Climbing A Tree, Splashing In Puddles, And Playing At The Beach

“I will show you how to climb this tree. Now, watch me. This is how you do it,” the older boy said to his younger friend.

He scrambled up the tree, took a moment to view his surroundings from this new perspective, then jumped down.

“Now you can try,” he told the younger boy.

The two boys switched places. The younger child quickly made his way up the tree.

“Good job. You climbed up the tree. I knew you could do it!” the older boy exclaimed.

The sun was shining, birds were singing, and the day was off to a great start. When the other children arrived, we all made our way over to the beach.

It was a slow and relaxed journey. There were several puddles leftover from the night’s rain, and the children wanted to stopped and appreciate each one.

When we arrived at the beach, the children got right to it.

They started out by filling buckets and scooping sand.

Some of the children decided to work together to fill the buckets with a very specific ratio of water and and sand. Some of the children chose to play on their own.

A boy approached me. He was carrying a bucket of water, and a shovel. He set the bucket down and began to swirl the water with his shovel.

“Watch this. You know what this reminds me of? It’s like a whirlpool,” he said.

“Oh yeah, I see what you mean,” I told him.

He took his bucket back into the lake.

Behind me, I noticed a boy drawing loops in the sand. He found a ball and rolled it over the loops. From what I could figure, he was making some sort of track for the ball.

Another boy also noticed what this boy was doing. He found a shovel and began digging out the loops. He wanted to make the track run deeper in the sand.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m doing. Dig it deeper,” the first boy told the second.

The track ended with the ball rolling into the water.

After following the track a couple of times, the boys were done, and moved on to something else.

A family of geese swam by as we were playing. The children observed them for a few moments, commented on how cute the goslings were, and quickly resumed their play. The children and the geese each respected one another’s need for space.

One child accidentally splashed another child while dancing in the water. The child who was splashed was upset, and demanded to change into a dry shirt.

“I don’t want to be splashed! Now my shirt is wet and I need a dry one,” he said.

“I won’t splash you again,” the dancing child promised.

To prove that he was serious, he moved a few steps to the left. I helped the other boy change his shirt, and play continued.

When the school day was nearly over, the children helped pack up the sand tools and gather their belongings. We headed back to the parking lot with a bag full of garbage collected over the course of our day. Play is the priority at nature school, and because the children have been given this time to form their own loving relationship with the earth, they naturally want to take care of the spaces we visit.

“It’s so beautiful today,” one boy commented, as we were walking.

“It’s a blue sky. Sunshine!” a girl chimed in.

We ended with lots of chasing and giggles on the grass. Everyone was tired, but happy, after their day outside.

Whose Name Did I Make?

We were packing up at the end of the school day. Edison sat down in a patch of dirt and picked up a stick. He began to make marks in the dirt with the stick. He made lots of straight lines, and some that were diagonal.

“Whose name did I make?” he asked his teacher.

“Well, let’s see. What letters did you write?” the teacher asked.

“E-l-d-i-v-i-a,” Edison answered, with what seemed to be random letters.

“Oh, did you write Livia’s name?” his teacher asked.

“I did.”

Some of the marks in the dirt did resemble the letters in Livia’s name. Edison repeated the letters. Then he said, “You write your name.”

The teacher found a stick and wrote her name in the dirt. She said each letter out loud after she formed it.

“Now write my name,” Edison said.

The teacher wrote Edison’s name beneath hers. He asked her to write Livia’s name, and then mine. When everyone’s name was written in the dirt, he counted the number of names, and came up with 4. He counted the number of people surrounding the patch of dirt, and also came up with 4. When he was satisfied that the number of names written in the dirt matched the number of people in the group, he erased all of the letters with his hand.

This was a beautiful interaction between a child and his teacher. The child is trusted to grow at his own pace. He is supported by a teacher who fosters his development, without pressuring for more.

Making Soup

“You want to dig with me in the sandbox, Chelsey?” Edison asked.

“Sure,” I said.

He handed me a shovel and then he began to dig. I watched and waited to see what he wanted me to do.

“Now it’s your turn,” he said.

I reached into the hole with my shovel and brought up some dirt.

“Now do one more, and then it’s my turn again,” he explained.

We took turns scooping sand, and soon our hole was as deep as the sandbox would allow.

“Maybe we should find a new spot. This is the bottom. We can dig deeper over there,” Edison said.

We moved to the back of the sandbox, where the sand was mostly undisturbed.

“I’ll start. And then it’s your turn,” Edison instructed.

