Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Experiential Education: The Flood

So what is "experiential education?"

The Association for Experiential Education offers this definition:

"Experiential education is a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people's capacity to contribute to their communities."
The Association also presents a list of criteria for practitioners:

"Am I an Experiential Educator? 
Experiential educators include teachers, camp counselors, corporate team builders, therapists, challenge course practitioners, environmental educators, guides, instructors, coaches, mental health professionals . . . and the list goes on.  An experiential educator is anyone who teaches through direct experience.
Experiential education is often utilized in many other disciplines:
  • Non-formal education
  • Place-based education
  • Project-based education
  • Hands-on
  • Global education
  • Environmental education
  • Student-centered education
  • Informal education
  • Active learning
  • Service learning
  • Cooperative learning
  • Expeditionary learning"
And here are the principles of experiential education detailed by the AEE:
 "The principles1 of experiential education practice are:
  • Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
  • Experiences are structured to require the learner2 to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
  • Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  • Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
  • The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
  • Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner to the world at large.
  • The educator3 and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
  • Opportunities are nurtured for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
  • The educator's primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
  • The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
  • Educators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these influence the learner.
  • The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes."
If you read this blog with any regularity, you know where I'm going with this, right?  Here at Dodge Nature Center and at Dodge Nature Preschool we practice experiential education and I would surely say that we share those principles listed above.  Our experiences at the Preschool today, provide a great illustration of how we practice and support experiential education:

Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a flood.  The creeks here at the Nature Center are swollen and overflowing.  Each pond is much bigger than it was yesterday.  Trails and bridges are underwater and the big dock on the prairie pond has floated off its moorings and headed south.  The rain is unrelenting and it turns to sleet and snow as the temperature hovers on the brink of freezing.  By most measures, this is not a good day to be outside (even the White Egrets have stopped hunting and hunker in the woods in protest).  Most people would choose to stay inside, perhaps by a fire with a steaming cup of tea, a warm blankie and a good book.  But here at Dodge we are called to go out there and experience the flood with our students; "outside every day" is part of our mission and it is a fundamental principle of how we support experiential education.

So today, we suit up in the best gear we can find and we go out.  It is hard to get ourselves and the entire class of young experiencers ready for this experience.  No matter how much gortex you throw at a situation like today, you are going to get wet.  It is challenging to layer up and suit up.  Young bodies (and perhaps old) are happier when they are freer.  Children balk at binding and lumping and buttoning and zipping.  They must try to do it for themselves and then, if they need assistance, they must cope with an adult "doing it wrong."  Big physical and emotional challenges, and we aren't even out the door yet. 
When we are finally out the door, in the weather, there is much to enjoy:  puddles, mud, drops, drips.  Children splash water, jump in it, run through it, cast stones into it, riffle it with sticks, measure it with sticks (and legs), pour it (out of boots) and taste it.  We hike through the pleasures of puddles and rivulets and then we push on toward the drama of the flood, seeking the locations we teachers know or guess are altered nearly beyond recognition.  Hiking farther afield requires stamina and fortitude in our students.  Blowing wind, sleet, snow and wetness all conspire to stymie our progress.  Children have to cope; adults have to cope with kids trying to cope.  The weather situation is stimulating and exciting and, at first, even invigorating, but, as time passes, it also has the potential to derail our trek with discomfort.  But we see that a familiar woods is full of water and ducks are swimming around tree trunks.  This is astonishing!  Here we played just yesterday.  Now we are up to our knees in water.  The world is transformed.  

Next, we happen upon a favorite culvert, usually host to a gentle trickle of water from our Farm Pond.  But now!  Whoa!  Now we see a raging torrent!  It is so arresting, it stops the kids in their tracks and they gape at the white water now coursing and plunging, cutting a new path through the forest, making an entirely new stream.  And we find that our Troll Bridge, the one that passes over Bridge Bottom, our quaint little foot bridge, is now Huck Finn's raft.  What to do?  We decide to ferry ourselves across Bridge Bottom on this new raft.  This means a small, pretty calculated, but very exciting risk.  Kids risk a little fear and perhaps getting even more wet.  But they get to figure out how to do something entirely new.  They learn how to problem-solve.  They adapt.
Huck Finn?
Around another bend, we discover that our prairie path is underwater, too deep to traverse, and then, Wow!  Our beloved dock is nowhere to be seen!  Our year round stage for pond exploration has floated away.  This was the scene of many happy moments spent dipping for water critters, "fishing," throwing rocks, cracking ice, bird watching, picnicking, reading stories and sun bathing.  And now that special spot has floated away!  But nobody mourns,; it is too interesting to investigate, to circumnavigate the pond and finally find the dock...on the other side!  And the pond itself is bursting its banks, making a new stream, flooding an area where we climbed trees just last week.

