Nature

Heartfelt Crafts: Fabric Flower Prints

pansy  IMAG1976

There was an open house at a “natural” craft store for kids this week and it was GREAT!  http://www.heartfeltonline.com/

The first project we did was to create flower prints on muslin (available at any fabric store).

Here are the instructions to make your flower/fabric print.

1. Place a piece of scrap paper on a piece of wood.

2. Put the flower on top of the paper.

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3. Cover the flower with a piece of muslin and start hammering gently.

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As you hammer, the color from the flower bleeds through.

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To set the color in the fabric, iron it between two pieces of fabric.

Get creative and use different sizes of fabrics and different color flowers. The sky is the limit.

Frame and hang. It’s as simple as that and is really beautiful!

Skills: Appreciation of nature, manual dexterity, fine and gross motor coordination, recognition of colors, physical properties of flowers, art.

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Children Can Meditate Too

ImageI LOVE this concept. Children meditating. Children engaging in stress-reducing activities at a young age. My daughter has learned “The Volcano Breath” at school.

They rub their hands together while calming and then blast them into the air with a big out breath! I use it when things are getting riled up in the household and the energy level is about to blow off the roof.

“Volcano breath, Honey! Quick, Volcano Breath!”

She stops whatever whirlwind she’s in the middle of and runs to me all smiles. She quick starts rubbing her hands together and then blast-off! 

She’s calm, if only for a minute.

This is from an article I cut out on the topic of health and mindfulness meditation:

http://ecologyhealthcenter.net/node/1064

“A few minutes of daily mindfulness meditation can help take attention away from tummy troubles of all kinds for school-age kids, too.

Here’s one way to get started:

Have your child hold a flower (or another small, pretty object) in her hands. Encourage her to pretend she’s never seen a flower before, and have her describe what it looks like, what it smells like, how the petals feel—even what it sounds like. Gaylord says that focusing on something other than symptoms brings a person’s attention into the present moment—helping her think less about stomach pain or anxiety.”

Let’s try it! Find ways to integrate “living in the moment” into our children’s live. Let’s work on those self-calming strategies if only for a few moments or perhaps before going to bed.

There’s more to explore on this topic and I’m looking forward to it. I’m guessing that nature has its own natural sedative properties…how can they be put to use in this process?!

More Support for the Out of Doors (Nature and Children)

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20 Reasons Why Playing Outdoors Makes Children Smarter

http://www.houstonfamilymagazine.com/exclusives/20-reasons-why-playing-outdoors-makes-children-smarter/

By Stacey Loscalzo

Author and clinical psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison, writes, “Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” It is through unstructured, open-ended creative play that children learn the ways of the world. While playing outside, children explore with all their senses, they witness new life, they create imaginary worlds and they negotiate with each other to create a playful environment.

1. Outdoor play is a multi-sensory activity. While outdoors, children will see, hear, smell and touch things unavailable to them when they play inside. They use their brains in unique ways as they come to understand these new stimuli.

2. Playing outside brings together informal play and formal learning. Children can incorporate concepts that have learned at school in a hands on way while outdoors. For example, seeing and touching the roots of a tree will bring to life the lesson their teacher had taught about how plants get their nutrients.

3. Playing outdoors stimulates creativity. Robin Moore, an expert in the design of play and learning environments, says, “Natural spaces and materials stimulate children’s limitless imagination and serve as the medium of inventiveness and creativity.” Rocks, stones and dirt present limitless opportunities for play that can be expressed differently every time a child steps outside.

4. Playing outdoors is open ended. There is no instruction manual for outdoor play. Children make the rules and in doing so use their imagination, creativity, intelligence and negotiation skills in a unique way.

5. Playing in nature reduces anxiety.Time spent outside physiologically reduces anxiety. Children bring an open mind and a more relaxed outlook back inside when they are in more traditional learning environments.

6. Outdoor play increases attention span. Time spent in unstructured play outdoors is a natural attention builder.Often children who have difficulty with pen and paper tasks or sitting still for longer periods of times are significantly more successful after time spent outside.

