Originally published September 23, 2016 at Discover Early Learning Center
He walked with his chest out, arms swinging side to side taking hard march like steps. His smile stretched clear across his face, a look of satisfaction simmered in his eyes. He was HOME. he was connected he was in nature. I had never seen that side of him, the side that exuded this kind of confidence, pride, and strength. He was only two, but somehow seemed older, wiser, and just plain POWERFUL. I continued to watch as he climbed, jumped, lifted and dragged heavy logs across the forest floor. He was nonstop as if a voice inside him was guiding his actions. From time to time he would gather with the other children in an imaginative scenario, they would rip and run, then regather adding new twists and turns to the plot and then rip and run again. I could make out something about bears, they were chasing bears, catching them, building traps for them and letting them free, running gleefully as they pretended to be chased by them.
As I watched I began to dissect the meaning and the learning behind this play, this seemingly meaningless play, where children ran and screamed, banged on tree stumps with sticks and dragged and moved large logs from place to place and I saw learning so deep so primal that I’d liken it to breathing.
I saw risk.. they created the feeling of real risk as they ran from a bear that I would have sworn was really there, they screeched and hit and ran hard in order to not be eaten by this bear.
They created physical challenge as they used their whole bodies to pull logs twice their size, rearrange piles of rocks and climb piles of fallen trees.
They collaborated as they listened to the ideas of each other and found ways to fit everyone’s perspective into the play.
They used their imagination to create such intricate story lines, used loose parts in symbolic play to turn sticks into guns and trees into cages.
Their sense of belonging was reinforced when all of the children gathered and huddled together to add to the play.. taking turns listening to each others thoughts, making alterations to the play to include one more friend.
These children were mastering play in their natural habitat.
With nature as the backdrop, the stage, the props, and the participant, children are allowed to bloom grow and learn IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT.