Did I only think it or did I say it? Either way my five and half year old son pushed on with his idea. We were exploring a small creek after a fresh dump of snow.
"Let's build a snow bridge across!" he exclaimed as he patted down snow into the trickling water..mitts and all.
It didn't seem possible- the stretch before us was maybe 3 metres wide and a foot deep in the middle. What did seem possible is getting wet, cold and uncomfortable. Instead of poo- poo'ing his idea, which I considered, I decided to help him out until he discovered why it wouldn't work for himself...or got too wet first.
We gathered and dumped clumps of wet snow at the bank of our project. He patted it down as fast as he could before the snow shipped downstream or disappeared all together.
"Quick!" he said.
I started to throw snow balls from the edge of our snow harvesting site towards my son to pat down onto our budding snow bridge. This was somewhat effective...but mostly fun for both of us. Then we tried rolling a large snow ball so we could just roll it into the creek to pat down but sadly the snow wasn't sticky enough.
Soon, I forgot about the impossible and we set out working together on the possible.
I started packing our red sled full of snow and dumping it before him so he could continue patting it down. He was now on his hands and knees and crawling onto our snow bridge about half way across. He made it to a rock big enough for him to stand on while admiring our success, rosy cheeks and all.
"I feel so alive!" he exclaimed
Eventually he made it to the other side of that creek on his snow bridge that morning. On the other side, my son sat triumphantly in a snow bank kicking snow into the creek.
I stood observing our now narrowing and shrinking bridge.
"It's time. You better hurry before there is no bridge to cross on anymore!" I said, my adult-self returning.
Onto his hands and knees and across he came. A hand, then a knee and whole leg landing into the creek as part of the bridge broke off. Laughing he was now standing on the bank watching our work dissolve into the water.
Wet mitts, knees, a leg, a foot and countless set backs and repairs were all part of our success....hmm I couldn't help but be absorbed in the metaphor of our morning; how Nature can facilitate life's lessons for our children — when given the opportunity.
Or reflecting on my own adult walls of what is possible and my son pulling them down beside me as our snow bridge began to stretch across.
Even more was noticing my son...and myself as our morning efforts began to break off and flow downstream and disappear — there was no disappointment, frustration or tears (which often follows our indoor project mishaps).
I was tickled by the nudge of Nature, having facilitated our morning, now reclaiming it. Leaving us without something material to show but something more stirring and permanent.
Thankful, I left that creek feeling more connected to my son, joyful and wet.
“We make time for soccer practice but we don’t make time or schedule time to just be outside...”.
(Urban Wild Case Study Parent)
Social norms or pressures around how parents should be allocating time can be a challenge for getting our families outside. One Urban Wild parent, during my case study, described this challenge best; “We are conditioned to think that there are other things that we should be doing to take up the time or keep them [children] busy”.
Reflecting on their nature club experience, several parents shared that they would dedicate more time outdoors as a family after developing the following insight: nature is a valuable partner in our family experiences. Nurturing our relationship with the natural world pulls us away from day to day distractions and allows us to engage fully with our family.
Parents observed that the child-nature relationship provided a cure from boredom. This came as a relief and surprise to many parents as their children found activities to keep them busy with very little adult guidance. Also significant was the state of presence or a grounding effect that parents reflected on as a result of their own relationship with the natural world. Ultimately providing families an opportunity to be themselves together — results in an authentic family experience,
I think we can all recognize the value of being present in the moment but how often in our family lives do we achieve this bliss? What are the effects on children today witnessing their parents in a state of constant rush that has been described in literature as “time sickness”- the feeling that there is never enough time?
The state of presence experienced by parents during nature-based family activities can result in positive impressions on children — reinforcing their connection with the natural world. Ultimately, we are recognizing something that has always been available to us in the natural world — the gift of time.
Yesterday I strolled along a rocky reservoir shore with my 4 year old. The day had previously been infused with grumpy moments for both of us. There had been a tension between us all day. It was hard to make light of the smallest things and the air was filled with do's, don'ts and wants.
What struck me while we launched driftwood into the water was how we had drifted ourselves, almost unnoticed, from tension to play and cooperation. We watched our driftwood boats tip and turn in the waves and finally return to the shore only to be launched again — this time with canon balls of rocks to dodge!
We were both taking turns leading the play — both accepting and nourishing each other's ideas.
As we walked back, my son took me on a "secret path" along the shore which looped us further away from our destination (the car). We did the loop again with him insisting and leading the way! There was not a word about his wet feet and wet pants past his knees...