7. Outdoor play is imaginative. Because there are no labels, no pre-conceived ideas and no rules, children must create the world around them. In this type of play children use their imagination in ways they don’t when playing inside.

8. Being in nature develops respect for other living things. Children develop empathy, the ability to consider other people’s feeling, by interacting with creatures in nature. Watching a tiny bug, a blue bird or a squirrel scurrying up a tree gives children the ability to learn and grow from others.

9. Outdoor play promotes problem solving. As children navigate a world in which they make the rules, they must learn to understand what works and what doesn’t, what line of thinking brings success and failure, how to know when to keep trying and when to stop.

10. Playing outside promotes leadership skills. In an environment where children create the fun, natural leaders will arise. One child may excel at explaining how to play the game while another may enjoy setting up the physical challenge of an outdoor obstacle course. All types of leadership skills are needed and encouraged.

11. Outdoor play widens vocabulary. While playing outdoors, children may see an acorn, a chipmunk and cumulous clouds. As they encounter new things, their vocabulary will expand in ways it never could indoors.

12. Playing outside improves listening skills. As children negotiate the rules of an invented game, they must listen closely to one another, ask questions for clarification and attend to the details of explanations in ways they don’t have to when playing familiar games.

13. Being in nature improves communication skills. Unclear about the rules in an invented game? Not sure how to climb the tree or create the fairy house? Children must learn to question and clarify for understanding while simultaneously making themselves understood.

14. Outdoor play encourages cooperative play. In a setting where there aren’t clear winners and losers, children work together to meet a goal. Perhaps they complete a self-made obstacle course or create a house for a chipmunk. Together they compromise and work together to meet a desired outcome.

15. Time in nature helps children to notice patterns. The natural world is full of patterns. The petals on flowers, the veins of a leaf, the bark on a tree are all patterns. Pattern building is a crucial early math skill.

16. Playing outdoors helps children to notice similarities and differences. The ability to sort items and notice the similarities and differences in them is yet another skill crucial to mathematical success. Time outdoors affords many opportunities for sorting.

17. Time spent outdoors improves children’s immune systems. Healthy children are stronger learners. As children spend more and more time outdoors, their immune systems improve decreasing time out of school for illness.

18. Outdoor play increases children’s physical activity level. Children who play outdoors are less likely to be obese and more likely to be active learners. Children who move and play when out of school are ready for the attention often needed for classroom learning.

19. Time spent outdoors increases persistence. Outdoor games often require persistence. Children must try and try again if their experiment fails. If the branch doesn’t reach all the way across the stream or the bark doesn’t cover their fairy house, they must keep trying until they are successful.

20. Outdoor play is fun. Children who are happy are successful learners. Children are naturally happy when they moving, playing and creating outside. This joy opens them up for experimenting, learning and growing.

 Bio: Stacey Loscalzo is a freelance writer and mother of two girls living in Ridgewood, NJ. She and her girls have been getting outside to play for nearly a decade.

Berries for the Birds: The Best Part of the Playground

It was a chilly day and we had a little time to kill before dinner and after daycare. I asked her if she wanted to go to the park and she said “Yes!” After a few minutes on the swing she noticed berries in the sand that surrounded the swingset. She asked about the berries —What are they for? What do they look like? Why are they berries? She asked me to peel the berries and I did so meticulously, as they were about the size of a very small pea. “Open it, mama. Open it!” A rough outer layer when peeled away revealed a lighter, nut-like inner.

We found a few berries still attached to tiny branches.

Searching for the berries became the focus of the playground visit.

I explained that birds eat the berries but that humans do not. She proceeded to collect and lay out the berries for the birds to come and eat. This was similar to the activity we had started at home when the oak tree dropped its nuts in the front yard. In that case, however, the nuts were for the squirrels.

She has learned that she is giving a gift to the animals and that they will thank her in return. “The birdies say tank you. Tank you, WuaCwaire….Tank you for de berrieessss….”‘

I love it.

Searching for berries in the playground sand.

