Thoughts from Mark Dale, Education Coordinator


“Nature’s Open House” Tour

DSC_1505a-72dpiWinding Trails has been providing outdoor recreation for over 50 years. What was once a day camp set up for returning WW II Veteran’s children on 20 acres of leased land has become a 375 acre park devoted to outdoor recreation and education.

During the 50th celebration of our camp, Scott Brown, the Camp Director for the last 20 years and the newly appointed Executive Director, dedicated Winding Trails to the preservation and stewardship of the natural woodlands and waterways that allow outdoor programming, character development and play activities that strengthen the lives of those we serve. My job as Education Coordinator was a result of that focus. I have been working the last year and a half to strengthen our conservation plans and efforts and involve and provide experiential educational opportunities for young people in that process.

The parent of Nature’s Open House was the 2006 “Tour of Fairy Houses in Portsmouth, NH.” It was based on Tracy Kane’s amazing books “The Fairy Houses Series®.” I was dragged up to see the event whining and crabbing that I had better things to do. The event blew me over. It was a simple premise that captured the hearts and minds of anyone who participated. The creativity and ingenuity of the houses on the tour were jaw dropping. The books and tour inspired you to try your hand in building your own habitat at the park. Using only natural materials, you are free to create a place that is inviting, cozy, and uniquely yours. That is it; you are an official architect for a fairy, gnome, and animal creature habitat. It is addictive. Creative thinking suggests a couple of shells would spruce up your doorway, or perhaps there is a better leaf for that floor mat. The beauty of the fairy houses concept is the intense learning environment that building provides that is entirely self motivating and educating. It connects the written word to the natural world. It teaches respect for nature. It excites children to explore the natural world and provides a quiet time to observe and discover. This all happens naturally. The official education lingo would be ‘inquiry based learning’ which is powerful and resonates because of its experiential nature.

This type of activity for young people is even more important today than it has ever been. Not only has the modern world moved us further from the land, but technology has allowed entertainment to become passive. Educational instruction is no longer an art, but a science. Athletics has become a business, rather than a game. Marketers appeal to wants, rather than needs and the media sells sensationalism, which helps breed fear. Despite the obvious benefits of our scientific breakthroughs and technologically rich lives, the good life is still an art. Thankfully, our young people have not changed. Only our institutions and their toys have. Kids still want love, care, and the freedom to experience. Programs like Nature’s Open House and The Fairy Houses Tour provide a small dose of those values and space. Try it, you will like it.

Mark C. Dale
Education Coordinator, Winding Trails

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