Dressing for Outdoor Play Success Through the Seasons!

The weather has definitely shifted the last 2 weeks. The warm sunny 80 degree days are a fading memory now that the typical cold wet Pacific Northwest Autumn is here. As we ease into winter the weather will get a bit colder and wetter. Most animals (including people!) slow down this time of year, choosing to stay snuggled up in their warm home instead of getting outside to play. However, there are so many benefits to getting our bodies moving outside in all types of weather. Taking our kids outside to play on cold wet days helps build resilience, stimulate our immune systems, and teaches our kids that there’s no such thing as “bad weather”.

Kids (and their grown-ups!) can play safely and comfortably outdoors when they’re dressed appropriately. The 2 main keys to dressing appropriately are to choose the right types of fabric and layer them effectively.

In the Pacific Northwest one rarely needs more than 3 layers to stay warm, the base layer, the middle layer and the outer layer. Choose layers that are made of fleece, wool, polyester or acrylic blends. Always avoid cotton if you can as it collects and holds on to moisture which can then chill the skin when it’s cold and lead to a drop in body temperature.

Base Layer 

These are necessary in winter. This is the layer closest to the skin. It wicks sweat away from the skin to keep you warm and dry. Undershirts and leggings should be somewhat tight to the skin for maximum warmth. Wool or wool blend socks work best. Base layers should be polyester, nylon, or wool. You’ll want to AVOID COTTON! Fleece jammies work great as a winter base layer! 

Middle Layer

This layer goes right on top of the base layer and it retains body heat to provide an insulating layer of warmth. It is generally thicker and “fluffier” than the base layer. Thick knit wool, polyester, fleece, down insulated, and synthetic insulated are all great options. Again, always avoid cotton if you can.

Outer Layer

This layer shields you from the elements such as wind, rain, and snow. In winter you’ll want to wrap your kids in an insulated, waterproof outer layer. When purchasing outer layers always size up so it fits comfortably over the other layers.

When searching for gear you may see an item described as water resistant or waterproof. Most winter items (mittens, snow pants and snow boots) are water resistant. They can manage soft, fluffy snow, but not deep puddles or slush. When you are outside in cold and wet weather, being water resistant is not always enough to stay warm and dry. We need to be as waterproof as possible here in the wet PNW. Always look for waterproof over water resistant gear for wet or rainy days.

Rainpants, rainsuits, rain boots and waterproof rain mittens are not just for rainy days!  A waterproof outer layer keeps children dry and comfortable when sitting on damp, cool ground, and provides protection from wind. 

For mittens, try pairing warm wool or fleece mittens with unlined waterproof mittens. The layers add extra warmth and on very cold days a hand-warmer can also be added. This combination keeps hands warm and dry in a range of weather conditions and can be adapted as needed throughout the seasons. 

Outdoor Gear Brands We Recommend

Please note: OEA is not sponsored or supported by any of these companies in any way.

  • Polarn O. Pyret – This is an outstanding Swedish brand. They are expensive, but the quality is excellent. Their waterproof mittens are top of the line! 
  • Oaki – A PNW company that makes durable, high quality one-piece rainsuits as well as insulated, neoprene rain boots. 
  • Reima – A very reasonably priced brand that makes roomy, suspender style rain pants and secure, waterproof mittens. Their waterproof material is durable, but slightly less breathable than other brands. 
  • Tuffo – Tuffo’s best seller is their one-piece muddy buddy rainsuit. It is very lightweight and can fit easily over snowsuits, making it a good waterproof layer even in the winter. 