Delicately placing the berries on the railroad tie for the birds to come and get.

The berries all laid out for the birds.

Painting Rocks: Another Way to Get Creative with Your Kids

 

   

Lake Superior is one of the largest fresh body lakes in the U.S. and a favorite vacation place for most people who live in Minnesota. My daughter, a friend and I visited this area for a few days ago and had a lovely time. There is always a cool breeze rolling off the lake even when the sun is out.

While walking on the beach we decided to gather some rocks, polished by the wind, water and rain, to take home and paint for the garden. Here we are collecting rocks.

At home we pulled out the acrylic paints and brushes. I used a highchair tray as the palette.

     

A pinecone also turned out to be fun item to paint.

 

The fruits of our labor were put into the back garden for all to enjoy and as a reminder of our creative endeavors.

 

So get out and get creative! See what you can come up with.

A message to all those promoting outdoor learning

Wyre forest school fire steel

A message to all those promoting outdoor learning.

From: http://rethinkingchildhood.com/2012/07/09/outdoor-learning/#more-2001

Written by Tim Gill

This weekend saw the launch of a new national body for those working in UK Forest School settings. I have agreed to be the patron of this new body. Sadly I was not able to be at the event in person. At the Association’s invitation, I passed on a message of support, which I thought may be of wider interest:

I am very honoured to be asked to be the patron of the first national association for those working to take forward the Forest School movement. I first heard about Forest School back in the early 2000s, and have been a big fan ever since.

Not that I needed much persuading. As someone who in the 1970s, I roamed freely throughout the large village and countryside where I grew up. So I have vivid memories of the times I spent with my friends in the woods and fields. We scoured rotting tree stumps searching for devil’s coach horse beetles and toads. We gathered horse chestnuts for playground conker tournaments. We picked rosehips and squirted out the insides to rub into each others’ backs as itching powder (though it never seemed very itchy to me).

I am sure many of you have similar memories. I do not doubt that – like me – many of you do what you do because you believe that children today deserve experiences that share some of the magical qualities of everyday adventures like these.

But just what are those magical qualities, and why are such experiences so universal, and so resonant? In my view, there are two reasons. First, they speak of the richness and boundless fascination of the natural world. No matter how humdrum or familiar it may seem to adult eyes, almost any green outdoor space holds mystery and wonder, and invites exploration and investigation, when experienced through children’s fresher, less stultified senses.

The second reason is our lifelong appetite for experience and autonomy. From the earliest age, we human beings have a deep hunger to get to grips with the world around us; to feel a sense of our own agency, of our competences, and of our ability to control our fate.

Thanks to Richard Louv and others, there is growing awareness of the fact that nature is disappearing from children’s lives, and indeed it is the focus for a thriving global movement. The fact that autonomy, freedom and a sense of responsibility are also disappearing from children’s lives is far less well recognized. To see this, just look at the tortuous health and safety tangles that many schools get into in the playground and on school trips.

For me, the potential of Forest School is built on two vital foundation stones: the intrinsic qualities of natural places, and the intrinsic motivations and learning impulses of children. If Forest School is to leave a lasting impression on the lives of the children and young people who experience it, these two need equal emphasis.

This is why I would like to make one plea to everyone here. When your new association gets locked into the minutiae of debates about definitions, and principles, and accreditation, and awards – as it inevitably will – do not forget to revisit those childhood memories. Remember the places you played when you were young, and the things you did there. Remind yourself that at its heart, what Forest School is about is allowing children the space and time to experience the everyday wonders of nature, and to feel what it means to be human.

I look forward to following and cheering on the work of the Association, and I am happy to do whatever I can to help take the organisation forward.

Note: the Association is yet to decide its name. I will amend this post once the decision is made.

Tim Gill is one of the UK’s leading thinkers on childhood, and an effective advocate for positive change in children’s everyday lives. For over 15 years his writing, research, consultancy projects and other work has focused on the changing nature of childhood, children’s play and free time, and their evolving relationships with the people and places around them.