We took turns digging, just as we had with the previous hole. Bridget walked over and reached for my shovel.

“No Bridget! That’s Chelsey’s shovel,” Edison shouted, putting his body between Bridget and my shovel.

“Edison, Bridget wants to be included. She wants to play with us. How can we help her so she can be a part of what we are doing?” I asked him.

He thought for a moment.

“Maybe she can dig another hole. I can make a new hole for Bridget,” Edison decided.

He found another spot in the sandbox and helped Bridget start a hole. Bridget scooped up about two shovels full of sand, and then wandered away.

“Chelsey, did you bring anything else?” Edison asked.

“Did I bring anything else? What do you mean?” I said.

“You brought donuts. Did you bring anything else?” he clarified.

“I didn’t bring any other treats, but I do have lots of chalk in my car. Would you like me to get some chalk?” I asked.

Edison nodded. “Me and Bridget are coming too.”

The children waited for me to unlock the gate.

“I see a dandelion. When you open the gate, I’m going to pick it,” Edison told me.

I opened the gate, and the children ran through.

“I am going to pick 3 dandelions. I see lots of dandelions, but I am only going to pick 3,” Edison said.

He spent a lot of time deciding which 3 dandelions he wanted to pick.

“One, two, and thre… no, three,” he counted.

It was hard to decide which dandelion he wanted to pick for number 3.

“Now you can put these in your pocket. You like to put things in your pocket,” he said, handing me the dandelions.

I put the flowers in my pocket and we all walked over to my car. I found the chalk and Edison and Bridget each picked out the colors they wanted.

“We can draw right here,” Edison said, pointing to the sidewalk at the front of the house.

After a few minutes of intense scribbling, both children wanted to go check the free library down the street. With chalk in hand, we headed in that direction.

Edison was running, and he tripped on an uneven section of the sidewalk. He fell and hurt his knees. There was no blood, but his knees were pink where he landed on them, and he was sad. He didn’t want a hug. He just wanted me to look at his knees and ask if he was going to be okay.

There were no children’s books in the little library .

“There are only books for grown ups and for big boys today,” Edison stated.

We turned around and followed the sidewalk back to the house. Edison ran ahead and was waiting in the backyard when Bridget and I approached.

“Chelsey, over here. I’m ready for you to smash the chalk with your foot. And you can use a rock,” Edison called.

He had all of the chalk lined up next to a bucket of water.

“Are you sure you want me to smash it? Don’t you want to smash the chalk?” I asked.

“No, you smash it,” he insisted.

I attempted to smash the chalk by stomping on it, without much success.

“You should use the rock,” Edison said.

I picked up the rock and slammed it down on the chalk.

“That’s what I was talking about. I want it smashed into little pieces,” Edison explained.

I continued to hit the chalk with the rock.

“I feel like I’m chopping vegetables,” I said.

“Then, let’s make soup,” Edison suggested.

He began to pick up the chalk bits and sprinkle them into the bucket of water. He found a stick for stirring. Bridget joined him in adding ingredients to the soup.

“Now I need dirt for my soup. And pine cones, and pine needles, and leaves,” he explained.

He handed me a bowl and sent me on a hunt around the yard. There were several ingredients that he needed for his soup, and it was my job to collect them.

While the soup simmered, the children played with other things.

Edison occasionally came back to check on the soup, and add more ingredients.

“Do you have anything else in your car?” he asked me.

“I have chalk paint, and acorns,” I said.

Edison asked me to get the paint and acorns out of my car. He wanted some of the paint powder to go in his soup, and some of it to be made into paint.

He decided that the green would be used for painting, and the other colors would go in his soup.

Edison, Bridget, and I mixed up the paint. Edison started off painting the sidewalk, but quickly switched to painting different objects around the backyard. At this point, Bridget was ready to go inside for lunch. Because I had given Edison two hours of my attention, he was ready to play on his own while I cleaned Bridget, and put lunch together.

From the window, I watched him go down the painted green slide. When he got to the bottom, he turned around and tried to look at his own bottom. It seemed that he was checking to see if there was green paint on his pants. He then tried to wipe the paint off the slide with his hand.

He came to the door a few minutes later, covered in green chalk paint. He showed me that a little bird was perched on the soup bucket. He was concerned that the bird was trying to drink the soup. He asked me if I could get some clean water for the bird. I told him to find an empty bucket, and I filled it at the sink. He carried the full bucket of water out to the sidewalk and set it down. By now, the bird had flown away, but he was hopeful that it would be back.

