by Jenny Kleppe
Richard Louv speaks in his book, Last Child in the Woods, of children taking ownership of a special place in nature. When our All Seasons Preschool staff heard Louv speak in February, he encouraged the audience to recall their own special child hood place. My own place was a “fort” I constructed in a space wedged between the wall of our rusty aluminum shed and some old railroad ties. I created a roof from plywood I “found” (in our next-door neighbors’ lumber pile) and procured tree branches and other items from nature to create the walls, furniture, and even a working door to my small enclosure.
I recall this place of my own construction with great fondness. I did not share it with my cousins or brother as I did our tree houses, our yards, or swing set. In fact, much effort was taken to ensure they did NOT spend time in my special place- I believe a “No Boys Allowed Sign” was even erected. I worked hard over time to complete it to my liking, and no one helped me with any part of it.
These memories got me thinking about how many children today are not allowed this same sense of a place over which they can claim complete ownership- not in their bedroom, not in a temporary fort made from pillows under the coffee table, but outdoors. Today’s children are rarely allowed to experience any outdoor time completely alone or the opportunity to create, build, and alter their environment. The outdoors has so much to offer children to teach building, experimenting, problem solving, and creating a special place in which to take ownership. These, of course, are just a few of the benefits children can reap from spending time in nature.
While times and outdoor spaces have changed, children’s need for a place to call their own has not. The need to manipulate one’s environment and to create a special little spot remains. This sense of place is something we foster at All Seasons. Our students are not exactly stealing 2×4’s or erecting tree houses with rusty rails, but they are allowed more freedoms than in other settings.
As we get to know our students, teachers can increasingly trust our children to venture further from adults. Teachers have the rule that children need to be within sight or sound of a teacher and you must be able to hear a teacher when they call you. Here, children can play with loose parts, including stumps, boards, sticks, and logs. Classes return to the same play spaces repeatedly to become comfortable with the area and to try new activities according to the season, but also to allow the children a sense of ownership. Teachers want the message to be: These are YOUR woods. This meadow belongs to YOU. Find a spot where you can be- where you can experiment, move, create forts, enlarge a puddle, or simply sit and listen to the world.
So much of the world is off limits to children. It can be vital to have control over a special place. This sense of ownership helps children develop logical and mathematical reasoning, impulse control, decision-making, imagination, and a sense of stewardship for the natural world. All Seasons is a place that can provide children their special place. Where was yours? Where can your child’s be?