The Power of Modeling Behavior for Children: A Run-in with a Caterpillar

The power of a mother, father or other trusted adult figure to shape a young child’s life is amazing and at times seemingly limitless.

This last week, while out on a walk, I looked down and saw a very beautiful caterpillar. I stopped to point it out to my daughter so that she could admire and experience its beauty as well.

And then I came to a fork in the road. Should I pick it up or leave it on the ground?

Honestly…I had no desire to touch that creepy, crawly, little caterpillar with sticky legs. Yuck.

But I did. I went down the fork I didn’t want to go down. I put my hand in front of it, put a big smile on my face and let that little creature crawl up my hand. Surprisingly, I found myself thinking, “Hey, this isn’t so creepy after all. Not as bad as I thought!” I remembered when I was young and collected caterpillars in a box. Did I let them crawl up my hand then? I can’t remember.

No less than two seconds later the little one below me cries…”I wanna hold it.” The little guy crawled freely around her hand and on her sweatshirt for a long time. She never showed one sign of distress or discomfort. Five minutes later we put it back on the grass to let it go and as we walked away she turned back, crying for the caterpillar, “I wann caerpiwarrrr…”

She was so distressed we went back for a little more of that little guy marching up and down her sleeve.

Wow! She was in heaven. You can see a really genuine, calm happiness peeking out from behind that binky.

Had I said, “No, don’t touch…Icky,” she most likely would never have experienced the beauty of that little crawly thing and would have been one step further away from nature and its glory.

I’m happy for her and proud of myself for taking a leap and putting my finger in front of those sticky little legs. I knew it was the right thing to do and I did it.

It may seem like just a little thing but I would like to believe that the outcome was bigger than that small act.  Little did I know how much the power of modeling would hold for a child of this age and how much joy she would gain as a result.

The “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution: How One Woman Found Her Lifetime Mission

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marghanita Hughes is a children’s author and illustrator and creator of the award-winning children’s brand, The Little Humbugs. She is a naturalist and founder of the “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution – a Canadian non-profit organization with a mission to change the way children spend their time. Throughout the year, Marghanita runs nature classes for children and “hands on” workshops for educators wanting to learn how they can connect children with the natural world. She strongly believes that all children should be given the opportunity to discover and explore the natural world.

By on June 25th, 2012

The “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution: How One Woman Found Her Lifetime Mission

All children deserve the right to have the opportunity to experience the magic that the natural world provides. I am fortunate to be able to witness this magic every day in my nature classes and during the school visits I make. Because of that magic, my life has been transformed.

A few years ago, I launched nature classes for 3 – 8 year olds. During the classes, we provide a natural space where children can run, play, dance, sing, squeal, shout or be silent in this forest space. They stand, kneel or crouch to paint or create the creatures, birds, trees, flowers and grasses, which are all around us. The children develop a beautiful relationship with Mother Earth. They get to feel who they are, happy and free. Over the past three years, I have expanded the classes, offering them after school.

How did I come to this mission? Throughout life, people come into our lives that help us on our way to finding our purpose in life. Or it may be a book that we read at a particular time in our lives that inspires change in us. One such book for me was Last Child In the Woods by Richard Louv. The very title haunted me. The book had such a profound impact on me that it inspired me to create my nature classes.

Now I believe there is a need to provide a way for people of all ages to benefit from nature in their lives. In Richard’s latest book The Nature Principle, he provides affirmation that adults are suffering from nature-deficit disorder, too, and are in need of reconnecting with nature just as much as children. He quotes Thomas Berry: “We have turned away from nature. The great work of the twenty-first century will be to reconnect to the natural worlds as a source of meaning.”  This is absolutely true.

The Nature Principle led me to add another element to my nature classes: adults. What I try to get across in my presentations to adults and children is that you do not need to be a biologist to teach children about the birds and trees in their backyard or park, or the need to be a life-long gardener in order to grow a small vegetable plot in the school grounds. The simple nature-based activities we teach in my workshops and classes are fun and easy, stimulating the child’s (and adult’s) body, mind and spirit.

