The Transylvania Times -

Muddy Sneakers


May 17, 2018

With the ubiquity of electronic devices– video games, cell phones, tablets, television, etc. – many youth rarely spend time outdoors. The prevalence and immoderate use of such devices and some of their negative impacts on children has been well documented.

In 2007, in an attempt to provide quality outdoor experiences to more children, Chuck McGrady of Falling Creek Camp, Sandy Schenck of Green River Preserve and Aleen Steinberg, a strong advocate of preserving what today is DuPont Recreational Forest, conceived of a program that became Muddy Sneakers.

The idea was to take public school students in fifth grade to local forests, such as DuPont, to provide them with hands-on environmental and scientific explorations. Students learned about diverse flora and fauna, life cycles, weather patterns, the interdependency of nature and human impact on the outdoors from well trained and experienced educators. For many students, it was their first time taking a hike or spending much time in the forests.

The program started small, with only Brevard Elementary and Pisgah Forest Elementary participating in 2008. By 2015, Muddy Sneakers had grown to serve 21 schools in seven counties in Western North Carolina. By the 2016-17 school year, the program had extended its reach into the Piedmont and served nearly 2,700 students.

The benefits of outdoors education and programs like Muddy Sneakers are numerous. Logically, students have a greater understanding of nature and perform better in their science classes.

According to some studies done by N.C. State University in collaboration with Muddy Sneakers, grades and attitude improve, as does behavior in the classroom.

According to a report in Psychology Today, students who participate in outdoor education have more intrinsic motivation to learn and feel more competent. The hands-on activities require students to be engaged physically as well as mentally, and the more ways in which students are engaged, the more information they will retain.

In some cases, students who do not perform as well or are not as engaged in the traditional classroom may do better than their peers. When they are able to display their understanding of the natural world, their peers may view them in a more positive context.

Outdoor education also helps to develop better teacher-student relations because students see teachers in a different environment. Students often find it easier to have a casual conversation with their teachers while Hiking a trail than sitting in a classroom. Sometimes the students may provide knowledge or insight that the classroom teacher does not have.

Then, there are the simple physical benefits of being outside and walking. Exercise releases endorphins and natural sounds can increase serotonin. Children who spend most of their time indoors, however, have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol throughout the day. The latter also have higher levels of attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression and obesity.

Due to its multiple benefits, Muddy Sneakers deserves our support. Even though it has received some money from the General Assembly, private donations are still integral to its continued success and future expansion. To donate to, or to learn more about, Muddy Sneakers, visit http://www.mud


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