Muddy Sneakers is a non-profit organization based in Brevard, NC that partners with public schools to provide an experiential model for teaching 5th grade science.
The program is unique in that it provides students with continuous exposure to an outdoor classroom through participation in 6-10 hands-on learning expeditions spread throughout the school year. Each expedition reflects a key science topic and directly correlates with the 5th grade NC Science Standard Course of Study objectives. Muddy Sneakers’ curriculum is built from state ‘Essential Standards’ for 5th grade Science with an eye towards incorporating some of the national ‘Common Core’ Math and Language Arts standards into each expedition. The mission of Muddy Sneakers is to awaken in school children a deeply felt connection with the natural world–one that inspires curiosity, stimulates learning, and brings new life to classroom performance.
In addition to experiential Science learning, Muddy Sneakers aims for students to gain a greater comfort and understanding of the natural world. On their first Muddy Sneakers day, students are instructed on how to stay safe in the woods which includes lessons on how to identify poison ivy, what to do if wildlife is encountered, how to go to the bathroom in the woods following Leave No Trace ethics, and how to use a map and compass.
While students’ classroom teachers accompany them into the woods, expeditions are taught by highly qualified, safety-minded Muddy Sneakers Field Instructors in small group settings of no more than 12 students per instructor. Instructors serve as ‘naturalists’ in the field, each applying their own diverse background and teaching style to the material while sharing a common passion for working with students in the outdoors. All field instructors are Wilderness First Aid and Child and Adult CPR certified.
Students spend the day hiking and studying topics they will be tested on during their Science EOG’s in natural areas near their school. Some of these areas include DuPont State Recreational Forest, Carl Sandburg Home, Gorges State Park, Lake James State Park, and NC National Forests. An effort is made to keep bus drive time and mileage to a minimum, ideally travelling no more than 30 minutes from the school.
On their first Muddy Sneakers Expedition, students become oriented to the program, the structure and flow of a Muddy Sneakers day, the incorporation of the scientific method and ideally leave better prepared to participate in a year of active learning in an outdoor classroom setting. To facilitate a safer learning environment for students, during the Day 1 curriculum, students learn what to do if groups encounter wildlife, how to identify poison ivy, how to safely use the bathroom in the woods, and how to use a map and compass. These skills are used throughout the year of Muddy Sneakers Expeditions.
Since we began programming during the 2008-09 school year, participating schools have seen an average 25% increase in their 5th grade science end-of-grade (EOG) test scores after one year of participation with Muddy Sneakers. This increase is significantly higher than the average among those schools not participating in the Muddy Sneakers program.
Muddy Sneakers and your child’s school welcome parent chaperones on learning expeditions. You are encouraged to contact your child’s teacher to find out the schedule of Muddy Sneakers outings and to join your child for a day of learning in the woods. If you have questions specific to Muddy Sneakers, you can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in ways you can get your child and your family outdoors and learning more, the Cradle of Forestry in America has a great “Nature-Oriented Parenting Newsletter.” Click the Cradle link to read published issues and get ideas on how to encourage your child to connect more with his or her natural surroundings.
We hope you’ll join us in the field on a Muddy Sneakers day!
All students need to come prepared for the conditions. Wearing appropriate clothes is the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for a fun day in the woods. Look at the weather report the night before and remember that it’s always better to be too warm than too cold when you’re preparing to be outside for the day! Think about wearing clothes that dry quickly (not cotton) and always plan on wearing/bringing ‘layers’ with you in case you get too hot/cold.
Everyone must bring his or her own lunch on Muddy Sneakers expedition days (including schoolyard expeditions). We ask that you try and limit the amount of packaging since you’ll have to carry out your own garbage with you – remember that we practice ‘Leave No Trace’.
We recommend buying 1-2 good water bottles at the beginning of the year and reusing them for each expedition.
No matter the weather, be prepared for quick changes in temperature and remember that rainfall in the mountains is always a possibility.
It is VERY important to wear appropriate shoes for walking all day in the woods. Hiking boots and of course sneakers work great but we ask that no students wear flip-flops or sandals.
This kit should consist of a small notebook and pen or pencil in a zip lock baggie. The Field Kit needs to come into the field each time you go on a Muddy Sneakers learning expedition.
Please come with a smile and an eagerness to be outdoors all day!
*Please only bring what’s on the list of things to bring; carrying extra stuff throughout the day will make your pack heavier