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A Message from the Heartwood

A wood cookie on leaves
A wood cookie displaying the Outdoor School symbol

At Outdoor School (ODS), we use wood cookies for name tags. Our names are on one side, sometimes with a picture or other decorative elements, and on the other side is the ODS symbol — the Earth with four triangles, representing the four cardinal directions and the four major lessons we teach during the week. Campers color in the triangles as they complete each lesson.

The wood cookie is also a teaching tool. For example, when explaining the parts of a tree, we use our wood cookies to point out the bark, cambium, and heartwood. And the wood cookie is a lasting reminder of Outdoor School because, unlike a t-shirt, you will never outgrow your wood cookie.

Ellen “Xylem” Will, ODS director, has been known to say, “Your wood cookie is your ticket to Outdoor School.” And, when something emotionally touching happens, she says, “Oof, that hit me right in the wood cookie,” because they hang just over our hearts.

Honey Bear’s wood cookie

My wood cookie was with me my first day as a counselor for Outdoor School. That was the day I shifted from thinking “I don’t know if I can do this” to “I can do this.” And then I applied that mentality to many other aspects of my life: I can finish school; I can pursue my passion as a career; I can be successful.

My wood cookie was with me when I became a learning group leader for Outdoor School. My wood cookie was with me when I was a summer camp counselor and director six-hundred miles away from home. After graduation, it was with me when I started my career in youth development. It was with me yesterday as I began the next chapter of my career back at Penn State.

My wood cookie is more than just a piece of wood and string. It represents many beautiful memories of “a-ha” moments while teaching. It represents a shield made of soft skills that help me solve real problems. Most importantly, my wood cookie represents a reminder that just because I grew up doesn’t mean the art of play is lost.

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunities I had with Outdoor School, the avenues the program opened for me, and the continued adventures. I highly encourage students to apply for the opportunity to be an Outdoor School counselor, where they will have the ability to positively impact the lives of children. The chance to hone soft skills, to make lifelong friendships, and to customize a wood cookie all make the experience of being an Outdoor School Counselor both magical and priceless.