Many years ago I talked with my friend Martin about the idea of the badges of honour of outdoor play. Martin wrote about this in www.playengland.org.uk/media/130593/play-naturally.pdf, that dirt, stains and smells can be treated like ‘badges of honour’, ‘evidence of successful outdoor play’ and learning. Like all good ideas I’m still mining it.
I recently worked in the woods with groups of children and adults as part of a summer school of transitions. Groups came to me for a full day at a time. One of my challenges was setting the expectations with staff (who were only with me for a day) around allowing the children to get immersed in activities and reinforcing with the children that it is OK to get muddy and involved. This is when the badges of honour turned from a metaphorical notion to a literal tangible thing.
I filled my pockets with them and brought them out at opportune moments, a girl who raced off and find the right sorts of sticks off the den she was making, met with an ‘uuuugh’ from her friends as she ran through a puddle. A badge of honour for muddy shoes changed the story and the girls raced off together.
A staff member complaining loudly about getting mud on her leggings actually looked kind of proud to receive the first badge of honour off the day. Sitting, quietly after putting a plaster on a cut, I shared with the child that he had a badge of honour too, that cuts sometimes happen because you are living life adventurously.
As the summer holidays come to an end and looking down at my own hands and legs I can recognise there are badges of honour here too.