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Hi Nature Lovers, 

 

 

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 edge of the grass. 

"Where did this dirt come from? This wasn't here yesterday! Can we climb on it?"

Thus began our 3 year relationship with a mound of earth. Since that beautiful autumn afternoon, this mound has changed with every season. It has witnessed children grow, welcomed siblings to play, caused physical injuries, and has even been peed on. It has been poked with sticks, had rocks thrown at it, been used as a dinosaur excavation site, and hosted many racing events. 

 

I don’t think they knew the hill was ours.
— Hunter, 5 years old

Earlier this spring, I ran into one of my Naturally Curious explorers on the street outside his school and the first thing he told me was "The hill of dirt is GONE!" Apparently, it had happened that afternoon while he was in the park with his class. "The park just took it with a big digging machine!" I walked over to the park to have a look for myself and my heart sank when I saw the flat patch of earth. I didn't realize how significant this simple mound of dirt was to me until it wasn't there! 

The shock and sadness continued that afternoon as the nature explorers began arriving for our weekly nature walk. Each one ran over to where the hill once stood and just stared. Hunter summed up everyone's thoughts when she stated, "I don't think they knew the hill was ours." 

This incident reminded me of the power of place and the importance of repetitive visits to the same locations over time. Naturally Curious Nature Walks has "gathered" a number of special logs, boulders, hills, and "secret" park spaces we visit every week on our nature adventures. Each child has their favorite places to visit, weaving narratives connecting the special objects of each space. The decomposing log on one trail may be a rocket ship taking us to a boulder down the path that is a meteorite. As we visit these locations, the group starts creating a common language of discovery and play that is often hard to translate to newcomers. We have to backtrack months to when we created a particular story to explain to a parent or a new friend. These stories grow over time and flow into each weekly walk. If a place is memorable and deserving of repeated visits, it often earns a name from the kids...Bugville, Dandelion Island, Westside Spot, John Muir Rock #1, John Muir Rock #2 (there's 3 and 4, as well!), the Space Shuttle Tree Trunk, Log Falls, the Obstacle Course, Branch Ranch.  These ordinary places in the park become "ours" to the children given the opportunity to spend time playing in them.

Even if they don’t know “my” ditch, most people I speak with seem to have a ditch somewhere - or a creek, meadow, wooded lot, or marsh - that they hold in a similar regard. These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin. They are the secondhand lands, the hand-me-down habitats where you have to look hard to find something to love.
— Robert Michael Pyle, from The Thunder Tree

CONNECT & EXPLORE

 

Do you have a favorite space you visited often as a child that made an impression on you? It doesn't have to be a large natural space like Prospect Park. It could even be an abandoned lot on your street or a brick wall you used to watch ants crawl on. Share this memory with your child!  Draw a picture of the space together and all of the details that made this area special to you.

Find a special natural space near your home to visit every week as a family. Note how the plants and animals change throughout the year. Have a picnic there! Bring books to read on a cool spring afternoon. Follow your child's curiosity and notice how their interest in the space may differ from yours. Enjoy your time together outside!