Build Your Scaffold

I love reading the articles and research that are posted by the Children & Nature Network. Most of the time, these posts lead me on a wandering retracing of my experiences, thoughts, and connections.

The 27 August 2015 post was a news story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about a Twin Cities based non-profit that finds ways to get everyone outdoors, especially those least likely to do so, since 1978. One quote in the article stuck with me, “But more than a one-time exposure, UWCA [Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures] seeks to introduce them to progressively longer and farther-flung adventures, leading to lifelong stewardship…” [Full article here.] We can’t just have the one-time-nature-experience if we are going to raise the next generation of folks that truly care about our planet. This started the reminiscing… and it took a few days, okay almost one month, and it hit me… scaffolding…

I went to the basement to dig in a plastic tote of “keepsakes” and found something I used long ago when working with Girl Scout Troop Leaders wanting to take their troops on camping experiences. The graphic reminds me of looking at the side view of stairs. Going up the stairs, the girl sketched on each riser is participating in an increasingly more involved outdoor activity. If your goal is to spend a week on a wilderness adventure (the top step in the illustration), you have to start several steps before that and build skill, competencies, and experiences. As an aside this graphic was first printed in “Girl Scout Leader” magazine in April 1953!

Then my thoughts drifted to a State 4-H Specialist I worked with 20+ years later and he talked about “sneaky education.” The idea behind sneaky education is that while a young person is having fun and learning, the adults challenge them some. This puts your students in a bit of stress, a challenge. The young people learn from the challenge and build a new comfort level. Sneaky education… scaffolding…

This graphic is adagraphpted from a training with Dr. Jeff Goodwin, now of Colorado State University Extension. To build learning, first challenge your students and take them just outside that zone of learning or zone of comfort… then let these students build their ability and that brings them back to comfort and learning. Wash, rinse, repeat. Little by little, we scaffold ourselves and our students to new levels of confidence and comfort!


The same holds for the teachers, youth leaders, and care providers knowing they need let those in their care experience some appropriate risk or challenge. You need to start at a place of comfort and bring those in your care with you. When you have achieved the challenge and climbed the scaffold up to the next step, you and those in your care have a new understanding, a new level of comfort.

Start today… what is your next outdoor challenge to raise your comfort level?

Musings from Murgatroyd by Linette Bernard
Murgatroyd is a family surname from England and has absolutely nothing to do with early childhood. The saying ‘heavens to Murgatroyd’ was one I remember my father saying, as well as ‘musings from Murgatroyd’ often were at the top of handwritten letters to me during and after college. From time to time more musings just may bubble to the surface to be shared.