Tribute to a Visionary
Mary Karaba- A True Visionary for Outdoor Classrooms
Devices are the toys of choice for children today. Little ones as young two year old would rather play a video game than look out the car window.
School aged children would rather sit on the couch and play Minecraft then build a fort in the backyard. Little girls would rather dress their paper dolls on their iPads instead of cutting and folding the paper dresses for their one dimensional dolls. Dressing up like a fireman has been replaced with games of putting out pretend fires on a device. The wonderful activities that once occupied children for hours have been replaced with sedentary computer games.
Mary Karaba always knew the value of spending time with nature. Her pre-K children were outside playing more than inside doing anything academic. When they were inside, they were doing experiments and singing songs while dancing. She taught her four and five year olds sign language and meaningful songs that they still sing today.
Mary Karaba was a visionary. Her students were lucky to be taught by someone who knew in her heart what was best for their growing minds, even when others did not agree with her. Mary was a huge advocate for outdoor education long before it was fashionable.
She knew the value of digging in the dirt and sand and watching the path water would take as it maneuvered around the obstacles the children created. The looks on her students’ faces told it all when they were exploring a bug or an anthill.
Her education was not with books and pencils, but with multiple experiences to feed the senses. It might have meant squeezing clay into shapes that were used to tell stories. Some children could be found creating stories on the pretend stage and dressing up like their favorite fairy or fireman. The mere act of putting on fireman pants and jacket were readying these children for sustaining their attention later on. Swinging helped to give children's vestibular systems the feedback they needed to concentrate. Sandcastle building promoted their cognitive growth and gave their hands and feet the sensory stimulation that helped their brains develop. Digging in the dirt built their immune systems. It amazed me that non of these activities were considered academic, when their value for future academic success was immeasurable.
Mary’s vision recently received an award for Nature Education. This is a new buzz word in education, but Mary envisioned it 40 years ago.
Like many visionaries, her vision came before others were ready to embrace it. Through the past forty years, Mary has administrators who did not understand the value of her program for her 3,4, and 5 year olds. They were certain putting pencils in the hands of children was the only way to ensure they would become successful adults. This whole idea felt ludicrous to Mary. Pushing children to write before they were developmentally ready created students who held pencils in crazy ways making writing a tedious and laborious event. The poor little boys whose fine motor skills often developed later than girls began forming negative self-images. A former student commented, “I knew in kindergarten that I wasn’t smart, because those around me were much better writers.” Mary knew that these children needed the digging in the dirt and sand or squeezing play dough to help develop those muscles that would later help them manipulate a pencil.
When she received backlash from others who did not understand the value of outdoor education, she still held fast to her dream, because she knew it was right. She didn’t bad mouth anyone. She simply continued her perseverance, because she knew it was best for cognitive development. She knew it would yield the results that others were trying to get by pushing academics.
She didn’t argue with those who plainly did not understand. She simply continued building her vision, while enlisting the help of those who did understand her program’s power. They helped her achieve the recognition that is so well deserved and necessary in bringing awareness to parents, teachers, and administrators that outdoor education is truly the secret to later school success.
With so many children on computers, her concept and program are even more important to the developmental growth of children than it was when she first envisioned it.
Good teaching isn’t about spending tons of hours, it's about creating what is needed for the success of their students and holding fast to the vision until others realize its importance. It may take 30-40 years, but the rewards are worth the wait.
Because of the excessive use of technology by young children, they are not developing skills that once were automatic. As a result, we need new visionaries to create that which has not been created to offer the children of today the skills that will take them into the future. We need to balance the technology with Mary's vision of regular outdoor experiences.