Here are some of our favorite ways to save and find affordable quality gear: 

  • Instead of more toys, ask friends and family for gear as holiday and birthday gifts! 
  • Check local thrift stores: St. Vincent de Paul, Goodwill, New to You, & Pitter Patter in Newberg
  • Check local Facebook marketplaces. 
  • Join your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook 
  • Find deals or buy used from top brands. 
  • Patagonia https://wornwear.patagonia.com/shop/kids-and-baby 
  • REI https://www.rei.com/used
  • Buy off-season
  • Outdoor School Shop often has sales at the end of season. https://outdoorschoolshop.com/https://outdoorschoolshop.com/
  • Purchasing high-quality items usually ends up being more cost-efficient than the cheap ones because they last longer and are often easier to repair when needed (many high-end manufacturers stand behind lifetime warranties and will make free repairs). In addition, they’re more eco-friendly because they don’t end up in the landfill as often or require as much raw material to replace over and over. Win-win! 

Getting our kids and ourselves outside in cold wet weather can be a challenge. Oftentimes, the most difficult part is getting everyone dressed appropriately and out of the house. But once you get there, there is so much magic to be found outside in the late autumn and winter!

How to Create a Future Nature Enthusiast

     I was a young mom. My daughter was born when I was barely 18 years old, and I had so many lessons to learn about how to be a parent. One of those lessons was how to encourage a child to love being in nature. I grew up running around in the woods with my siblings; today our childhood experiences would probably be considered neglect by many people, but we loved it and I wanted my child to love being in nature, too. So, as soon as she was “old enough,” I packed her up and took her out for a hike. My goal: a secluded waterfall miles from the trailhead. Her goal? I don’t know; I didn’t stop to find out, but pushed to make it to the waterfall. She was miserable the whole way, and we never got there; she was exhausted and crying. My visions of a lovely picnic with my happy child playing in the mud next to a picturesque waterfall completely fell apart, and I was really sad. I could not understand why she didn’t love being outside the way I had at her age. Today, while she enjoys being outdoors sometimes, she has also told me that she is “pro indoors.” 

     I’ve learned so much about sharing nature with children since then. Together with some words of wisdom from our early childhood education team, Heidi Hoskins and Amy Nelson, I hope we can help you avoid making some common mistakes, and give you ideas for creating marvelous outdoor adventures with your family. 

A group of kids in front of a waterfall

Nine to twelve year olds at Baker Creek Falls. Younger kids can do this hike, but get too tired to make it fun.

  1. Forget your goals. The waterfall, lake, cave, or whatever other really great thing you want to get to will still be there when your child is old enough to enjoy a long hike. Think of your outings as open-ended adventures and allow spontaneity to guide you.
  2. Allow for many stops along the way. Your child is much more likely to love nature if they are allowed time to notice and appreciate it at their own pace. Engage with them about the things they notice, no matter how mundane it is to you. The world is new to them, and though you may have seen a thousand worms, slugs, and caterpillars already, they haven’t. Share in their excitement while doing your best to sound like it’s as exciting to you as it is to them.
  3. Periodically stop to share with them the things you enjoy as well. Teacher Amy says, “Children will value what their adults value. So start noticing nature more and talk with them about what you’re noticing. Listen to the birds, feel the wind, notice how the air smells.”
  4. A child stops to investigate a small snail on the ground.

    Stopping to Look at the Tiny Things

    “Follow their lead,” says Teacher Heidi, “If they are not interested in something don’t push it [or try to] ‘make them understand.’” Even when they are interested in something, don’t continue teaching them about it past their natural engagement. When you notice they’re losing interest, quickly finish your last thoughts on it and move on. Usually, they just need time to think about what they just learned. You’ll be amazed to hear them telling someone else all about what they learned when you thought your chat was just in one ear and out the other.

  5. Model curiosity and use “I wonder” statements. You don’t always have to know the answer to things, and it’s often better to have questions that lead to more questions. People, including children, will trust what you do know more readily if you sometimes don’t know something and are brave enough to admit it.  Both Teacher Amy and Teacher Heidi recommend using “I wonder” statements. For example, Teacher Amy says, “I wonder where that bird is flying to? I wonder what that squirrel is doing, digging in the ground? This is a great way to point out your observations, find out what they already know, and stoke their natural curiosity.”

