Let’s chat about PLAY.
We all can agree that play is an essential element in our human development. We can all agree that play is natural, important, essential, and slowly disappearing from our children’s daily lives. As advocates of play, we are often eager to interject ourselves into our children’s imaginative narratives, offering well-intentioned suggestions for characters, plot twists, and lessons on how to best use materials. We want their play to be bubbling with joy, excitement, new toys, and extravagant narratives! Why wouldn’t you want all of these things present in your child’s play?
I've been thinking and reading a lot about boredom recently, and, it so happens, many top psychologists and academics have as well! There has been a growing curiosity about the benefits of boredom and it's connection to human creativity. The rise of the iPhone and social media have left our society craving the next pleasure seeking opportunity like a drug. With a press of a button, we can watch videos, listen to music, look at photographs, and simply get lost in an endless stream of visual stimuli. How is this instant gratification affecting our children's ability to create, imagine, and simply BE with themselves?
It began just like any other afternoon in the park. After eating lunch in our classroom at Studio Creative Play, we crossed Prospect Park West, heading to our usual play spot under a grove of crabapple trees by Litchfield Villa. The kids started to disperse into the grassy space, some climbing trees, others adding to a fort we had started the day prior. A few children stood, hands on hips, brows furrowed in confusion, at a large pile of soil standing at the end of the grass.
We were all shivers yesterday afternoon as we discussed welcoming SPRING to the park! It certainly did not feel like spring weather. We embraced the new season and read a spring quote by our dear friend John to inspire our time outside.
"Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm."
We certainly gave our joyful spring work all of our attention: PLAY! We took to the trails of Prospect Park, listened to the spring bird songs, collected sticks, jumped in the mud, and celebrated a new season.
Unstructured nature play inevitably involves some sort of physical injury, hurt feelings, or power struggle. And that's on a GOOD DAY! Building the strongest fort in the forest may involve a bumped head when your building partner swings around carrying a large branch. Collecting earthworms with a friend may turn into feelings of envy or frustration when they won't share their discoveries. As an educator or parent, our instinct is to step in, solve the conflict, and request the child at fault simply say "I"m sorry." And then everything is ok, right?
Regardless of where you seat yourself politically, I think we can all agree there are massive changes going on in Washington. These shifts affect our lives both globally and locally, causing possible anxiety, stress, and LOTS OF QUESTIONS from our curious children. Regardless of age, children are AWARE of the changing political climate, especially after the media-driven elections, the well publicized protests, and the constant political commentary and updates on the radio and television.
People have forgotten the grounding art of taking a walk.
It was on a simple stroll in the park on a Wednesday afternoon that I heard one of the 4th grade students exclaim, "This is the best day in the park EVER!" This enthusiasm for taking a simple walk startled me, not because I wasn't having a lovely time as well, but because I realized that walking with no destination or final goal is unheard of for many children these days.
Getting to know your street trees is now easier than ever with NYC's Street Tree Map website. There's no need to wait until you have access to a tree field guide to know the name and characteristics of a certain tree on your block. Grab your smartphone, head over to the NYC Street Tree Map site, search the street you are on, and click on the tree you are curious about. IT's THAT EASY!
Each nature walk I have hosted over the past two years with Naturally Curious Nature Walks has always guided me back to the same conclusion: PLAY WILL ALWAYS PREVAIL. When I first began this program, I often offered guided nature walks with a specific theme that I advertised with a cute title or pun. If we were guided by the question, "What will we find under a rotting log?" and the children wanted to climb trees and smell the flowers that day, I would often feel a sense of disappointment or failure when a parent asked what they learned about decomposers at pick-up and the child looked at them perplexed.
Yesterday we had a much welcomed warm, sunny day in the park which certainly inspired my Muir quote selection.
After getting caught in Sunday's evening storm in Prospect Park with 6 young adventurers, I was more than happy to dwell on the sun for an afternoon before winter's darker days take over.
Today is the first day in 3 weeks I have not woken up at 6am, taken the train to Grand Army Plaza, greeted 10 curious children (plus 1 curious teacher), and PLAYED in the park.
Today is the first day in 3 weeks I have not built a fort, caressed an earthworm, eaten my meals on the forest floor, or accepted a leaf as payment for an imaginary pie.
Today is the first day in 3 weeks I am not covered in sweat, mud, bug spray, and sunscreen.
As we began our sensory exploration, we took our usual trail to the "secret" park location we like to explore that the kids have named Bugville. However, on today's walk, the group explored with extra care and mindfulness. We made sure to take slow, quiet steps so we could hear and see all the park had to offer our senses.
An afternoon spent exploring nature is such a TREAT and, if you get to spend it with 11 curious naturalists, it's even BETTER! The first days of summer call all of our senses to attention. Biting into a fresh strawberry or smelling a new rose blossom can bring us such joy. This past nature exploration helped us focus on how our senses makes us FEEL. Can we use our time outdoors to make us feel better?
Sunday's Mandalas and Me walk was such an amazing exploration in Prospect Park! The young naturalists and I colored mandalas, created our own mandala out of natural objects, and investigated a patch of forest floor in search of connectivity and a greater story about the biodiversity of the park.
Let's toast to wintertime nature wandering, smiley cups of hot apple cider, nature journals, and tapping into our animal senses!