by David A. Martin
The work I do along with the other Rangers at the Mountain Park Environmental Center teaching the award winning Earth Studies program provides children educational time outdoors in nature and has been shown to be an amazingly healthy way for kids to learn and grow and develop a healthy view of their environment as well as themselves. Part of what I enjoy about the Earth Studies program is that it not only gives children a day of Earth Science designed to fulfill Educational Standards, they are also being taught life skills. As this was my first year as a Ranger teaching the Earth Studies program with the Mountain Park, the joy in watching these students grow and learn was a new joy for me. Although each session the students completed was an opportunity to see them grow, I found the last session was particularly satisfying.
One aspect of a Ranger is to promote growth in the student and an expansion of their experience. We focus on providing safety, but not over-protection. At all times we strive to offer guidance and direction but not to the point that the children cannot think for themselves, in fact we encourage experiential and critical thinking. In this way the child’s opportunity to learn self-confidence and develop the abilities they need to cope with life challenges comes through their own direct experience.
During a Springtime session of Earth Studies the students learn about wildflowers, insects and pond ecology as well as getting the opportunity to go on a long hike to the top of Fire Tower Hill. It isn’t an easy climb for these students, most of whom had never set foot on uneven ground before arriving at the Mountain Park for Session One. Many of these students find that the uphill grades of the trail can be a challenge and at times an uncomfortable struggle. As soon as they hit the steep, hot, South-facing portions of the trail which traverse the Mountain Shrubland hillsides, they wanted to take a break. I encouraged them to not quit in the middle of the hot steep trail, but to push onward through it, in essence, to “allow the hard part to be hard.” A minute later we entered the cool shady North side of the hill, home to the Douglas Fir Ecosystem. We all agreed it was a much better place to take a break than in the middle of the hot and sunny trail up the hill. While they sat and drank water I talked to them about how the way of the trail can also work in life; that often we need to push on through the hard part and allow it to be hard and then rest when it was an appropriate time to rest. I also mentioned that something that helps me through hard times is to focus my thoughts on the beneficial aspects of the challenge and realize my ability to accomplish the task I set out to do . . . even when it’s hard.