    A teacher with young students look at microscopic things on a screen.

    Let Their Interests Guide You

  6. Don’t ask too many questions,” emphasizes Teacher Heidi. It’s exhausting for a child to be constantly thinking through the answers, and many people are afraid to answer questions posed by “an expert,” lest they get it wrong. If your outing feels like a test, they’re not going to enjoy it very much. To find out what they know, start with some easy questions to which you know they already know the answer and let them expand on their ideas. Open questions such as, “What do you think?” allow them to put together what they already know without the pressure of being right or wrong. When they do answer, reward them by truly listening to their answer and respond with a positive affirmation, no matter how outlandish their thought may seem to you. “Wow, that is a really interesting idea! I wonder …” is always better than filling them with facts at that moment. There will always be other opportunities to correct misunderstandings.
  7. When it’s appropriate, let them go off trail. Certainly, you want to be respectful of park rules and mindful to not degrade an area (no taking shortcuts on switch-backs, stay out of sensitive areas, don’t pick flowers in public spaces (except for invasives like daisies and European dandelions), pack out all of your litter (including tissues, eggshells, and fruit peels), and stay on trail in heavily used areas), but whenever you can Teacher Amy advises, “Let them explore and experience wild, un-manicured spaces where they can meander and have amazing discoveries and forge their own trails.”
    A group of children walk up a rocky stream

    Getting off trail doesn’t have to be destructive.

    In very remote areas, help them build forts, play games like hide and seek (with very specific boundaries), and allow for a little bit of “destructive” behavior such as pulling bark off a log or using ferns as decorative pieces or camouflage. Allow natural consequences to take shape; if it feels appropriate, discuss those consequences with them, but avoid making them feel guilty, and don’t stress yourself too much about their behavior. Many of the most ardent and peaceful nature lovers in the world (including me) squished slugs and destroyed ant nests as children.

  8. Let them take risks. As we’ve written before, calculated risk taking is very good for childhood
    A child sits high in an oak tree he climbed.

    Climbing trees is healthy risk taking.

    development. It helps build their bodies and their self-confidence, and teaches them invaluable lessons that can help keep them safe. So let them climb a tree, jump from boulder to boulder, or cross a slippery stream. The mishaps, bumps, bruises, and scrapes will become part of the adventure story.

  9. Take them out at dawn, dusk, or the middle of the night. Not only is there great beauty to be held at these times, many animals come out during the twilight or full dark hours. It’s very exciting to hide in the bushes and watch a raccoon scramble down a tree or a skunk crossing only a few feet in front of you as it leaves its burrow. Our senses are challenged and heightened in the dark. Consider playing variations on hide and seek in the dark, or simply lay on your backs, watching the stars and listening to the world around you.
  10. Bring nature to you. Teacher Heidi recommends gardening as “a quick and easy way to build connection” with nature. Teacher Amy adds, “Invite nature into your yard! Put up a bird feeder, birdhouse or birdbath, build a bug hotel, start a compost pile, get a bat box! These small actions can make a big impact by creating a connection with nature right outside your door.” Even if you live in an apartment, you can bring nature closer to you by keeping a houseplant, an aquarium, or a kitchen-counter herb garden.

    Child holds up a stick with tiny mushrooms on it

    Enjoy the journey with your kids, and keep it light.

  11. Keep your lessons light. Climate change, plastics in the ocean, invasive species, overpopulation, extinction of other species … the human-caused environmental issues are far too heavy a burden for young children, and without any concrete ways of making a positive change, this can be a very painful and frustrating experience for them. Generally speaking, avoid these lessons until they’re at least 8 years old. Obviously, they don’t live in a bubble and sometimes they will become aware of negative information before you’re ready. If they start the conversation with you, don’t dismiss their concerns, but answer their questions in as honest of terms as you can without making it sound scary.

Most importantly, remember to enjoy the journey as you head outside with your family to Play, Adventure, and Learn!

