Category Archives: Outdoor Play

The Dead Duck

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So yes that’s a picture of a dead duck. A duck the children found on the beach. A duck I tried to keep them away from. A duck I was worried little fingers would poke. As I tried to usher the children away from this duck a child stood their ground and said “But we have to do something. We can’t just leave him here!”

“Well what do you think we should do?” I asked.

“We should put him in the Ocean.” I was told.

“Well okay.” I said “But I am not touching it so we need to find a long flat piece of wood.”

The children searched the beach for the right piece of wood. It was found rather quickly and I slid the duck (without touching it) onto the long flat log. We walked it down to the water’s edge. I had visions of sending the duck off in a Viking style funeral sailing it out on his wooden pyre. (there would be no fire in this ceremony though) It would be a more sailing off into the sunset type funeral.  I place the log on the water and hold one end.

“Should we say something?” I ask.

“Goodbye dead duck. We will miss you.” Says a little girl.

As I go to launch the duck into his last sail across the sea, he falls off and I am left with his body lapping in the waves by the shore. I was always taught to be respectful of the dead creatures we find. So as I try to push him out to sea with my failed pyre I find myself apologizing to the duck.

Finally the duck starts to drift out to sea. The children are wishing him well. “Go to the sunset.” one little girl yells to him.

WP_20131011_009 (768x1024) Eventually the children and I walk up to the driftwood where we were first playing.  The children start talking about death and the duck.

I ask “What does it mean when you die?”

“You never see them again.” says a little boy.

I listen as they talk about death with such honesty. I am moved by their openness to discuss it. I have had a year full of death. I have had to say goodbye more times then I cared too this year. With all this death I had been witness to I had never once engaged in such an honest and philosophical conversation. As I listened I could actually feel a swelling of emotion. There I was on a beach trying not to cry over a dead duck.

A young boy comes up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder and says “Danielle its okay.” And I brace myself for it, that big truth this child is going to share with me. “There are lots of ducks out there.” he says.

 

 

Something Pink

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A beautiful spot. Peaceful. Loons glide on the lake, turtles sun themselves on rocks, hundreds of electric blue damsel flies hover over the shoreline. There are maybe 9 people in truck campers and trailers on the entire lake, just a perfect spot.

Off in the distance I spy something that seems not to fit. It is pink. Am I seeing Barbie pink? I look more closely, and yes, there is definitely something Barbie pink over in the distance. I stand and squint and then I know what it is. A child is driving a Barbie pink motorized mini car over the sloping hills. Oh my gosh. Is this how children are connecting with the natural world?

The discordance of the pink mini car in this secluded natural spot is jarring. But who I am I to be judgemental?!  For all I know the child had spent most of the day looking at bugs and rolling in the long grass. And why do I suppose that rolling in the grass is the best way to be with nature?  I know many families enjoy dirt bikes, ATV’s and other motorized vehicles in the outdoors and have strong ethical and spiritual connection to their environment. I cannot suppose there is a ’pure way’ to be outdoors. I cannot suppose that this child’s outdoor experience is somehow inauthentic because I don’t like pink mini cars!

So I reprimand myself. Maybe seeing a Barbie car out there at that secluded lake was a good reminder to me that there are many ways to connect, to be with and enjoy the outdoor environment. That the issues of connecting children with nature are complex and filled with contradictions.

 

But it sure was pink.

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The Heart Shaped Leaf

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“If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.”

Rachel Carson

 

Yesterday while outside a child came up to me with the glimmer of excitement in her eyes.  She was clutching something in her hand.

“Danielle I found a heart shaped leaf.” She unrolled her fingers to reveal a small green leaf in her hand.

 I asked if I could take a picture and she excitedly said yes.  We talked about where she found it, what kind of plant we thought it might be and if we could find a leaf book that would help us figure it out. She proclaimed she had such a book at home.  Plans were made to do some research. She then excitedly went to show the other children. Soon heart shaped leaf hunts had started and theories were being constructed on why the leaf was heart shaped. The moment was but a small fraction of my day but it has stayed with me.  As I sat at my computer last night preparing to write a narration on our explorations outside, I couldn’t help but pause and just look at the picture.

I found myself in a deep state of reflection. I thought about the opportunities that are constantly presented to the children and I when we go outside. I found myself trying to think of a parallel experience in the classroom.  Treasures have been found but usually I put them there. Rarely do we find something that is surprising to everyone in the room.  Except for maybe a spider or a bug, which did originally come from outside.

I found myself thinking of a classroom visit I did a couple weeks ago where the teacher said excitedly to me “We are trying to spend more time outside. We are allowing more natural play and learning like the nature kindergarten.” I wondered later in an email to her if teachers felt like the nature kindergarten was legitimizing outdoor play. Yes she replied.

I thought of how I have observed play that continues to be revisited over long periods of time.  I am talking months here. Children engaged in play that they designed.  Trying on roles of strength and vulnerability to see how they feel.