Edison And Livia

On Tuesday, Edison’s school was closed. Livia and I met up with him for own version of nature school. Livia was excited about this opportunity.

“I’m going to nature school with Edison! I have my backpack and my lunch in it!” she exclaimed, to anyone who would listen.

Edison often finds special sticks that he wants me to have while we are playing in the woods. They are usually large, or oddly shaped.

He always tells me some version of, “This is for you, Chelsey. You hold it.”

On this day, he spotted one of those sticks before we had even left the parking lot. He stopped to pick it up, and was in the process of handing it to me when he noticed something.

“This is for you- hey, what’s wrong with it?” he said.

The stick was soft, floppy, and light.

“This is kind of like why we can’t dump water out of the bath tub onto the floor. That stick has been in water and snow all winter, and it’s starting to decompose. If the wood under the tile in our bathroom was like that stick, do you think it could hold up the floor?” his mom said.

“No,” Edison said.

“That’s why we can’t dump water out of the bathtub. The floor would rot, like that stick,” she said.

“Oh,” Edison said.

I could see the wheels turning in his head.

“Can I see it?” Livia asked.

Edison let her touch the stick. When she was done, he dropped it, and said goodbye to his mom.

It wasn’t long before Livia found some mud along the side of the path.

“Can I step in it?” she asked.

“Go for it,” I told her.

Livia stomped in the mud.

“It’s squishy mud. Write my name,” she said, handing me a stick.

“You want me to write your name in the mud?” I asked.

“Yes,” Livia replied.

I grabbed a stick and found a spot in the mud.

“L-i-v-i-a,” I said each letter out loud as I wrote it.

“Write my name too,” Edison said.

I found another spot in the mud and began to write Edison.

“E-d-i-s-o-n,” I spelled his name out loud, as I formed each letter.

“Now I’m going to wreck it,” Edison said.

He erased his name from the mud with his boot.

“I’m ready to move on. Livia, are you ready to move on?” Edison asked.

Livia gave the mud a final poke with her stick.

“Yeah. Let’s go play,” she said.

The exploration area was mostly empty when we first arrived. There was only one other child and a couple of adults playing on the opposite end.

Livia and Edison emptied our bag of tools, and got right to playing.

“Excuse me Livy, I’m right here. Please move over,” Edison said.

Livia scooted over to give him more space.

A few minutes later, I heard her say, “Edison, I need some space,” when he got too close.

There were a few more of these minor conflicts, but they were handled by the two children, without any intervention needed from me.

“Watch out Livy, I have a big stick. Move away,” Edison said.

“Edison, the person holding the big stick needs to move to a big space,” I told him.

“No, Livy needs to move. I’m using this stick to get a tool that is in the puddle,” Edison said.

“Okay. Did you explain that to Livia?” I asked.

“Livia, can you please move so I can use this stick to get the tool out of the puddle,” Edison asked.

Livia moved out of the way. Edison used the long stick to get the shovel out of the puddle. All of the sudden, a group of 8-10 children appeared in the play area. They crowded around Livia, Edison, and our tools. As I watches the other children and their grown up, I could see the potential for challenging behaviors.

At this point, we decided to move to another location. Sometimes I am okay with differing caregiver philosophies and ideas, but sometimes, I just want the children to be free to play. This was one of those times where I just wanted to be able to let them play, and I knew they just needed to play. I knew if we stayed in the area with the larger group, I would have to intervene and direct their play more than I wanted to.

We arrived at the new location and unpacked the bin of tools.

“Write my name. This is my stump, write my name on it,” Livia said.

“You want me to write it?” I asked.

She nodded. I formed her name with pieces of stick.

“And write my name. I want to wreck it,” Edison said.

I spelled his name with sticks. He promptly erased it.

“I need water. I need water so I can cook,” Edison said.

“Hmm. Look around, do you see any water?” I asked.

“Maybe the pond,” Edison said.

“You can use water from the pond,” I agreed.

Edison and Livia set up a kitchen next to the pond. Edison claimed the tall stump as his, and assigned Livia to the smaller one.

There was lots of scooping, pouring, mixing, and dumping. Edison poured water from a bowl into a piece of hose and watched it run out the other end.

“It’s a waterfall!” he shouted.

Livia was less interested in cooking, than playing with trucks.

When the children were hungry, Edison helped Livia open her lunch.

“Do you want this part open too?”

He helped her open each container in her lunch box. They sat together and ate, comparing and talking about their food. They traded crackers for cashews.

“Who is that? Chickadee?” Livia asked me.

“Did you hear a chickadee?”