Go Climb A Tree!

Child climbing on tree branchSome of my favorite childhood memories involve climbing trees. I loved pushing my limits to see how high I could climb. Chances are many of you were tree climbers too. As caregivers for kids, seeing them climb high in a tree can bring on feelings of anxiety or worry. How can we give our kids the same feelings of independence, pride and connection to nature that tree climbing brings while still helping them assess risks and keeping them safe?

Did you know tree climbing is banned in all US National Parks? Many city and state parks also have implemented rules against tree climbing. And, in Portland, it’s considered an “unlawful use of trees” to climb in them! The primary reasons for banning tree climbing are to limit damage to the trees and to prevent lawsuits. Despite the growing number of rules and regulations against tree climbing, it offers so many benefits. We learn problem solving, risk assessment, resiliency and get physical exercise all while connecting with the natural world. When approached safely the benefits certainly outweigh the risks.

When kids are climbing in a tree they get stronger physically and mentally. They’re learning what their body is capable of and are able to push their limits. They’re building dexterity and overall physical strength.It’s important to note that children must be able to climb up and down independently, adults should not help kids get in a tree. If their body is strong enough to get up there, it is safer for them to go there.

Climbing a tree is a great way to develop problem solving skills. While in a tree we have to make choices about which path to take, which branch to climb to. When we’re stuck we have to think through the different available routes and determine which is safest. When children are able to work through these problems on their own, (or with gentle support from an adult) they are able to exercise independence and gain confidence.

Child standing on tree branch

There is always risk involved in tree climbing, as there is risk in every journey of discovery. We can help kids assess those risks by teaching them to think critically while in the tree. Beginner tree climbers should learn to keep 3 points of their body, (2 hands and 1 foot or 2 feet and 1 hand) securely on the tree at all times. They should also learn to test each branch before putting their full body weight on it. Generally speaking, if a branch is as thick as your arm, it can bear your weight. Branches can be tested by using the 1 free point to put some body weight on the branch. If the branch cracks or moves significantly, it’s not safe to put the rest of your body weight on it.

While climbing in a tree we’re also developing a relationship with that tree. We’re naturally learning the fundamentals of botany; how the branches align, the tree’s growth pattern, leaf shapes and growth patterns, sensing what the bark feels like, what it smells like. We may notice other creatures crawling on the tree, nesting in its branches or running up its side and the relationships between those creatures. Climbing high gives us a different perspective on our environment. We’re able to see our place in a new way.

three children playing in a tree

Here are some helpful phrases to support your young tree climbers.
Focus on what you’re doing.
Does that branch feel strong?
How do you know that branch is strong?
What’s your next move?
Do you feel safe?
I’m here if you need support.
Take your time.

If the urge to shout “Be Careful” arises try one of these helpful phrases from Backwater Mama’s blog instead.

What to say instead of be careful

When your kid is engaged in risky play and you sense yourself feeling worried take a moment to check in
What is the potential for them to incur serious harm? If it’s low, let them take that risk!
Why does this situation make me feel uncomfortable?
What skills are my child learning right now?

So, next time the opportunity arises for your child to climb a tree, offer them support while knowing they’re getting stronger, connecting with nature and developing lifelong skills. And, if you’re up for it, join them!

We are so GRATEFUL!

12.21.21, marked the Solstice, the point at which the Northern Hemisphere was the farthest from the sun it will get all year, while our friends in the Southern Hemisphere were the closest they will be all year. In the Northern Hemisphere, it was the day with the longest period of dark and the least amount of light (less than nine hours of light here in Oregon). It also marked the final day of our end of the year giving campaign.

This is a time to reflect, to recognize the people who walk beside us and shine a light for us when the days are dark, and to give thanks for everything the world offers us.

You, dear supporters, are our light. WE GIVE THANKS

Image of a wreath with the words "To all of you who have supported OEA in so many ways! handwritten inside the wreath.

