What’s So Great About Trees, Rocks, Sand & Sticks?

At the beginning of April, we moved in to our new fixer-upper of a house, that is still pretty heavy on the fixer side of the equation. The living room windows still don’t have sills, the bathroom doesn’t have a mirror yet, the basement is still a field of boxes, the yard is still debris-strewn. And yet, we all love living here. Primarily because of the yard. Oh, the yard! <Swoon.>

For the first time in their young lives, my kids have ridiculously easy access to the outside, and they are out there as much as they possibly can be. Just last week, my 5-year-old daughter climbed her first tree–the enormous rhododendron that anchors our far corner. My son has been hiding rocks he smuggles in in his pockets all over the house. And the two of them have dug more holes than the gopher in Caddyshack. I love that I can say, “Outside until dinner!” It’s clear that spending time outdoors grounds my kids; they’ve been sleeping great, eating like champs, and we barely noticed any bumps in the road during the transition of moving. But I have also been craving a couple of ideas for ways I can use our newfound outdoor freedom to expand their wee minds. Enter Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth.

 

This book, by outdoor educator and consultant Patty Born Selly, offers a fabulous combination of information and inspiration for getting your kids to deepen their relationship to nature without getting all formal and curriculum-y. I’m thrilled to be participating in a blog book tour to promote the book’s release. Read on to see a special guest post written by Patty on the joys of tree climbing — for kids and grown-ups.

And as a special bonus for MsMindbody readers, Patty is making available a free excerpt of her book that contains instructions for making a most excellent Recycling Monster — which reuses paper shopping bags and other materials and promotes future recycling. It’s the Ginzu knife of the craft world! (Also makes great fries. OK, not really.) You can download the Recycling Monster instructions here.

And, if  you purchase Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth direct from her publisher by June 30th, you can use the coupon code GREENEARTH to save 30%. Sweet!

Enjoy, and see you outside!

 

On the Simple Joys of Tree Climbing, by Patty Born Selly

All at once, my daughter has developed this fascination with tree-climbing. A few weeks ago, we were playing in this wonderful little grove of trees near the house, and she just started going up.

Now, she’s unstoppable. Even when she’s riding in the car, she’s scoping out the trees as we pass: “That looks like a good one to climb, we’ll have to come back to that tree.”

As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of trees over plastic play equipment. Let’s just compare plastic play equipment, such as you might find at your local neighborhood park, with trees and rocks.

Your typical “jungle gym” apparatus at a park offers basically one way to go up or down. You use the ladder, or the fake rock-climbing bumps. There is a “right way” (i.e. one way that gets you to the top) and all the other ways-which don’t get you to the top of the structure, where the other “experiences” await. The rungs on the ladder, the bars, are all the exact same size and dimension. And there is only one place to go. One outcome: reach the top.

A tree on the other hand, offers a variety of ways to get from one place to another. Reaching the “top” is usually not the goal. (Although for some kids, it certainly might be.)There are exciting and interesting things to be found in all sorts of places within the branches of a tree. Tree branches differ wildly in size, shape, strength and texture. This offers great physical challenge and requires the development of balance well beyond what a series of uniform metal bars offers. It also requires coordination and concentration.

There is usually only “one thing to do” with plastic playground equipment. You climb to the top of something, you slide down. You swing. Plastic play equipment is great for letting off steam. Kids love to climb, slide, and swing. Mine are no exception. But it is rather one-sided, kind of a “flat” experience. Go to any playground, there’s just not much variation in the way kids play. Get out in nature, on the other hand, and something else happens.

Kids use their imaginations more freely when playing in nature: “Hmm, here’s a great big tree. What can I do here? I can climb it, bounce on the low limbs, swing from the branches, hide in the boughs.” “Here are some huge rocks–I can jump from them, crawl, lie on my belly, lean against them.” With no pieces of equipment directing how kids play, they can be free to make up their own rules and set their own goals for play.

All that aside, it’s at times challenging as a mom to let my kids climb trees, jump off boulders, and the like. Occasionally, one of them will jump off something kinda high, “land wrong” and get a minor owie. And sometimes they go really high. Out of my reach. And there are often rocks and roots and other hard, sharp things on the ground beneath them. And what if she falls and hits a branch on her way down? Or, what if he falls off that boulder and cuts his head open?

When these thoughts creep in, and believe me, they do, I really try to see it as a chance for me to work on my own balance and strength. (because, frankly, I’ve got the “creativity” part down-I can think of a million what-ifs for any given situation)

The thing is, I’ve got to let them do this. I really believe this is important-it’s good for them in a way that nothing else is. And, really, what are the chances of one of these random bad things actually happening? Extremely, extremely small. Is it any less likely that something bad will happen on a playground? Probably more likely, actually.

So, I take a deep breath. I lift him to a bough he can hang from. I give her a boost up to that next branch. And I stand there, under the tree, and we all grow.

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