Recently, several families visited the nature center to participate in a session in our series “Raising a Wild Child”. The day was a bit ugly- rain melting the snow on the ground, but the group went outside anyway. As they explored, the interests of the children ultimately determined what the group did, and splashing in puddles proved irresistible. Especially with young children, we consider these “teaching moments” that are often of more value than planned activities. For the very young, these are opportunities for experiencing and experimenting with the basic aspects of our environment- in this case how does the water feel, look, sound etc. when you splosh around in your mud boots. Having the opportunity and the time to experience those basic things adds to appreciation of and familiarity with the outside world, and gives children the confidence to ask questions and further explore not only puddles but the grasslands and forests and rivers and lakes and all the wonderful natural features around them. At least we feel it does.
I’m going to date myself, but the landscape after the recent snowfall reminded me of a part of my own childhood. In winter, we kids were allowed to go outside and play after supper and homework, in the dark, in the snow. There was a bright yardlight of course, and this was during an era when space exploration was really getting started with the Gemini and Apollo programs at NASA. I remember thinking that the snow-covered yard under the harsh light looked like the surface of the moon. We piled the snow into mountains, made craters, and crafted elaborate astronaut scenarios. Interestingly, a burned-out floodlight bulb looked to me like a Gemini space capsule and was quickly woven into our stories.
I don’t know how long we lasted, but I remember finally having to come in because we were cold and wet, or because Mom reminded us about bedtime. When my own children, now grown, were young, we also used to go outside under the yardlight on the barn for what they called “moonwalks”, and they created their own adventures in the cold and dark.
I’m sure many of us did these sorts of things. I don’t think we learned anything profound in doing them, but perhaps a greater value was in being comfortable outside in the cold at night. When we ventured away from the yardlight, we realized that the dark was not so scary, and the cold could be dressed for. We were comfortable being outside, and when one is comfortable it is much easier to learn.
I realize that people view the world differently now, and we don’t allow children to wander around exploring in the dark in winter by themselves. But I think there is still value in the experience, and perhaps we should find a way to make it happen- maybe sharing the experience with them. It might be good for us, too.
Photo- Woodland Dunes snowscape by Nancy Nabak