After years of drought, the rains returned. The creek, which had remained dry for five years, began to flow. The children, many of them having never seen the water moving through the waterway, were elated and longed to play in it with their whole bodies. An old sycamore grows along the creek bed, dropping bits of bark so that they pile beneath its limbs. My eyes, accustomed to seeing the world as possible playthings, saw the boats waiting to be born from this bark in the hands of small children, for whom the world is filled with possibilities. I set to work in the boatyard, in the center of the children’s play, drilling small holes in the bark to set masts and sails. The children, ever curious at the work of the adult world, drew near, waiting to see what my hands would create. Once drilled, the children set off to find twigs just the right size to set inside the readied holes. The mast being placed, a leaf, also just right, had to be found for a sail. Then the boats were ready to launch.
We are often asked if the children “just” play all day. The answer is no. And yes. Play is how the child meets the world and makes sense of it. For two hours, these children studied the water flowing through the creek. They tracked the places where it flowed more rapidly and more slowly. They marked the places where debris might become stuck on its journey downstream. Their boats made these patterns more easily visible.
Through the bark we found, given as a gift by a tree, and the twigs and leaves dropped from its limbs, we found joy. By gift of the long absent rain, and its journey over the land, we discovered movement and flow. Through our play with these elements, we did what children have inherently done throughout human history: we connected with Nature’s gifts and took our rightful place within them.
~ Lia Grippo / April 2017, Santa Barbara, California
Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers, Cofounder
Wild Roots Forest School, Director