The flood was a big, exciting experience.  It was an experience that does not translate well into a story or a movie.  You had to be there.  You had to troupe through the sleet, wade through the stream, float across the torrent and get soaked to the skin.  And then you had to come back and get out of all that soggy gear, organize it, stow it and change into an entirely new set of dry clothes.  When you are three, four or five-years-old, this transition out of the world of water and into dry clothing is another peak to summit (especially if you are a kid with sensory issues!).  Wet, slimy clothes are hard to wriggle out of and dry clothes are tough for a damp body to wriggle into.  You might have to ask for help.  You might have to wait for help.  And you might not like help!

And then we reflected on that big, exciting Spring-with-a-capital-S experience as kids answered the question:  "What did you do today?"  Here is today's List (visitors to this blog will remember that the daily List is a tenant of experiential education here at the Preschool):

Today we...

-went in water; puddles
-played in the big muddy creek
-goeded to see a big pond-- the bridge floated to the other side
-went up in the big deep thing-- when you step on the edge, it sunk a little bit
-saw the flood
-saw a white bird
-the dock floated away-- big dock floated to the other side
-saw some geese
-found some teeth
-found a little tunnel that goes underneath the road
-big tube with a little waterfall coming out of it
-got really wet!
-walking in the river was the best!
-jumped in puddles!
-saw a waterfall!
-loved getting wet feet!
-went on a hike
-saw a deer, over and over again!
-walked in mud
Floating dock
So why do we support and practice experiential education?  Read the AEE's list of principles again and then read our List. 

No dock!
Experiential education is the best, most appropriate way to support inquiry, creativity, skill acquisition and character development in children.  Land-based, experiential learning develops not only cognitive development and reflection (just look at the observations and tasks recorded, in the child's words, on that List), it also develops flexibility, collaboration, resilience and general coping skills.  Pre-frontal cortex development comes much later in life for human beings, and so parents and teachers and life itself provide the experiences that help develop the connection between those frontal lobes.  Land-based, experiential learning is likely good for all of us, even beyond childhood and the development of the connections in our brains.  After we accrue experience and acquire judgement, we adults need to remember that our brains also counsel us against risk way more than they used to.  The brains of children and adolescents do not inhibit risk-taking.  The myelin, that fatty protective coating on the nerve cells connecting the lobes of the brain, is much thinner in young people.  As we live through experiences, and develop critical thinking skills, the myelin strengthens the connectivity in our brains; we can reflect, reason, consider and also resist risk.  Experience tells adults to resist risk.  This resistance to risk becomes a habit-- one of the best there is-- and yet, if we aren't willing to walk in the rain, to risk a bit of discomfort, we might just risk missing out on some of the most interesting experiences out there.  And if we don't get out there and support those important experiences for children, how are they going to develop all those skills and all that reasoning?  Experience tells us that a bit of risk goes a very long way; experience tells us that experience is necessary!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This Earth Day, Consider Time And Space

Teachers of all stripes have small goals and big goals.  

Teachers strive to get through each day with a measure of success; usually there are a series of smaller tasks they need to move their students through, and that likely adds up to a series of benchmarks for any given day that then propel everyone forward.  We typically call this "progress" or "growth."  By whatever measure, or whatever definitions, progress and growth are hallmarks of teaching, I think-- regardless of whether you are working with the very young, the very experienced or anything in between.  Progress and growth are things that adults wish for ourselves too.  If we don't feel like we are making adequate progress or growth as we move through life, we might feel bummed out, or we might find ourselves in the midst of a midlife crisis...but young kids mostly live in the here and the now.  Progress?  That might not be a concept for kids until we give it to them.  Growth certainly is inherent in a child's actions and expressed desires.  Kids are desperate to grow up into something bigger, to get a little closer to the stratosphere that is being a "big kid," or being a "grown up."  Kids seem to have the ability to hurtle forward, through each day, making huge strides, taking huge leaps.  They sometimes seem to jump whole epochs of development.  Einstein, famously, did not speak for the first three years of life, and then, suddenly, he communicated in paragraphs.  