Thank you for your incredible generosity. Thanks to you we have surpassed our goal and have raised an amazing $15,491.58!!!

  • Thanks to you we will be able to offer 10 kids a week at camp with no tuition!
  • Thanks to you we will be able to hire a part time assistant.

We can’t thank you all enough.

Heart-shaped collage of photos of children exploring outside.

At OEA, we try to start and end each day with thoughts of gratitude. We have so much to be grateful for, and though we are well aware of just how difficult it can be right now to see the light, we know that showing our thankfulness helps to light the path when all feels dark. With that in mind, we want to give thanks for everyone and everything that makes it possible for us to do our work.

Collage of photos: thanks to all our assistants and volunteers

A special thanks to our four original assistants, who worked for nothing but ice cream for the first several years. Michael, Julia, Claudia, and Amadi (in no particular order) … thank you all so much for all of the help you’ve given us.

Our four original assistants.

Thanks to Laura McMasters (and others like her) who since the 1970’s has, through thick and thin, “soldiered on” to keep outdoor science education going in Yamhill County. On we go!

Collage of Laura McMasters teaching. Thank you, Laura!

Today we are grateful for:

  • The processes of nature: dark into light, death and decay into renewal
  • Our Community and communities
  • The creation and sharing of music, art, poetry, dance, theater …
  • The support and love of our workmates
  • The OEA families who trust and support us as we take their most cherished people into all sorts of weather to play, adventure, and learn
  • Our own families (especially our spouses) who have been flexible and supportive through all of this
  • The many people and organizations who have welcomed us onto their land so that we may offer these opportunities, as well as the caretakers of that land
  • All of the caretakers and stewards of this land who came before us from time immemorial, and to their descendents in the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde
  • The land itself, and all of the more than human friends who inhabit it … the water, rocks, tiniest mushrooms and herbs, largest trees, insects, fish, birds, reptiles, mammals

To all of you and so many more, we are eternally grateful.

Collage of animals held in children's hands: crawdad, mantis, snake, skink, centipede, bird, beetle, frog, was, newt

AND many, many thanks …

Collage of mushrooms, flowers, and invertebrates

Who is Outdoor Education Adventures?

Outdoor Education Adventures (OEA) started as a passion project. For nearly seven years, Theresa Crain and Neyssa Hays have spent more than two hours planning and preparing for every hour they spend with kids outdoors. The pandemic has added to this planning burden and they have kept pace, providing programming and content even in the worst months of the pandemic.

Outdoor education in general is notoriously underfunded and educators are underpaid. We want to grow OEA to allow our educators to be paid fairly for their time and to hire additional staff so we can offer more programming. Even at 100% capacity and with most of our staff making not much more than minimum wage, tuition for our programs covers not quite half of our operating budget. Many of these costs are not favored by grants and so we turn to you, our amazing community, to raise this essential funding.

If you get the impression that it’s all fun and games, then our staff are doing their jobs well. Although our camps and programs might seem to be spontaneously unfolding, there are many hours of imagining, brainstorming, planning activities and lessons, purchasing supplies, preparing materials, and so much more that go into each camp and experience. There are also many hours of computer work – research, marketing, and administration; volunteer coordination; creating and maintaining essential partnerships; grant writing and other fundraising; making sure we are in compliance with ever shifting regulations; staying on top of the latest science; continuing our own education on best practices … The amount of planning and work for one day of outdoor programming is staggering, and because we are outdoors, in the elements, there are a lot of potential unknowns that we need to be prepared for.

Collage of children playing outdoors.

How our staff make Outdoor Education Adventures programs different from childcare

One of the most powerful things we can do to help grow a more sustainable future is to offer younger generations nature mentors, to educate the next generation of stewards. We are experienced, passionate nature educators and mentors who provide a space for exploration and discovery. We guide and support children in developing and understanding of their place within the natural world. We have a deep reverence for nature and an understanding of how to allow children to take healthy risks and the knowledge to answer their questions about the elements of nature that they encounter and are curious about. Creative people, we strive to nurture a desire for lifelong learning.