“I did. And another. Who is that?” she asked again.

“I hear a cardinal, and some red winged black birds. Is that was you mean?”

“And woodpecker!” Livia said.

“You’re right, there is a woodpecker too. Good ear,” I said.

After lunch, it was time to take a potty break.

We slowly made our way into the interpretive building. Edison and Livia each picked up a fallen tree branch and began pushing them.

“This is my sweeper,” Edison explained.

They pushed their sweepers up to the building. They found a place to park their branches, and then they cleaned their boots before going inside.

They each took off their gear and hung it up all on their own, before entering the bathroom.

After using the bathroom, the children wanted to see the snakes and the turtle. We took a quick look, and then headed back outside.

We hiked for a few minutes. Livia found a large stump, and sat down on it. Edison joined her. They used their hands to scoop up the sawdust that was on the ground around the stump.

“Livia, do you want to make a kitchen on this stump?” Edison asked.

“Sure!” Livia said.

Edison got the tools out once again. He gave some to Livia, and kept some for himself.

“Can I get water in that puddle?” he asked, pointing to a large puddle on the other side of the trail.

“You can. You guys can play with the puddle and the saw dust. We just need to be careful not to dig up the trail,” I said.

“Why?” Edison asked.

“That’s one of the rules here. They don’t like us to dig up the trail, because lots of people walk on it. You can use the saw dust, though,” I explained.

Livia and Edison spent the rest of the afternoon playing by the puddle and stump.

There was lots of conversation, negotiating, and trading of tools.

When it was time to go home, they had one last splash in a parking lot puddle.

It’s A Beautiful Day Out Here

I wasn’t going to take the children outside on Thursday. School was canceled due to a storm, and the world outside was a windy, rainy, snowy, freezing mess. I am a person who enjoys winter, but not necessarily when it shows up in April.

We went to play at a friend’s house for most of the day. The children were busy setting up a restaurant, building, making up games, and playing with instruments. There were moments of quiet, calm play, and moments of wild and crazy. Everything went well, and the children had a good time.

As we were driving the mile back home, we saw three kids playing in a yard.

“They’re having fun,” I said.

“Yeah. Everyone should be outside playing,” Max said.

We arrived at the house, and I parked the car.

“I’m coming back outside,” Max said, as he exited the car, and made his way up the steps.

“Okay. Make sure you put snow pants on,” I reminded him.

“I’m going outside too,” Charlotte said.

“Okay. Snow pants and snow boots are a good idea,” I said.

“Me too,” Livia said.

“I think you and I are going to play inside right now,” I told her.

“I want to go outside,” Livia insisted.

I didn’t want to take her out. This is not the attitude I normally have, but my shift was almost over, and I really just wanted to go home.

“Okay. If you want to go out, you need to go potty first, and then get your snow pants on,” I said.

Livia did everything I asked. She even put her snow pants on, all by herself.

“Let’s go!” she said, when she was dressed.

I opened the door and we stepped out in the front yard.

“Come on Chelsey, this is so fun,” Livia said.

I reluctantly took a step in the snow.

“Look! I see… tracks. Max tracks,” Livia exclaimed.

She pointed to her brother’s boot prints.

“I’m going in the backyard. Play my digger,” she told me.

I followed her to the gate, and helped her open the latch.

“Come on Chelsey, let’s explore,” she said.

We walked around the backyard for a few minutes. Livia ran and jumped happily. I was feeling less enthusiastic. Livia found her digger truck buried in snow. She pushed it around, and tried to scoop snow with it.

“Okay Livia, let’s go back inside now,” I said.

“No. I don’t want to. It’s a beautiful day out here,” Livia said.

It’s a beautiful day out here. She was repeating the words that I said to her every day in the winter, and she seemed to believe what she was saying. I finally stopped trying to get her to go back in. Livia has a right to play outside, even when it’s snowing, and it’s my job to support that.

All winter long, I made a point to speak about the weather in a positive way. Each time we went outside, I pointed out the things that made the day a beautiful one. Sometimes it was a beautiful day because we could hear cardinals or chickadees singing. Sometimes it was the blue sky or sunshine, or the big, fluffy snow flakes. Sometimes, it was even the refreshing cold air. The way adults talk about the weather can influence the way children feel about the weather.

“My sled?” Livia asked.

“Your sled is in the garage. Would you like me to get it out?” I asked.

“Yeah. My sled and pull me,” she said.

I retrieved the sled, and then it was time for me to leave. Livia convinced Max to pull her around the backyard instead.