We adults, teachers especially, think in terms of goals.  While teaching, we lean forward to peek around the corner, to see if the kid in question is going to get where we think she should go.  Land-based learning, emergent curricula and seasonally-informed, experience-based approaches do not escape this forward lean.  A classroom can be de-centralized (most of my lit classes in grad school where), but the teacher is still there, lurking, listening, contributing, and grading!  And the teacher is some kind of authority, usually some adult with aspirations.  There is no getting around this.  At Dodge, we have mixed-age classrooms in order to temper this teacher/authority thing, this adult tendency toward the didactic.  Mixed-age classrooms allow kids to share the responsibility of instruction, of course.  The more experienced kids provide the models for behavior and action, teaching their peers what to do and how to do it.  Teaching comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but it all involves sharing knowledge and I think inherent in this is an understanding that to acquire knowledge is to be capable, to be better at doing the things you want to do.  Capability seems to mean progress.  

Kids care a lot about capability, but if life is fun enough, they care about it because it meets an immediate desire or need.  Later on in life, a kid might do a worksheet well because he desires an "A," but doing a worksheet isn't going to get him any higher in a tree, for instance.  Finding the correct foothold and having the arm strength to leverage your own weight will indeed get you up the tree, though.  If you are capable of meeting those challenges, you can make the desired progress and be higher in the tree than anyone else.  Then you can laugh like a pirate and enjoy life in the crow's nest, until your buddy figures out how to get up there too (she was watching, of course).  Kids have goals and make progress, certainly, but theirs are generally short term, here-and-now kinds of goals that serve to deepen the joy of the moment.  With enough time and enough space, pursuing joy through play together, kids travel far.  And they go farther than we adults do, and probably faster, because they are not always stumbling over their long-range goals.  Teachers, especially those charged with working in a land-based school environment, constantly have to step away from their own on-behalf-of-my-students aspirations and support joy in the moment.  I firmly believe we are in constant danger of taking ourselves too seriously; early childhood teachers (maybe teachers beyond early childhood too), especially come spring, after an entire year with their students, need to think of themselves as life guards, rather than instructors.  After at least a year in the pool, most of the kids already know how to swim, you see.

To ruminate a little more on this topic, whatever it is, I include an excerpt from an e-mail I sent out to our afternoon class last Friday:

...Amanda and I grabbed some ropes and pulleys and headed out with the goal of locating our campsite.

Well, we got to the farm and checked out the babies, then we mosied down the farm road and had to stop to play in the creek/culvert area.  We stayed there a good, long time-- longer than ever perhaps.  We stayed through the Oak Room kids playing in and around the creek with us.  We stayed so long that we then adjourned to another part of the creek and decided to sit down and eat (Amanda had a Mary Poppins bag of tricks with her today, including marshmallows, grahams and coconut).  We snacked and chatted and told funny stories and then the kids posed for even funnier photos, and this is where we started to really see the beauty of this day:

First, we were struck by how the kids functioned as a group.  When the Oak Room kids shared the creek with us, our kids continued to pursue the games they had developed, undisturbed or distracted-- knock-knock jokes through the culvert, sending objects down the swollen creek, wetting and/or cleaning found stuff in the creek.  Every single child was communicating with friends in all the ways we would like them to.  They developed games and ideas with words and gestures and there was virtually no conflict (this is unusual for preschool, of course).
...we realized that everyone in the group knows their peers really well, and we know them pretty well now too.  This familiarity has become collegiality and watching them pose for pictures—-“Make the face you most want to make”—-we saw each of these personalities distinctly, and they were so delighted to reveal who they were!  Each of the kids seemed very comfortable in their own skin at that moment, and happy to be together; this is a big lesson, for adults especially, right?  Accept the differences, and when you can, rejoice in them.  This, for me, seems to be the definition of peace, which can seem so hard to come by on this earth.

...Amanda, in her infinite wisdom, pointed out that today provided us with a big lesson in intervention, as in when to intervene and step in and be "the teacher” and when to hang back, and step out, and be “the life guard.”  What the children benefited the most from today, was interaction with each other and calculated and sparing interaction with us...we saw how capable each kid is (a good thing to see after nearly a year of growth), and also how capable they are of challenging themselves, making connections and getting what they need.  

Today we saw a panorama of “firsts” in terms of physical, social/emotional risk-taking and in terms of cognitive leaps...these were the result of kids playing with each other in a stimulating setting with very minimal hand-holding from us.  They had the TIME to play and keep developing play and interaction and they had the SPACE to do so.  Amanda and I were there to support and offer help only when needed.  Kids need time and space and here, in the spring, after many hours of experiences together, we can easily give it to them. 

