The Arboretum Trust

Do you know Meet a Tree? The exercise where you blindfold one kid and their buddy leads them to a tree. Then, after the blindfolded is removed, the child goes and finds their tree. Yawn.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen kids enjoy this. I believe they do get some value out of it. I also believe that many outdoor educators abuse this like they do all other stock and file-card activities. It’s something for kids to do. It’s in the nearly official Environmental Educator’s Game Guide.

I’m an animal tracker. I teach it to both kids and adults. I use all my facilities and gut instincts to follow bears, cougars and bobcats across epic landscapes. I deftly understand the reasoning behind sensory based curriculum. It’s great that these kinesthetic activities begin to receive more and more credibility in a world of water quality testing and DBH. Unfortunately any game or activity can also be a crutch for educators.

That’s where “Meet a Tree” and other activities of their ilk can go wrong. The story ceases to be compelling even for the educator. They become motions we can go through to placate a field, a world of standardization and little risk. We need to stop fooling ourselves. In this exercise folks may be meeting a tree but they aren’t really knowing it. For that to happen we need a more compelling and greater breadth of experience. You need to know how its dead branches light a fire either by friction or with tinder. If it’s edible you need to taste it. If it needs caretaking, figure out how to tend to it. I am not saying to stop “meeting a tree”, I am saying don’t stop there.

Tony Deis is the founder and “lead cylon” at Trackers Earth/TrackersNW in TonyDeisPortland, Oregon.