I recently came across this video, all about the power of a stick in nature play. To most of us, a stick is just a stick. It goes by unnoticed; it gets moved out of the way; it just is. But to a child, or to any of us looking at the world through creative eyes, a stick can be so much more. It's a sword, a stirring spoon, a cane, a wand. It's anything and everything. And it's still just a stick. The power behind it, is that it exists in this space full of open-ended opportunity, nature.
So really, if you haven't watched the video yet, go ahead and check it out here. Expect to feel all the feelings about how simple and joyful a childhood in nature can be.
And piggy backing on that, I want to share with you some other simple elements often found in the forest which can be filled with just as much wonder and potential as a beloved stick.
Trees are nature's jungle gyms. Whether standing tall or having fallen, trees have so much to offer. Children, who can approach them with both determination and a sense of comfort, naturally want to climb and explore them. Reaching a great height can feel as much like climbing a mountain. The world looks different up there. It's a simple but powerful achievement. And given a tree's size, it's easy to feel bonded to these majestic plants. We can nestle in them and find ourselves feeling quite at home, like the many other creatures that do, among its branches.
Dirt on its own can be fascinating - full ecosystems right beneath our feet, made up of materials to explore and create with - but there is something extra special when you add water. Mud is gloriously messy and fun. It's body paint and molding clay, it's "soup" prepared in the finest kitchens around and it's puddles perfectly made for splashing. We could go on and on - and we have, here.
Creeks, streams, gentle rivers, lakesides, they're all very similar in the eyes of most children. They are magical water sources where play comes alive. Most children are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Of course! Most adults are too. Water flows are beautiful to watch and listen to, are exciting to discover and touch and are both special and ridiculously fun to play in. Watch where your child's imagination goes both in how they explore (and challenge themselves in) the water sources around them and what they pretend those water sources to be.
I've seen a single rock become transformed in imaginative play into some of the most creative things. A plate. A pet. A coin. A shovel. A potato. Something to plop. Something to skip. Something to make noise. Just like a stick, it becomes everything and anything while still being a rock. Find or create a pile of rocks, and the ideas open up even more, either in the imagination or artistically. Kids can begin to explore rock cairns or other forms of rock art. Rocks - who knew?
Fallen leaves, flowers and grasses all find there way easily into child's play. While they too can be transformed into something else in the imagination, you may find that they remain just as they are - leaves, flowers and grasses - and are used as natural materials as children create the most beautiful art. Woven crowns. Colorful collections. Ways to adorn their clothing or their rooms. Jewelry. Collages.
The forest is filled with endless natural elements that bring your child's imagination to life. It makes for messy, wet, wild and adventurous play. And to many of us, it looks exactly like the picture of an ideal childhood we've formed in our minds. Thankfully nature offers it all, ready for exploring, which leaves it's up to us. It's up to us to carve out the space and time and comfortability with getting out there and letting that play unfold. It's up to us to discover the power and simple joy of nature play.