19 Jan Once There Was A Man Who Loved Children…
written by Marianne Riess
… so much that he became a wonderful teacher, an unusual teacher, because he didn’t love books, and he didn’t love homework. He certainly didn’t love computers or video games. What he loved was to show children how to enjoy the outdoors, as he had, growing up.
So he founded a nursery school and created outdoor experiences for very young children. In a program called Smokey’s Bounders, children made campfires and enjoyed s’mores. They ice skated in a swamp, explored ponds filled with frogs, discovered worms and bugs and growing things. They visited his “farm” with pigs, sheep, baby lambs and chickens, right in their hometown. The man showed them how to tap maple trees in the winter, and how to boil the sap to make syrup, which they put on the pancakes that he made for them. They rode his tree trolley. They loved him because he made every experience a fun and exciting adventure.
He was an unusual head of school because he didn’t love paperwork. He wasn’t that into curriculum or discipline or staff evaluations. He loved being outside with the children and teachers. His staff felt appreciated and valued because he had outings and parties for them too. He skied and played tennis and golf with them and they loved him.
The man wanted older kids to be confident and competent in the outdoors, so he offered weeklong camping trips in the summer to 12-15 year olds. Their trips to the Delaware River Gap were memorable. The kids lived in tents, cooked meals outside on fires, and went down the Delaware in rafts. They swam and canoed and caught fish in the lake in front of his rustic camp. Jumping off a “cliff” into the lake filled them with confidence. They came home with the clothes their moms had packed still folded, their toothbrushes dry and unused, dirty and happy and knowing they had had the experience of a lifetime. Everyone wanted to “do it again next year.”
And he became more and more of a legend to his former students, their children and grandchildren. Everyone had fun with him. He made a race around the schoolyard seem like an Olympic event. He removed the hooks from the fish children caught from his lake, and threw them back to be caught again and again. His patience and good humor made everyone he knew a better person.
Since his birthday was February 29th and he only had one every four years, he stayed young. It seemed he would live forever. We will not forget him.