One of the core beliefs of KOOP is that kids need to spend time in nature. We decided during the planning stages for Spring Break Camp 2016 that we would advise parents to send extra clothes, boots and rain gear and that we would spend every possible second outdoors.
The first morning was chilly, but kids came with lots of gear and we did exactly what we set out to do: we spent the majority of our time outside. Each day of the week was met with more and more willingness from kids to come outside and warm up in the sun by moving around. With the exception of some lightning- filled downpours, we got to enjoy the whole week in our outdoor space.
I’m especially interested in kids playing with natural elements and using nature as a learning tool as seen in forest schools around the world. I was excited to watch how our Spring Break KOOP Troop interacted with both our natural space and the natural materials we provided as “loose parts.” So for my reflective post, I'm mostly going to focus on how I saw kids interacting with nature.
The first and most-used play item were the trees! We saw so many kids learning to climb, enjoying their time hanging out in the trees and even using some loose parts in the trees. We recognize that most schools and parks discourage climbing trees. At KOOP though, we believe that kids need to learn to manage risk. We agreed on a few safety rules with the kids and then stepped back to watch how they handled it. It was amazing to see validation of our belief as we watched kids self-regulate and assess risks. Some kids climbed only so high before they wanted to come down. Some kids pushed the height restriction because they were experienced. We had a pretty windy spring break this year, so in the favorite climbing tree, a pine, some kids got tickled bellies when the wind would blow and their tree would sway back and forth. We heard so many gasps and belly laughs from the top of that tree, we couldn’t help but smile. Some kids loved it, some chose to stay down low where the wind wasn’t as noticeable. Most of all, what we saw was happy kids playing safely in the trees and having SO much fun!
We also had several kids use the trees as the backdrop for other types of play. A group of pine trees passed as a secret hideout during a serious game of “Diamond Hunting” involving golf balls and about 20 kids age 5-12. It was so funny to hear the intensity of this imaginative play! The adults didn’t fully understand what the point was, but that doesn’t matter- the kids had all joined together and bought into the same idea for play.
Another child built a treehouse in a tree. It was made of cardboard and LOTS of rope and tape. He was an older kid and put a lot of thought into the issue of balancing in the box on the limb of a tree so he was the only kid allowed in the structure. He made modifications to it each day adding a speaker, better steps for entry, and even a pulley system to send items back and forth to kids below. Lots of kids got to send things up and then catch them as they came down.
Another fun time we had during camp involved MUD! We embraced the mess after a day of rain and enjoyed mud face painting!
A couple boys found a treasure trove of acorn tops. They were so amazed. They gathered enough tops to fill a 2-gallon bucket! They spent days playing with the acorn tops and even split them when camp ended! I loved watching them enjoy such a simple natural element in so many ways!
A couple other nature- centric play moments I observed:
Buiding an “ant trap” made of pieces of bark, wood cookies, and pinecones
Rolling down the hill at Burwash Park
Taking turns pulling eachother down the hill inside a kiddie-pool
Gardening project! Lots of kids got to take home seed starter kits
Drawing in the dirt under the deck
Hammock in the trees
Attaching a long, black tube to tree and taking turns sending golf balls and pinecones down the tube to friends below
Building a wind block out of branches/fabric
It was so rewarding to watch kids interact with the natural environment. Sure, I love cardboard creations and building projects as much as anyone, but seeing kids use only the land to laugh and have fun warms my heart in a special way. It makes me proud of what we’re accomplishing with KOOP. Not only are we in it to make sure kids have the opportunity for free play, we are here to encourage play in nature and use of natural elements as “loose parts.”