Time and space, in a land-based environment, may be the most precious gifts we can offer here at Dodge. 

...At the end of the day, we asked, “Did you do anything you’ve never done before today?”  Kids had something to say about this:  “Today, I made a new friend”  “I chatted with someone for the first time."  Behind these comments are big stories about social risk-taking and the joy of reaching out to and connecting with another person.

A lot of big things happened in one small afternoon.

No doubt, time and space are the luxuries of kids playing at Dodge Nature Center.  I would hazard that everyone who works at Dodge or supports the Nature Center knows that time and space in nature are too often luxuries, and nature experiences are not the fundamental birth rights they should be.  This Earth Day, and for all time, perhaps we adults can model our children and try to afford a few more moments out there, in the present, resisting the urge to peek around the next corner...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I Saw A Red-eared Owl Today!

"I saw a Red-eared Owl today!"

Not really, no.  But he did see something.  And that something was really cool.  And he wanted to tell his dad all about it as soon as he saw him.  At four or five-years-old, you might not get the facts quite right; the experience and your impressions of that experience are the main thing.

This too-chilly morning, we took a walk.  I went out with six of my young friends for an amble.  We mosied through a corner of the Nature Center that we haven't visited in a while, way down in the Southeast section of the property, behind some residences and just north of Marie Avenue.  The woods are not very pretty right now.  The forest is monotone, mostly browns and greys, with just a few hints of green here and there (that hearty garlic mustard is already making a go of it).  We poked along, admiring deer poop and noting that the swelling creek sported a skim of ice.  The birds were less active than they have been in recent, warmer, days and the peepers were silent, no doubt snugged back down in the muck until the temps climb back up again.  The kids were pretty quiet too, feeling chilly, hiking along, half-heartedly prodding the poop and ice with their sticks.  Just as I was thinking, "Boy, what we need is a change, something unexpected"-- a kid said, "I found something here!"  And indeed he had.  Although our discovery sports some camouflaging plumage, the browns and russets of its feathers stood out from the forest floor, announcing something unexpected.

The bird was belly-up, guts gone, the muscle and bone of one leg laid bare.  The kids circled 'round.

Me:  "What is that?"
"A bird."
"A predator.  It's got talons.  I know it's a predator 'cus it's got talons.  I see'd that on Wild Kratts."
"What are talons?"
"For hunting."
"Grabbing up something."
"Ripping it up."
"I think it's an owl."
"Where's his head?"
Me:  "Let's roll it over.  I think we might find out what it is."
We rolled the raptor over and the red tail feathers seemed to blaze.  Now we could see the head too.
"It's not a owl."
Me:  "How do you know?"
"I see the face.  It's got a beak."
"Owls have beaks."
"That's a sharp beak."
"It's a Hawk Tail."
"It's a Hawk Owl."
"It's a Red Hawk."
Me:  "Yes, it is a Red-tailed Hawk."
The kids looked at me and then someone looked at the sky.
Me:  "We see them flying around, don't we?"
"I know about Red-tail Hawks from Wild Kratts.  I watch that.  Well, sometimes I don't.  When I do something bad, my mom says, 'No Wild Kratts today,' and I don't get to watch Wild Kratts, when I do something bad.  I do something bad about every day, so it's been about...about two months since I watched Wild Kratts.  But two months ago I watcheded that show and it showed about Red-tail Hawks."
"They fly high in the sky."
"But how did it get down here?  Why's it on the ground?"
"It's dead."
Me:  "How do you think it died?"
Some kids turned and surveyed the area, as if looking for clues.
"Somebody shot it."
Me:  "Maybe, but people aren't allowed to shoot animals at Dodge."
"Maybe it flew into a tree, 'n got hurt."
"An' something ate it."
"A hunter."
"No!  It perched down on the log and a wolf came up behind!  Snuck up behind!  And grabbed it!"
Me:  "I don't think there are any wolves at Dodge, though."
"Then I think it was a coyote that ate it.  Jumped up and got him."
"He didn't see it."

And the conversation went on from there.  Eventually we hauled the Red-tailed Hawk out of the woods and placed it near a trail head so that other classes could take a look.  The Willow Room has been thinking about birds a lot this year, and teacher Kristenza is the defacto head of what one might call the "Bird Club" here at Dodge.*  Before returning to class, my hikers chatted with Willow Room students as they admired the Hawk.  One boy solved the mystery of the bird's demise:

"I know what happened.  A coyote jumped real high in the air and just snapped him right down.  Then ate him.  That's what happened."