During my presentation/workshop in Vancouver for the Early Learning Years Conference 2011, I was overwhelmed by the educators’ enthusiasm and their dedication to changing the way children spend time in their care. Witnessing their sense of awe and imagination was both heart-warming and exciting. It was easy to forget I was teaching adults.

Typically, I start the sessions by getting participants to close their eyes and to take a moment to think back to their own childhood. I ask them to think of their favorite outdoor activity as a child. The room instantly fills up with smiles and I ask who would like to share their fondest memories. Hands shoot up all over the room, eager to reminisce about their childhood outdoors. Having a room full of happy, enthusiastic teachers, excited to take their new knowledge of how to actively engage children and adults with nature, fills me with an abundance of joy and hope for the future. If a teacher is enthusiastic, he or she will get the children excited too.

Since registering as a participant in the Children and Nature Network some time ago, I have watched it grow and blossom into an amazing pulse of creative energy, a network of individuals, organizations and nature groups, sharing and connecting their ideas, dreams, solutions, and challenges: fueling the very movement Richard hoped would happen.

In Canada, I’ve been inspired to start what I call The Let’s Go Outside Revolution, a non-profit organization, providing help at the grassroots level — starting locally, growing organically. The response to has been amazing.

Here is just one example: An elementary school teacher from Vancouver got involved in our Revolution. At the time, she was the only teacher in her school to take classes out into a little forested area behind the school. In December she reported that every single teacher in her school was now taking their classes outdoors.

Yes, there is a long way to go, but a “New Nature Movement,” as Richard Louv calls it, is growing stronger and more powerful every day. We all have a purpose in life. I believe my purpose is to help return our children to Mother Earth and to help re-awaken the awe and wonder in adults who have forgotten or lost their inner child.

I am the revolution. You are, too.

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Are Schools Breaking Children’s Spirits? Life and Learning Beyond Walls

Field Notes from the Future: Tracking the Movement to Connect People and Nature

by Kelly Keena

via ARE SCHOOLS BREAKING CHILDREN’S SPIRITS? Life and Learning Beyond Walls.

When starting out as a teacher, I heard Joseph Cornell say that keeping children inside one room five days a week is akin to breaking a horse.  I’m haunted by that analogy. Our tendency is to keep children in, especially as academic demands only increase. And for discipline or missed work what do we do? Keep them in at recess. Breaking horses.

What would happen if we gave students opportunities to go outside and interact with the natural world as part of the school day? Does a natural classroom give us a way to maintain our students’ inner wildness, as Mercogliano calls it?*

We know that nature is critical in children’s development.  We know that children are losing access to independent explorations in nature.  Schools canprovide children with experiences in nature, and typically, nature contact is not part of our national public schooling agenda.  Yet.  As teachers, we need to give children opportunities to be more than academics

Audrey was a sixth grade girl in a school with a schoolyard habitat that was used as an outdoor classroom. During science class in fourth grade, her attention was turned to a small, hard, dark woody case surrounding the stem of an oak shrub. It was the size of a marble and was in a cluster of five other small round cases.  As she looked to other branches, she noticed that the clusters of balls were quite common all the way through the tangled scrub oak.

Intellectually, her curiosity was sparked.  Physically, she moved in long graceful strokes along the woods, her breath increasing and diminishing as she found other clusters, feeling the texture of them with her fingers, her notebook tucked under her arm.  Emotionally, she felt a sense of excitement build as she realized she had no idea what she was looking at, then wonder as she discovered that the balls were actually wasp galls – hard cases to protect the egg, then larva of the insect. For three years, Audrey visited the exact branch that first caught her attention and taught her classmates about the galls.

Jimmy was a sixth grade boy in the same school.  He was not interested in the woody galls. One morning in class, Jimmy and his classmates discovered a social trail through the scrub oak woods. The three boys crept carefully into the woods following the barely noticeable trail created by local coyotes or maybe deer.  The boys found that the trails wound through the very small patch of woods and that if they entered by the picnic table, they could emerge by the library.  Jimmy’s attention was fixed.

