Playing In Nature
The Children in Nature Initiative of the Somerville Community Growing Center has been busy these past weeks; we’ve hosted a free public screening and discussion of the film “Mother Nature’s Child”, led a nature guide walk by the shores of the Mystic River for the children and youth in the after school program at the Mystic Learning Center, and met with a group of Somerville preschool directors to talk about using the garden as a outdoor classroom, and space for unstructured playtime in nature. We also gave these directors a copy of our bilingual “Our Garden Nature Guide-Nuestra guía de la naturaleza del jardín”. In addition, this past Sunday, Clare Walker Leslie, author, artist and naturalist led a walk/sketch program at the GC.
For the month of April we have also organized several open houses at the Growing Center in connection with the national Children in Nature Network’s, “Let’s G.O.(outside)campaign and are hoping to have Clare back at the end of April to lead an inter-generational nature walk at the Growing Center.
The Children and Nature Initiative of the SCGC and Children and Nature Network share this common goal; to bring together intergenerational groups of people to get outside together to be active, have fun and connect with nature
Studies show that being outdoors/exposure to green spaces can be can be healing and restorative for adults and children.
Playing in nature and having unstructured playtime outdoors can also provide the kind of appropriate developmental risks that all growing children need. Climbing, playing with rocks and sticks, making ‘secret houses’, and digging in dirt are all beneficial to children’s growth and development.
I kept this in mind last week as we went on our Mystic River nature walk wanting to ‘lead’ but also wanting them to experience things in an unstructured but safe way.
Our group of children, youth and adults started by observing a spring swarm of ants by the front door of the Learning Center. We leaned down to get a closer look to see what they were doing and talked a bit why I didn’t want them to step on the ants. The children talked amongst themselves and used hand lenses from a kit that SCGC had donated to their program to get a closer look.
We closed our eyes and listened to the sounds around us, felt the wind, and observed the blue sky, spied bright yellow daffodils, which some children gently touched and smelled. One boy told me that he saw them the day before but the flowers had not opened until that day.
At the boathouse we walked to a quieter spot by the river and the children were given pre-made journals. I asked them to look for evidence of animals while not moving from their spot. They immediately looked around and found; nests in the bare trees, goose poop, and remnants of eaten pinecones. Further investigation found, webs in the trees, pink flowers, swollen tree buds, and many kinds of trees. One girl heard a woodpecker and happily using the guide handed to her by another teacher, found the bird she thought she saw. Ducks and geese paddled by while starlings and grackles flew overheard. Suddenly a red tail hawk flew low by us and across the river! One group of boys sat as close to the river that they were allowed, throwing and rolling rocks into the water.
The best discovery was when a girl ran over to me, shouting my name and holding a short stick covered with ¼ cylindrical overlapping brown ovals-upon later investigation in my bug guide book, I found that they were katydid eggs! The light green winged insect that sits high in the trees making the familiar sounds we hear all summer long. We were out for 1.5 hour and everyone was having fun and enjoying being outdoors.
The Growing Center provides a safe space to run and play and explore. In our ¼ acre space we have steps to climb, places to hide, plants to gently touch, clean soil to play in, rocks to peer a small, a shallow pond to sit by, a solar fountain, and blossoms of the spring trees to look at.
We hope to see you and your family at the GC this summer and beyond.
Interested in volunteering or running your own group? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Paula Jordan is the Coordinator and Educator of the Children in Nature Initiative at the Somerville Community Growing Center.