My follow-up questions about how high coyotes can jump failed to move him from this position.  A girl, standing just behind him, shook her head in that fed-up, world-weary way:

"No, they just can't jump that high.  It didn't happen.  Something else killed the owl.  We don't know what did it," here she shook her head again, "but it wasn't a coyote."

Before we left the Willies to their further investigations, one of my students observed the sharpness of the beak again, "That thing looks strong enough to cut a tomato!"  Or a finger.

Back in class, we worked on our "List" of dictated observations about the morning.  The Red-tailed Hawk made The List.  Today We....

...went on a hike to find the thing that died
...find a dead hawk
...saw a Red-tailed Hawk that was dead

And what do those observations have in common?  Death.  Something was dead, and the kids saw it, and thought about it.  The bird itself was interesting.  The conversation around the bird was interesting.  And the fact that the bird was dead compelled the kids to consider the bird, and the fact that it's dead.  Big ideas here and this seems to be just the right way to consider them.  It wasn't our bird.  Wasn't our pet.  We can consider the bird and it's life and a it's fate with a level of detachment that sooner or later circles back around a little bit closer to us, at a pretty safe distance (there was a bit of gore, but not much as these things go).  You'll remember that towards the end of our conversation, kids were imagining what had happened, they were talking through a scenario in much the same way that they tell, illustrate and act out stories in the classroom.  They made up some stories about the Hawk in order to understand what they were seeing.  You can hear some great hypothetical thinking in the conversation, and I think you can also hear the kids' gaze.  You can hear what they are really focusing on, and in this case they were thinking about what birds are and what death is.

When we were leaving the woods and the Hawk behind, one child said, "That bird is really lucky.  He died without losing his feathers.  They didn't get all messed up.  He died with his feathers on."

I was reminded of cowboys, dying with their boots on, but I think my friend was considering the fact that here at Dodge we usually just find feathers at the scene of the crime, feathers strewn far and sometimes wide.  I pointed out that the bird did die, and maybe he wasn't so lucky after all (I am only an adult, after all).

My young friend looked at me and shrugged, "At least he has his feathers."

The upshot is, I think, go for a hike.  Young or old, you never know what you might find, and what you might think about it.

And, also, please don't poison rodents.  Raptors eat rodents, and poisoned rodents poison raptors.  And raptors eat rodents to begin with, thus helping to control the rodent population!  Raptors are the solution.

*Bird Club has its origins in a fateful northern excursion; members of the erstwhile Bird Club have a keen interest in fresh avian roadkill specimens and have been known to hop out of vehicles to get a closer look, and to perhaps fetch a plastic bag for procurement.  Don't worry, Bird Club members now carry roadkill harvesting permits.  I'm serious.  Bird Club has a motto too:  Say, "Yes!"  Bird Club is inspired by intrepid Dodge Naturalist Mick Garrett, who carries implements like hatchets and bone saws in the trunk of his car.  One never knows when a bone saw might come in handy, best to be prepared.  Unlike Naturalist Mick, Bird Club members do not wear impressive beards, and, thus, if spotted roadside, hatchet in hand, hacking away at a carcass, are less likely to strike fear into the hearts of passing motorists.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On the Ropes

Spring conferences are over now, as is spring vacation, and it's time to get back to the blog.  So, I promised to write about how we intrepid Dodge teachers adapted our adult Up North Frozen River Adventure for Dodge kids.

The answer is, in short, ropes.  Ropes helped us adults through the harrier stretches of the frozen river canyons.  We anchored ropes and held on to them, as we took turns trying to snowshoe up and across ledges of snow hanging over stretches of open water.  The fear factor was greater than the actual risk, and the fear of falling on our backsides, tumbling into the frigid water and generally embarrassing ourselves in front of all the other adults was likely the biggest motivator to hang on to those ropes.  Ropes provided us with a measure of safety on the hike, and also with an opportunity to cooperate and to take bigger risks.  That risk-taking is the really interesting part, of course.

A couple of years ago, I went to Ecuador and while in the cloud forest, my husband and I did a canopy zip line tour.  Now, this was something I had never done before and while discussing such tours with Erik before we left the US, I truly balked at the notion.  "Not me!  No way!"  But, after a week of taking risks of all kinds-- landing in the old Quito airport (very short runway), buying (and eating), unfamiliar food on the street in a developing country, scary bus rides through alpine passes (not religious, but I got religion for three hours), haltingly trying out a few words of Spanish, clinging to the back of a feisty black horse (while he ran away, down a stone Inca road), joining a night hike (through pit viper country), sleeping near spiders as big as my hand (after learning they were venomous)-- after a week of operating outside my own comfort zone and watching a whole culture of people generally operate outside every American's comfort zone, I felt emboldened.