We returned home both lighter and connected.
It seems the natural world supports and accepts our moods, how ever we arrive, and gently drifts us to a calmer and more connected place.
There are many emotions that can be experienced and expressed in a natural environment for ourselves and for our children. Sometimes they are shared and sometimes they offer the opportunity for a deep sharing between parent and child.
Something that I continue to learn about is the phenomena of fear experienced in the natural world; my own, my child's and in other parent-child- nature relationships. There is something raw and beautiful that can occur when fear is expressed within the parent-child-nature relationship that I have experienced and observed.
I've learned how nature experiences can engage fear, often in specific unwanted animal encounters. And with the insights shared from other parents, I've learned how nature can support us in moving beyond our fear. In other words, in natural settings the emotion of fear can be experienced and expressed and with thoughtful and present parental connection around the next corner a nature expereince can offer intrigue, curiosity and laughter.
Snakes to ground squirrels
Protective geese families to wild flowers
Potential bears to rocks (shapes, colours and skipping into water)
Ultimately as parents, we want to protect our children from experiencing fear and as a parent motivated to cultivate a bond with the natural world for my son, fear is typically something I try to avoid while setting out on our urban wild adventures..
But hey, it happens. It's raw, it's natural and it can offer an opportunity for connection, understanding and trust between parent, child and the natural world.
I think the natural world provides the parent-child relationship the space to experience a spectrum of emotions and the opportunity to find a way to articulate, express and understand them. The experiences we have in the natural world can promote a healthy dialogue about emotions, what we can learn from them and how we can move with them and sometimes beyond them — offering connection and resiliency in ourselves and in our parent-child-nature relationship.
At our 7th Urban Wild event we had a special guest from City Parks to come chat with us about starting a family nature journal! We then gave it a try!
- Journal while in nature together
- Find a quiet spot together or let it emerge
- Encourage drawing; do a leaf, cone or bark rubbing; trace a shadow!
- Collect a nature object to reflect on,or simply add to journal
- Discuss/write or draw: "What I see; What I feel; What I think; What I wonder...."
-Go over journal as a family, each member can contribute!
-Nature journalling doesn't have to take place in a journal! Create/build something in nature - nature art, family portrait, fairy home!
- The more you practise the more comfortable it becomes...and fun!!
- You can make a "sit matt" so family members can sit on the ground comfortably. To create a simple "sit- matt" take a section of a newspaper and place in a large zip lock bag. A sit-matt can also become a signal for the activity to come - nature journalling or just quiet observation. Some children may even take pride in taking their "sit- matt" to a special spot - a "sit spot".
Create/build your own journal! String different pieces or paper together and attach with yarn.
** Cardboard is essential so there is something firm to write and draw on.**
- Have fun, play and experiment! When it's over it's over!
I was thinking more about a conversation I had recently that led to lego-land and PB sandwiches as highlights expressed by children after engaging in rich nature experiences provided by parents. It got me thinking that experiences in the natural world must have a "sinking-in" process that is not easily measured by the observer or companion and perhaps the child in these cases. And then it got me thinking whether children have the vocab to describe the meanings or feelings generated from the experience and its significance to them. This can be hard to put one's finger on as an adult! It's much easier to express their joy for lego-land and PB sandwiches - right!? These experiences and their results are much more immediate and perhaps overshadow the deep imprints of the natural world...for the time being. Thus I have to believe and hope as a parent trying to cultivate rich experiences for my child in the natural world, that these early impressions are there, taking shape and transforming inside them, over time. Ultimately how each individual experiences, absorbs them, holds onto them gives shape and influence over time.
Reflecting Back; Oct 23rd, 2014
On our urban wild adventures I often brought a 'tool' to help engage you in exploring your new surroundings. Sometimes it was a small stuffed animal like a fox, collection container, magnify glass or tongs to pick things up with. These 'tools' often played a small role in your explorations...and more often than not you would just ask for a snack as soon as you saw me reach into my bag in search of our new "tool". Hmmmm. So we snacked...
For this particular adventure I envisioned us hiking along a trail, happily exploring the tall grasses and rose hips beside us. This did happen, but mostly from the comfort of your snack spot. This day you stayed particularly close to me in fact I carried you most of the way...this is not what I had in mind. This is the first day that I really did sense your discomfort with where I had taken you. We were on a narrow path in a huge open grassland on a side of a hill. I realized that my expectations were still guiding me and had the potential to mislead my efforts to build a relationship between you and the natural world. I felt guilty for pushing you and disappointment that I needed to slow down, back off and reassess.