Posts Tagged ‘Children’

Backyard Nature    (No Comments »)

Monday, November 29th, 2010

By Mark

When I was a toddler in 1950 my parents moved from a cramped New Jersey apartment to a new suburb on Long Island, NY. The house was on the site of a farm and had a large (from my perspective) apple and a maple tree right behind the house. One day when I was in the range of 4-6 years old, my mother was walking with me in the backyard and pointed at a nest high in the apple tree. Suddenly an American Robin flew out. It was almost as if her parental power had summoned the bird forth. For the rest of my childhood, I was fascinated with those trees and the birds and insects in them.
That is my earliest nature story

Here are a few more interactions at those trees:

As a slightly older child I kept notes from hours of watching from my upstairs bedroom window as a Robin tended a different nest in the backyard maple.  One day I watched a Blue Jay hop around very close to the nest, looking for something. Fortunately for the Robin, the Jay did not find the nest. 

Below the apple tree were a vegetable garden on one side and a flower garden on a the other. My siblings and I collected insects from the gardens and trees. Some insects were mounted with pins, but we kept live crickets. We tried to keep praying mantises but did not realize that they would cannibalize each other if kept in the same shoe box. 

In the late 1950’s I became a Boy Scout. Insect Study Merit Badge had a requirement that in its current version states: “Observe 20 different live species of insects in their habitat.” ( ). I sat on a lawn chair next to the flower garden and started to take notes. Within a short while I had counted 20 species. But I thought I would just stay there to see how long it would take before I would find yet another species new for the day. As the morning went on there was a ‘new’ species every 5-10 minutes. After a couple of hours, I stopped observing the flower patch and left amazed and heartened at the variety of fellow life forms that inhabited our family’s little backyard.

One early September day, a dramatic cold snap knocked a cicada out of a tree. I thought the dead cicada would be great for my insect collection, so I put it inside my uniform shirt and trotted down the street to school.  At lunch time I was in the back of a class room during  choir practice when the cicada started to buzz. I pulled it out of my shirt and held it in front of me while I tried to figure out what to do. Some girls started to scream.  The nun assumed I was intentionally disrupting the proceedings and gave my knuckles a good rapping with the standard ruler.

Nature as Non-Permissive    (No Comments »)

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

by Philip Waters

It’s funny, but as I reflect on my childhood experiences of nature, it was those spaces in nature that I ventured into that were non-permissive that I enjoyed the most. Sneaking onto private land to steal an apple from an orchard, or climbing trees you’ve been told not to climb, or sneaking into caves that were at risk of collapsing.

Today, a lot of our experiences of nature is about well-manicured recreational spaces. In the case of children, access to slightly more wild locations is a very rare experience indeed.

I help design nature-based play spaces in the UK, which, if I am honest, are always going to be compensatory spaces for what nature has to offer. But that said, where possible we ask designers, land owners and community groups to put up fake signs saying ‘keep out’, or ‘danger’, on the basis they’re not really ‘keep out’ or ‘dangerous’ spaces, but the sign establishes the potential for children to break the rules, take a risk, and believe they’re entering non-permissive areas.

Children’s Nature Playground    (1 Comment »)

Friday, April 30th, 2010

My first strong memory of interacting with nature was when my parents bought a kind of hobby farm on a very small west coast island in British Columbia, Canada when I was about eight years old. We had twenty-five acres and most of it was bluffs behind our house. My siblings and I used to use this 25 acre bluff and the neighbouring lands as our own personal playground. We would spend hours roaming the hills and following the feral sheep trails that circled the whole island. I knew all the routes by heart even when I got quite a bit further off our property than I should have been…literally hours of walking and never got lost. I remember feeling most at home during these wanderings. I knew each tree and bush, fern and rock along my routes like individuals and felt at home in the woods and open spaces like most people feel at home in their living room. I loved every piece of that land and when we moved away a few years later I felt like we were leaving behind a good friend. I wish all children could have this same experience. They might then appreciate the beauty and intrinsic value of each little natural place.

Here is the Deep Water    (1 Comment »)

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

I have taken many camping and backpacking trips in my life. I love the feeling of pure exhaustion that comes at the end of a multi-day backpacking trip through breathtaking scenery.  The random friends it brings, the reflection and solitude it offers, the connection to nature that makes me feel so small again in such a big world.

There was nothing quite like my first experience taking my 24 kindergartners camping.  My level of exhaustion for such a short trip (a mere 30 hours) was staggering compared to week long solo backpacking trips. But my first experience camping with them, and helping them shape their social construction of camping as a crew will be forever memorable and meaningful.  The simplest tasks…how to care for zippers on tents, setting those tents up, hiking courtesies, how to stay hydrated, proved to be draining, exciting, and beautiful all at the same time.

One of my most memorable moments on this trip came after playing down in the lake, splashing around, swimming, pretending to be dolphins, building sand castles, and sand mermaids.  Back at camp, in warmer layers, the kids cozied against trees with their journals.  Without me even asking they gave themselves ample space. They knew this was solitude and reflection time and they seemed to know quietly listening to nature helps them do that best.  I peeked in on one of my little guy’s reflection pages.  It was a poem.  We had not even started our poetry unit yet. It said, “here is the deep water” and had an image of the crew playing in the lake.  The poem still sits above my desk as a reminder of how profound nature is for these kids and how imperative it is for me to continue giving them every opportunity possible to interact with nature.  That poem, along with countless pictures of this crew on snowshoeing trips, camping trips, climbing trips and hiking trips hangs on a wall with Emerson’s simple words, “in the woods is perpetual youth.”