The only way I can account for my zip line bravery is the days of risk-taking that preceded it.  I am terrified of heights.  I cannot climb to the top of a six foot ladder without wanting to throw up.  The Fire Tower at Mille Lacs State Park?  I've tried to climb it every time we go and I can't get past the first story. And yet, there I was, in the Andes, many hundreds of feet above rivers and gorges, suspended on a line of questionable integrity, with sketchy helmet and a garden glove for a hand brake.  Our guides of course, wore no harnesses or safety equipment of any kind.  Why was my life worth any more than theirs?  When my husband pointed out that one of our lines, the one above the deepest gorge, was tethered to what looked like a sapling, I shrugged.  What the heck?  There was no way to turn back anyhow, no other way down.

No, we have not been challenging children to take foolhardy, life-threatening risks here at Dodge.  But we have been encouraging them to take calculated risks on ropes courses that we rig up on low hanging limbs and fallen trees.  The activity has appealed to many kids, and many kids have so enjoyed these ropes courses that they have returned to certain challenges again and again, building on skills and taking bigger risks based on their new knowledge.  The kids' new knowledge is about how their bodies work, how they leverage their own weight, how they find new hand holds and foot holds, how they balance or swing on the rope.  The children learn by watching peers try and succeed or fail, but mostly they acquire this new knowledge by trying again and again and again, and failing a lot.  Their risks become increasingly calculated and we see their hypothetical and decision-making skills grow.  Failures give way to small successes, which lead to bigger successes and we see the kids access a new sense of self-confidence in the process.  There is no mistaking the look of satisfaction on the faces and actually in the entire bodies of kids who accomplish something they set out to do.  Pride is a great thing to witness in a preschooler.

I am still proud of myself for taking those risks in Ecuador.  My experiences there gave me the confidence to contemplate travel to other places, and to think about taking my own kids on such excursions.  I am not a risk junkie, but certain kinds of risks, I find, in my own life, seem to have important and hard to quantify effects.  I am certainly not well-traveled, but travelling through the developing world for a couple of weeks gave my American brain a big workout, and a better sense of both my commonality and my privileged place in our big world.  I took less for granted when I returned to Minnesota, and I was humbled to realize that my tourist experience, my "adventure" and "risk-taking" was a mere drop in the bucket compared to the risk that other people must embrace just to stay alive on the planet every day.  All kids take risks when they come to school.  Dodge kids are no different in this.  Social risks are often the biggest.  But, for the most part, our children don't have to take unnecessary risks to stay alive each day.  Kids the world over do, of course, and it is our luxury to invite risk in order to learn.  And so we do.  And it is great fun.  And I do think it helps children take on a variety of other life risks, including social risks, with increasing confidence.

In the past few weeks, working the ropes, I watched one student come alive in a new way.  She began to talk to me, to address me by name, to sustain eye contact.  And all this while she challenged herself to climb one particular tree and to swing down from a high rope.  The first time she called me by name, she did so in a panic to get my attention.  "Marlais!  I can't do it!"  I was spotting her, standing only inches away with my hand on her back, but she wanted to know that I was there and that I was "on."  I laughed quietly and said, "I bet you can."  She increased her volume, "I can't!"  Tellingly, though, she still kept inching forward.  Part of her thought she could.  "Bet you can."  "I can't."  "Come on, you can."  We went back and forth like this until she reached the crotch of the tree, where she knew she needed to prepare to grab the rope with both hands and swing to the ground.  She took a deep breathe and looked me right in the eye, "You're gonna stand right there."  "I'm gonna stand right here."  And then she did it.  And when she did it, landing safely on the ground, she jumped up and down, saying, "I did it!  I did it!"  I smiled and watched.  Then she turned and looked me in the eye.  "Marlais, I did it.  Can I do it again?"

That kind of moment makes the dirty diapers, the temper tantrums, the biting and the tears all worth while.  In a moment like that, I see a kid grow an inch.  I see a kid looking up and all around, ready for the next adventure.

We are planning to purchase a slack line for the preschool and Melanie and I are laying plans for "A Challenge A Day" for our Going Deeper summer camp session.

If you want to see me on the ropes too,  check this out:   the zip line