced transformations in your outdoor classroom, please don’t keep your stories inside.  Like we say about children— “let them out!”