I thought of all those times I decided to go outside even when I didn’t want to and how almost always I was thankful I did. How something amazing and/or unexpected always presented itself.  Like crows breaking into our backpack and flying off with our snacks, a young falcon in a turf war with said crows flying and dipping overhead, a sap tree that magically turned blue after the first frost, the Camus lilies that bloom in the spring and make our green hills seas of blue and I thought about how I couldn’t of planned any of that.

I can create the loveliest stream with fabric, tape or paper for the children to jump over in the classroom but I cannot recreate the sense of accomplishment they feel from jumping over the deepest darkest mud puddle.

I can give them climbing apparatuses to challenge their bodies but I cannot recreate the mind body connection a child builds from running on the rough unpredictable surfaces you find in nature.  

I can plan elaborate treasure hunts with beautiful jewels to be found at the end but I cannot recreate the sense of wonder a child feels when they find something as special as a heart shaped leaf.

What is my role then?

I remembered Lella Gandini’s wise words she shared with us this fall “It is not the job of the teacher to be prepared, it is the job of the teacher to be ready.” This is what I believe outdoor play requires of me, to be ready.  It requires me to look at the world with fresh eyes,  be ready to think with the child and embrace my sense of wonder.

 

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in” 

Rachel Carson

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Everything is Better on the Beach: Part 2

Danielle is right, everything is better on the beach.

 This past weekend, my family and our closest friends went camping. We’ve been doing these trips annually for 27 years starting with the four of us and one baby. Now there are four adult kids plus partners, 12 of us in all. While the trips were wonderful when the kids were small, there is something even more amazing about camping with them now that they are in their mid 20′s. Watching these intelligent, talented and caring adults still enjoying each other’s company well, if you are the parents of adult children you know what I mean. So there we were with lots of great food, campfires, guitar and banjo music, maybe a bit of wine and beer(!!)…..and the beach.

 We set ourselves a challenge: make something from materials found on the beach. We brought along a few hand tools, some sandpaper, some string, some glue. We spent an entire day at it, no deadline, no expectations, no pressure. Some people started making something and never finished, others gathered materials and then just left them in a pile, and some didn’t do anything at all. Others made intricate and complex pieces.

 

 

The found materials didn’t demand perfection. They are beautifully odd, randomly curved, smooth and cracked, rough and silky. They allow a freedom in creation that commercial materials don’t offer. Perfection is not an option.

 

At the end of the day we all felt equally satisfied whether we made anything or not. There was joy and camaraderie in the making, mistakes and imperfections were embraced as part of the creative process.

 

No matter our age we all thrive in the freedom to play, to create, to embrace a project of our own choosing…..or make a pile of sticks and leave it be.

 

The spirit of the beach……that ‘s what I want all year.

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Everything is Better on the Beach

 

 

 

So I am doing something different this summer. I am running a summer program for preschoolers for the community centre my preschool is in.  Its been a great experience. It has been challenging as well. Its kind of like the first week of preschool every week. You know that time when you and the children are still learning each others boundaries and names, developing relationships and just basically getting to know each other. That week where you always have one eye on the door just in case someone bolts, a lot of jumping from one child to the next trying to make sure you connect with everyone. Well summer camp is like that every week. By the end of the week we have a good rhythm, I feel connected to the children and parents and we all feel relaxed. Monday though we start all over again.

I did this for the challenge. I was curious if a week long program could help create a sense of community and connectedness. I am happy to say I believe it does. I feel very connected not only to the children who have passed through our doors but the families as well.

The truth is though a week long program with 2.5  to 5 years olds is kind of like being on high alert all the time. I really have a new respect for educators and community programs that work in strong starts, parent and tot groups and of course camps.

I want to share one week in particular with you, actually more like one day. See this one week a couple weeks ago almost half of the children in our program were under the age of three. Quite capable, amazing two year olds but young and I had planned a walk to a beach that was a bit of a trek for our Thursday trip. After two days of going for small walks around the park adjacent to the community centre I quickly realized this hike on Thursday may not be right for these children. So I chatted to the parents and asked that they drop off their children at the beach that day.

Thursday morning I went straight to the beach set up a tent with books and pillows inside for shade, I set up a blanket for snacks and relaxing, I put out pales, shovels and rakes and finally I set up a visual boundary of where they could play. As the families arrived I showed them the tent, blanket, shovels, pales, rakes and the boundary. The children were so excited to be at the beach.

So you remember earlier in the post where I said running a summer program was like being on high alert all the time. It wasn’t like that at the beach. It was amazing, I was relaxed, the children were relaxed and we had the most magnificent time.

 

The children built roads, dug holes and looked for burried treasure in the sand.

 

 

Collections were found.

 

Seaweed mountains were made.

 

The children played on the water’s edge.

The children took some risks and played quite a distance away from me. I took some risks and let them.

When the parents picked up sand was in every crevice of their bodies, they were wet and tired but you could not wipe the smiles off their faces. This is what nature play does for us, it calms us down, it allows us to be creative, it allows us to  play play that we designed, it allows us to take risks, it allows us to be physical, it allows us to get exhausted  and it allows  us to reflect. Notice I didn’t say them or the children…. all those things happened for me that day too.

 

“To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.”
Isaac Newton