He went inside at the end of class that day, promptly opened his notebook, drew a map of the trails, and wrote a paragraph about the experience. That afternoon, we went back outside and he explored the woods on his own with a video camera.

The footage recorded his decision-making as he whispered to himself when he came to a fork in the trial, his breathing slowing and quickening in tune with the pace of his footsteps in the crunchy snow, and his exclamations when he found something unexpected.

Using these two stories out of hundreds collected during an eight-month study of this public, traditional school’s natural classroom habitat, there is evidence that supports children’s embodiment of so much more than intellect!  And yet, intellect and critical thinking was still very present in their experiences.  Through contact with a natural setting during the school day, the children in 4th-6th grade found imagination and adventure, critical thinking and curiosity, respite and relaxation, peace and calm, and ownership and identity.

The outdoor classroom developed the students’ sense of belonging to the school and to the natural world. The contact these children had with nature was also in a place where the children felt safe to explore at a distance from the teachers that felt safe. In some cases, it was the children’s the first contact with nature in a exploratory way.

If the question is about providing children with access nature, schools have an answer.  Even short, unstructured time in the schoolyard habitat with the sounds, textures, smells, space, and sensations showed value. The children were awake to the world, expanded to their own possibilities of their sensory channels, alive with curiosity and calm.  What a gift that schools can provide for an area of childhood that is vanishing at an alarming rate and at the same time, allow for children to feel the sense of wonder and joy in becoming familiar with the natural world.

*Mercogliano, C. (2007). In defense of childhood: Protecting kids’ inner wildness. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Photos by Kelly Keena

Additional Resources

C&NN Report: Children’s Contact with the Outdoors and Nature: A Focus on Educators and Educational Settings

The “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution: How One Woman Found Her Lifetime Mission

The Benefits and Joys of the School Garden

A New Role for Landscape Architecture

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Nature Play as an Everyday Joy of Childhood? For Kids, Frequency Requires Proximity

NATURE PLAY AS AN EVERYDAY JOY OF CHILDHOOD?
 http://childrenandnature.ning.com/group/natureclubsforfamilies/forum/topics/nature-play-as-an-everyday-joy-of-childhood-for-kids-frequency

Most of us who enjoyed nature play in our childhoods realize that it didn’t matter if we had a pristine patch of forest to play in or just a couple of vacant city lots.  Either way, there were endless things to find, explore, capture, imagine, and play with.  But what was important is that these places were right there, within our walking/running/biking distance.  No car, no parent, and no schedule were needed to get outside and play in nature.

The children and nature movement is fostering wonderful new ways for kids to play outdoors, such as designed natural playspaces, family nature clubs, and naturalized schoolyards.  These and other similar efforts are valuable steps – not only for the kids, but for parents who are reconsidering their children’s indoor, nature-deprived lives.  Yet most of these new approaches are challenged in one vital dimension:  frequency

When Dr. Louise Chawla (University of Colorado) researched influential childhood experiences in nature, she found that, “The special places that stood out in memory, where people formed a first bond with the natural world, were always a part of the regular rhythm of life.”  Those powerful experiences didn’t typically come from annual family camping trips, but rather from day-after-day, week-after-week events in children’s lives.  Actually, no special research is needed to realize that frequent childhood activities have more lasting impact than ephemeral ones.  Practicing the violin once a month is not a very effective strategy!  Is it better than nothing?  Perhaps – but only if you set your sights very low.

The same equation applies to nature play.  If we want it to have maximum impact, then it needs to be “part of the regular rhythm of life.”  It seems unlikely that we can achieve this solely through monthly meet-ups or widely scattered playspaces – strategies that require parents, cars and calendars, and thus compete for time within families’ hectic schedules.  Are these approaches valuable?  Absolutely!  Are they sufficient?  Unlikely.