All of our permanent staff members are highly educated, with work and life experiences that make them multi-talented dynamos! Each member possesses skills and unique perspectives that drive our organization in a well-rounded experience for the learners.

Theresa looks at the big picture, figuring out the logistics of running outdoor programs and how those programs can benefit the larger community. With a background in parks and nature interpretation as well as many years of experience working with schools and school districts, she melds formal and informal education practices. She is incredibly patient, and builds great amounts of trust in the children she works with. A cofounder of the organization, in addition to teaching programs, Theresa has put in endless hours developing curriculum, moulding and remoulding the website, writing grant applications, maintaining our licensing, and keeping the records, among many other things. She is an imaginative story writer, and enjoys telling stories that share lessons about the natural world.

Neyssa has combined a background in theater, art, and a love of languages with a passion for nature and science and a healthy curiosity about gross stuff. Tenacious and creative, she is determined to leave the world a better place for future generations. Her way of doing that is to use her broad education and experience to support learning and encourage curiosity in other people. As a cofounder of OEA, in addition to preparing for and teaching programs, Neyssa has also spent many hours writing grant applications, keeping the books, creating marketing materials, and coordinating volunteers. She grew up running around the wilds of northern Oregon, from the Wallowas to the Pacific beaches, and hopes to instill in others a deep and lasting appreciation for everything that the natural world gives us.

Heidi has an impressive ability to simultaneously be outwardly silly for hours on end, truly engaged with everything the children are saying, while carefully monitoring the children she’s teaching, analysing what they’re learning and considering what her next lessons will be. She is OEA’s Early Childhood Education Director, and has been working with Amy to build Maple Grove Nature School, creating curriculum, teaching, landscaping, and coordinating volunteers. With a nurturing personality she leads students in interactive play and writes her own nature songs and stories. An early childhood developmentalist, she brings knowledge and understanding of how young children learn and uses it to facilitate experiences for learners in a safe, fun, and interactive way.

Amy is curious and knowledgeable, with a long history of taking kids out in nature to learn and play. Into the learner’s experience she brings a love of nature and exploration, taking a spark within each learner and guiding the experience to deepen understanding. Amy is OEA’s Early Education Assistant; she co-teaches with Heidi as well as doing a lot of the marketing and some grant writing for the Maple Grove Preschool program. She has a background in agroecology and environmental quality and has many years of organic farming experience. For four years she traveled around the United States and Hawaii, working on organic farms and off-grid homesteads, and says, “All my possessions fit into a backpack!” A gifted science writer, she also plays the ukulele, enjoys foraging, and is a basket maker.

Our seasonal employees are young people who share our appreciation for nature and want to share that with others. Coming from diverse backgrounds, they enrich the programs for the participants, sometimes reflecting the participants’ own experiences and making them feel more comfortable, other times bringing new thoughts and perspectives that open new possibilities for the learners.

Why Outdoor Education Programs Matter

Kids do well when they can learn to value their mistakes as much as their successes. How do these lessons get taught? By allowing kids time and the space to make mistakes, and adults who provide encouragement and support to help kids persevere. Playing outdoors helps develop problem solving and critical thinking skills, builds self-awareness, and leads to resilience and confidence. These experiences evolve spontaneously, but they hold high value for our campers. The size of our groups and flexible structure of our activities allows us the time to focus on these critical learning opportunities in real time and to help kids develop a growth mindset in which they believe that “effort leads to success.” In this way of thinking, success is achieved through perseverance and improvement, not perfection.

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about. - Angela Schwindt. Photo collage: six photos of children playing outdoors.

