The Push and Pull of Growing Up
By Amanda Janquart
The thrill of growing up and the desire to stay a child: the push and pull we all experience is on full display among the group of school-aged children that meets twice a week at All Seasons. They are all alumni of nature preschools; some were entering kindergarten and the oldest was about to start 4th grade before families chose the virtual school option during this pandemic. Now this varied group of eight are back in the woods and fields they know so well.
When we walked to the Boulders, an old beloved play space, a child deadpanned, “I think I’ll just call them rocks.” When we ran amok on the playground, they needed reminders to stay off the playhouse roof, and the trikes were suddenly ‘cute.’ “My bum is sliding off!” But when we got to the Pines, they quickly fell in love. Here were wide spaces to run and play recess games like ‘freeze tag,’ sticks to turn into swords and bows, trees to climb, and pine needles to sweep into soft piles. Here the group bonded and collaborated, working through rules for their invented game of Pickle Lion and reading books out loud that kept us on similar pages. We shared interests in leaves, fungi, amphibians, and trees.
Then it became abundantly clear that they were ready for more: wider ranges and chances to be independent from the teacher – the pull of growing up. What better place to ‘escape’ than to a fort, a place to be little and big all at the same time. A place where you are in charge and a place to play.
Thank goodness for the freedom to build forts in the woods. By this point, the children knew well the invasive buckthorn tree and knew that it could be sawed down without remorse to use as building material. “We just started with a foot of room. Then you said, ‘I could buy you a tarp,’ and we said, ‘Yahoo!’” With a little instruction, the children could be trusted with tools, and with the addition of bungee cords, tarps, rope, old bedsheets and scrap wood, there has been no stopping the progression of their homes away from home. If we don’t head to the forts straight away, the chants of “Can we go now?” never cease.
These forts are important places in which the children are invested. The forts are reworked daily as the children incorporate new design ideas or fix sagging roofs. “Making a deck is the hardest part.” “The best part is seeing how we improve every time.” More games, such as Catch the (Human) Fish, have been invented. There have been fossil digs, measurements made for doggy doors and fire pit rocks arranged just so. There have been fights over hoarding of materials and pretend garage sales to free up those materials for others to use. There is a ladder built from scratch, making it easier to get up to an actual slide. There is joy, curiosity and integrity. There is space to work as a group as they shout out design ideas for a logo, and quiet corners to work on hammering by yourself.
And here is my favorite part. It has to do with a book I can’t get through without sobbing, Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. Like the characters in the book, our school-agers have added decorations to their constructed world – golf balls, very important bones, hand painted rocks, blocks of wood masquerading as electronic gadgets, sticks covered entirely with duct tape – the pieces of their childhood that take on untold value. Pieces that represent this special time between growing and grown. I hope so sincerely that they will look back years and years from now and remember the time with fondness.