Originally, I had planned to go straight home from work. After talking to Livia, I changed my mind. I decided to enjoy the beautiful day by spending some time in the woods.


My lovely little niece had her first birthday last week. Children who are one year old don’t really understand birthdays, but still, we celebrated her all weekend long.

First, there was a small party in the woods.

She ate cake, and dirt, and played in the leaf litter.

After the party, we headed out of town for one night. She stayed in a hotel for the first time, and experienced her first swimming pool.

She fully enjoyed swimming. She had fun splashing in the water, and she liked being pushed around in her float.

On the last day of the weekend, she played near Lake Superior. Before heading home, she danced and clapped at a family concert.

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that this little girl is already a year old. Other times, it feels like she has been a part of the family forever. My world is brighter with her in it.

She played a lot during her first year.

In the beginning, it was simple.

She was happy to kick and squirm on a blanket on the floor. When we were outside, she was content to watch the trees from beneath their shade.

As she grew bigger and stronger, she figured out how to explore the world from different positions.

She learned how to grab and hold objects.

Early on, she discovered that many things made noise if she smacked them together.

Winter provided new challenges. On some days, playing in the snow was a blast.

On other days, coping was the best we could do.

Most of winter fell somewhere in between having a blast, and just coping.

My niece is a happy and inquisitive one year old. She is smart, and strong, and full of joy. She has been free to move her body and explore her environment for all of her life. She loves books, and music, and digging in the kitchen cupboards. She loves tearing leaves into tiny pieces, and squeezing and tossing handfuls of sand at the playground. She is learning to talk, and likes to imitate noises. She was born to play, and she doesn’t need anyone to tell her how to do it.

Monday Morning In Our Woods

On Monday, Livia and I spent the morning in our woods. It’s been a while since the two of us have visited our woods without friends. I was looking forward to a slow paced morning. Livia was excited to search for the turkeys.

She insisted on carrying a little backhoe digger up to the pines. She informed me that she was going to dig in the dirt.

As we were walking, we came across an owl pellet on the ground.

“What is it? It’s poop?” Livia asked.

“It looks a little like poop, doesn’t it? This is actually an owl pellet,” I explained.

“Oh, an owl pellet. What is it?” she asked again.

“You know how owls eat little animals, like mice? The owl’s tummy can’t digest bones and teeth and stuff like that, so the owl spits those parts out. And that’s what a pellet is. It’s parts that the owl couldn’t digest,” I tried to explain.

“Oh,” Livia said.

“Should we poke around in the pellet and see if we can find some bones?” I asked.

“Yeah. Find bones,” Livia said.

I picked up a stick and began poking at the owl pellet.

“I see bones!” Livia exclaimed.

She grabbed a stick and began to explore the owl pellet on her own.

“I all done,” she said, when she and seen enough.

I followed her through the pines. She led me to my stump.

“Make art. Chelsey make art. I play with my digger,” she told me.

That’s what we did. I made art, and Livia played with her digger. Every once in a while, she would come over to see what I was doing. After watching for a few minutes, she went back to driving her digger on the ground.

A naturalist in a little truck came driving down the path.

“Who is coming?” Livia asked.

“I don’t know. Let’s watch and see,” I suggested.

“Maple syrup,” Livia said, as the truck drove by us.

“You think they’re going to check the maple trees?” I said.

“I do,” Livia said.

“I think you’re right,” I said.

“Red winged black bird?” she asked.

“Sure. I did say we could look for the red winged black birds today. Would you like to do that now?” I asked.

Livia nodded.

“Okay. Let’s head down the hill. If we want to see them, we probably need to look by the water,” I said.

We took our time getting down the hill.

“I hear it!” Livia said.

“You did hear a red winged black bird. I heard it too. I can’t see them though, can you?” I said.

“I don’t see it. I hear it,” Livia explained.

We explored the trail for a while longer. Livia stopped to examine a large, fresh, tree stump.

“Cut it down. That’s sad. Plant new ones. New one trees. I’m sitting on the stump,” she said.

When we reached the boardwalk, Livia started walking backwards.

“I’m walking backwards. Like Chelsey,” she explained.

“I do walk backwards sometimes, you’re right,” I said.

Livia was pleased with her backward walking abilities. She laughed as she walked.

“I’m like Chelsey,” she said again.

When Livia started to feel tired, it was time to head home.

She discovered a big stick near the path that leads to the parking lot.

“I’m carrying this stick,” she said.

We made it back to the car. I buckled her into her car seat.

“No turkeys today. No deer. They’re hiding. Maybe next time,” she said.