Teaching is Learning
We’ve talked about how our programs provide kids with a space where they can learn about themselves and nature. But have we mentioned how many of them then turn around to teach each other? Children in our programs love to go home and share the things they learned with their families. They are proud that they know about stinging nettle and how to identify a wasp nest. They will not only tell their families about it, but often they will share this knowledge with strangers we come upon when we are out exploring. Also, while not all of our kids become leaders, they all learn valuable lessons in being self-reliant and responsible, lessons that they use everywhere else.

Collage of five photos of kids teaching each other and teaching adults.

Tree Climbing: One Example of Lessons Learned During Outdoor Play

As we’ve said before, the lessons learned are a natural result of the play. For instance, a child who is encouraged to climb trees learns the following (and more) while playing:

  1. Botany: recently a five year old child climbing in a cedar tree exclaimed, “Climbing a cedar is different from climbing a willow!” The child may not conscientiously be thinking of why climbing a cedar (which grows vertically with horizontal branches that make a great ladder to climb) is different from climbing a willow (whose trunk grows low to the ground, nearly horizontally, with small branches growing vertically, creating a “slalom” course), but they will remember the differences, and that is a great start to learning the basics of botany.
  2. Entomology, ornithology, mammalogy: anyone who has ever spent time with a plant knows that insects, birds, and mammals are closely associated with them, and people who climb trees come face-to-face with these friends. The more often a child experiences this, the more they start to see patterns, such as which animals are associated with which tree, what those animals are doing, and how they react to the child.
  3. Physics: a person climbing a tree performs tests on gravity, asking and answering questions such as: how big does a branch need to be to support me? How far out on a branch can I go before it bends? Does wet moss change how I climb? What happens if I fall?
  4. Problem solving, concentration, and patience: in order to avoid falling, a child must think through the movements they’re going to make. Sometimes they have to backtrack, or even start over.
  5. Cooperation and communication: if there is more than one child, they have to learn how to share the tree to keep from accidentally hurting each other.

On top of that, tree climbing enhances physical development, gross and fine motor skills, builds self-confidence, and reduces stress.

From kid to counselor: Our first cohorts are now teens, and several of them have become our assistants. Collage of six photos: three teenagers and themselves as little kids.

Let’s talk today about collaboration and creativity.

As you can see, we’re excited about how outdoor education affects kids. One of the coolest things we see develop in our young learners is true collaboration. These kids are different from each other: they come from different cultures, different home lives, and go to different schools. They have different learning styles and different belief systems.

Photo collage of kids playing and working together

Then they come to camp and we give them challenges to face together. It’s always inspiring to see how kids will work together, to collaborate, to include each other in the process. It gives us hope for the future! The research backs up our experience; outdoor play and education enhances all aspects of social and emotional development. Kids learn to listen to each other, to speak up for each other, and to co-create as part of a community of kids.

What’s the end result? Kids who are more confident, competent, and kind.

Collage of kids getting creative with mud and other natural objects.

How Outdoor Education Benefits Society
We have a growing need for creative problem solvers, but research shows that with its focus on standardization, the educational system of the past 20 years has greatly decreased children’s capacity for creative thinking. For those who get to experience it, outdoor education helps remedy that problem.

Our instructors have seen (and research confirms) that the more time kids have to work together with loose structure and LOTS of loose parts (sticks, blocks, trees, vines, mud) the more creative and collaborative their play gets. Fallen trees become spaceships, submarines, and castles while acres of wild grass become villages with mayors, guards, business people … and pranksters. Leaves become currency, social debates are had, and elections held. From physics to social studies, the lessons learned are a natural result of the play.

Lightly structured, guided play leads to amazing questions, and a desire to learn more. It also tends to lead kids to looking for ways to be useful, to give back to each other, and to the greater community. What happens then is amazing to watch as their creativity meshes with their drive. Kids volunteer to dig up blackberries and other invasive species, build bridges, and tend to patches of wild flowers. Even in this work, however, the kids bring an element of play and creativing thinking as blackberry thickets become dragons trapping gentle giants or devouring the village. Rakes, shovels, and clippers, of course, transform into swords and lances. This ethos of caring for others continues into adolescents and adulthood. Now teenagers, the first cohorts in our programs volunteer for community service projects like litter clean-ups, food drives, and park beautification.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

Maple Grove Nature School!

