Reality check

Most teachers are quick to assure their students that there’s no such thing as a dumb question. This assertion has been sorely tested in my eight years as an outdoor educator at Adkins Arboretum. I’ve been asked some real winners, including “Are there crocodiles in this wetland?” “Will we see bears in the woods?” and “Where is the nearest Walmart?”

Of these many questions, the most unusual occurred just the other morning, while I was leading a group of kindergarteners along the Arboretum’s woodland paths. It was a glorious fall day, and I was enjoying the feel of the warm sun on my face when a small child looked up at me and asked skeptically, “Is this real?”

Photo credit: Leah M. Reynolds

Photo credit: Leah M. Reynolds

Wow. How to start unpacking that question. Several possibilities came to mind: that I was in the company of a very young existentialist. Or that theme parks must be achieving a new level of special effects. Or, most frightening of all, that this kid was suffering from an extreme case of nature deprivation.

While the question may have been loaded, the answer was a simple one. Yes, this absolutely gorgeous gilded day with its cerulean sky and sweet leafy undertones was most certainly real, and weren’t we lucky to be part of it?

The boy, reassured by my answer, stuck an acorn in his pocket and ran ahead to join his friends. I took a deep breath of fall air, suddenly thankful that my own childhood had taken place in an era when spending time outside was the rule, not the exception.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

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