If we really want to power-up nature-based play, it needs to be available where children can enjoy it almost any day, without adult involvement or confining schedules.  For most kids this means either home yards or neighborhood parks – and (sadly) only the former is likely to alleviate the fears of 21st-century American parents.  Can a typical quarter-acre suburban yard actually support nature play?  Or a city lot half that size?  Or an apartment courtyard?  The answer is yes, especially for kids of about two to eight years old.  Younger children’s worlds are much smaller than those of adults.  They don’t need sprawling spaces or eye-popping vistas.  Their attention naturally focuses on tiny and manipulable pleasures:  on dandelions rather than rose gardens; on earthworms rather than herds of bison; on a patch of dirt to dig in rather than a yawning cave to explore.

Unfortunately, the typical American yard is no haven for nature play.  Good nature play requires “rich” settings – that is, a diversity of plants, animals, and landforms that create endless opportunities for discovery and engagement.  Turf grass lawns, solitary shade trees, and a few neatly trimmed shrubs do not meet these criteria.  However, even the sparest yard can be augmented for good nature play with a little thought, a dose of elbow grease, and much less money than what those elaborate backyard play sets cost.

The key is to create yards with a “density of diversity:” a collection of micro-habitats that will harbor lots of natural discoveries and delights throughout the seasons.  These micro-habitats might include a shrub thicket, a wildflower garden, a jumbled pile of boulders, a tiny garden pond, a butterfly garden, a berry patch, a mass of tall native grasses, or even a space allowed to just grow into whatever comes up!  Once you’ve established a few of these tiny worlds in your yard, you can enhance them with a digging pit or a giant dirt pile, a couple of large logs, bird and toad houses, a bench or hammock in a quiet nook, and plenty of “loose parts” to nurture creative and constructive play.  These loose parts can be branches, driftwood, cattails, bamboo poles, boards, tree cookies (log slices), tarps, seed pods, pine cones, large boxes, hay bales, and whatever else you can readily scrounge up.

By focusing your primary efforts on creating multiple micro-habitats, you will ensure authentic nature play:  interactions with real nature, in all of its beauty, wonder, unpredictability, and adventure.  Manufactured outdoor play components – like the plastic play equipment designed to look natural – do not create the same connections to the natural world.  Kids can’t peel the bark off a plastic log to find rollie-pollies, and they won’t find monarch caterpillars feeding on fiberglass leaves.  In fact, one big, over-grown wildflower bed — or a patch of flowering shrubs laced with tiny paths — will bring more lasting and real nature play to your kids than will any human-made product! 

Note, though, that nature playscapes are more “messy” than most home landscaping, so you may want to keep much of your nature play zone in the backyard where it won’t generate hostility from neighbors who think front yards should look like golf greens.  However, certain nature play features are usually “dressy” enough to bring into front yards, like butterfly gardens, boulders, and herb gardens.  And by highlighting street-side nature play, you may encourage other local parents to think more about “kid-scaping” their own yards.  Nature play zones get better and better when more of your neighbors imitate and add to your own efforts!

None of these steps towards home-based nature play require great knowledge, training, or expense.  They can be implemented bit by bit, and your plans can be in constant flux as you discover what your kids and their friends most enjoy.  The ultimate goal is to create enough nature play “critical mass” so that your kids are excited to play in their own yards — day after day, and whenever they wish.  Then nature play will be a regular joy for your children; then it will achieve the frequency needed to influence and benefit them for decades to come! 

A few suggested resources with ideas to support home-based nature play:

– “A Parents’ Guide to Nature Play” from Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood: http://www.greenheartsinc.org/Parents__Guide.html

– National Wildlife Federation’s guidance on creating backyard wildlife habitats:www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Outdoor-Activities/Garden-for-Wildlife/Crea…

“Nature Play:  Simple and Fun Ideas for All” from Forestry Commission England:

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-7LSEHW

A Child’s Garden:  Enchanting Outdoor Spaces for Children and Parents, by Molly Dannenmaier

Plants for Play:  A Plant Selection Guide for Children’s Outdoor Environments, by Robin Moore

Natural Playscapes:  Creating Outdoor Play Environments for the Soul, by Rusty Keeler

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