Our Park-A-Day Summer Challengers have had a busy week, some even braving near triple-digit temperatures to explore their local parks and playgrounds. Liza Sullivan and her family took a break from playgrounds to visit the Stephen R. Keay Nature Learning Center in Wilmette, IL. She enjoyed watching how her children interacted with nature, particularly when compared to the ways they typically interact with playground equipment. Here's Liza:
First, Henry began throwing stones from the walking trail into the water. "Watch all these circles, Dad! Mom, look it! There was a big splash! Let's see if this one makes a big splash." Next, the kids decided to throw a large stick into the water and watch what happens.
Henry: "It went way out there! Look, it made circles.”
Jettie, after retrieving it from the water: "I got it again. This time I will throw it really soft."
Henry: "I'll watch."
While looking into the water, the kids noticed the fish swimming in the pond. They asked for a container so they could try to catch, then closely watch, a minnow. After a little help, Jettie was able to get a fish in a clear jar (which I had with me in our painting supplies).
She decided to make the jar into a comfortable minnow home. She said, "Mom, I want to give him rocks." After watching him swim for a while she said, “I am going to put him back in the water. I am going to let him live."
My husband and I took turns painting with the kids. Jettie entitled her painting, "Foreign Mountain." The center photo shows all the paintings we made together.
While we were walking around the pond, Jettie and I noticed a large variety of dragonflies. She found one floating just below the surface of the water, dead. She called me over to help her get it out, so we could look at it more closely. During our drive home, the kids speculated on what had happened to the dragonfly. Henry said with concern, "Maybe his family could come and get him and bring him back to his home. I think he died when he was looking for food."
Jettie asked, "Why can't dragonflies swim? Can they stay out in the rain?”
Henry responded, "No, dragonflies need to go home when it rains."
Once we were home, we were able to get our magnifying glass and look at the dragonfly more closely.
The environment of the Nature Center seemed to prompt higher-level questioning, scientific thinking, and reflection of how the world works. I believe it would be ideal to see greater integration of natural elements into neighborhood parks. Not only do materials like logs, stones, sand, bricks, and water provide children with open-ended exploration and allow them to change the space, but they also add a magical element to the play. Adding real rocks, stones, and logs would bring uniqueness, beauty, differing sensory aspects, and boundless potential for creating, imagining, learning, and questioning.