Maple Grove is a nature-based preschool located in McMinnville. These are our youngest students – just 3.5 – 5.5 years old! They get to experience the magic of the seasons on local land. Following their curiosity and celebrating the simple wonders of nature, they learn through play and guided risk-taking.

Through daily interaction with the land and each other, these kids become observers, caregivers, and active participants in the cycle of the seasons. We feel so fortunate to have Heidi Hoskins and Amy Nelson to guide these little people and grow this new community.

Three photos: a child holding up wood with mushrooms growing on it; very young children playing in muddy jumpers; two preschoolers sitting on the grass using watercolor paints

Once upon a time … multiple people were simultaneously dreaming of starting a nature-based preschool program. Then on a lovely spring day, one of them bravely reached out and a new alliance was formed.

Theresa and Neyssa were creating their five year plan for OEA. Specifically, they were discussing a long-time dream of theirs … a nature-based preschool program. They wanted it, the community was asking for it, but they knew that with only the two of them, they didn’t have the time to get it going. Then a sudden urge made them both look at their email inboxes … Waiting there was an email from a friend, local teacher Heidi Hoskins.

Heidi had written to ask for advice about starting her own nature-based preschool, which had also been a long-time dream of hers and her friend’s, Amy. Serendipity! The coincidence was too great, so Heidi, Theresa, and Neyssa met to discuss having Heidi join OEA as the Early Childhood Education Director. She agreed, the Board of Directors agreed, and Amy accepted an invitation to join. Maple Grove Nature School was on its way!

Stewards of the Future: photos of children learning outside.

Play, Adventure, Learn!

This phrase is the means and the end for us at Outdoor Education Adventures (OEA). Eagle Eye, Cougar Stalks Deer, Lizard Tails, Sleeping Giant, and The Wild People of Elephant Forest … these are just a few of the games kids will tell you about after coming to our programs. Play is our credo.

Collage of kids playing games outside.

We see adventure as the willingness to take risks, to explore, and to have new experiences. We see that when children, teens, and adults are encouraged to play and adventure, that learning is unavoidable! We believe this makes a positive difference in the world!

Kids playing blindfold and quest games outside.

Most people are tactile, kinetic learners, which means they learn best when they are doing things, touching and manipulating objects. Research clearly shows that people who move and play games learn better and hold onto what they’ve learned longer. At OEA, we take advantage of this by engaging our students in games that teach them and reinforce the skills they need to fully and safely enjoy their time immersed in nature.

Additionally, all of our educators have backgrounds as natural resource professionals and educators, experiences that give them the knowledge to answer the hundreds of questions our students ask every day. Our seasonal staff as well are usually students seeking careers in natural resource fields who happen to also be keen on sharing their interests with kids.

Our staff inspire kids to WANT to learn more because learning is fun!

Equity in Outdoor Education

Every child should have access to nature and positive experiences outdoors

Not every family or child who needs help needs the same kind of help. Whether it’s a difficult work schedule, financial stressors, lack of proper shoes, or difficulties getting a kid to and from camp, there are many barriers that can keep a child from being able to participate in Outdoor Education Adventure’s programs.
Multiple pictures of groups of kids at camp; donate to help send 10 kids to camp!

Part of our mission is increasing the number and diversity of kids that we can serve. This means working with local schools, partnering with family-centered nonprofits, and offering tuition assistance and scholarships to those who need them. Our goal for 2022 is to send 10 kids to camp with scholarships – that’s $2,500.

If we all pitch in, we can meet this goal. A rising tide lifts all boats!

Students on field trips; through field trips and classroom programs we teach over 2000 students per year.


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