campfire with foil packets
nature play

What Camp Taught Me: Part Two

The Art and Skill of Letting Them Fail

I can already feel your tension as you read the subtitle of this blog. Failure? Encourage failure? But what about how they will feel about themselves? How will I manage their disappointment? This makes me feel terrible…like….a….a failure, right? Take a deep breath and keep reading. I need you to trust me. It’s gonna be okay.

While we were starting one of our many projects at camp this summer one of my counselors turned to me and said, “I’ve never done this project before. I’m so glad you’re here.” I quickly turned and reassured her, “Oh don’t worry, I’ve never done it either. We’ll figure it out together for the first time in front of the kids.”

Now know that this is a far cry from Classroom Vangie who, in addition to having Plans A, B, and C ready to be implemented at any moment, had also pre-prepped each and every craft, project, read aloud, song, finger-play, and game. There was never a margin for error, or failure, in my lesson plans. And my kids (and assistants) were astounded everything always worked the first time. But in truth, it had never worked the first time because I had failed the first three times at home where no one could see. Nature Vangie has realized that she was leaving out the most valuable part of each lesson for her students – error.

boy struggling to climb onto tire swing

So many of my “forest friends” who are new to nature play melt at the first sign of struggle because they have never experienced it before. So the first time they attempt to climb the tire swing and it moves, they are completely unprepared to adjust their strategy, ask for assistance and/or try again. Instead they give up.

At Bushcraft Camp, we spent Day One just making fire starters and learning our Fire Safety Rules in small teams. Day Two was “Fire Starting Day” and everything was ready to go – except our materials. These had gotten the first good rain we’d had in weeks this Georgia summer. I considered adding another activity because I knew excitement was high and that frustration would match that when fires would not meet expectations. But Nature Vangie prevailed over Classroom Vangie and I did the unthinkable – I let them struggle.

The photo on the left is their attempt on that day. I won’t lie, they were pretty frustrated. But we debriefed in teams afterwards and discussed what they’d do differently the next day. You can see much better results from Day Three when fires lit immediately due to troubleshooting on the part of the kids – not the adults.

So if you visit a Sparrow’s Nest Play program expect to see…

  • Children in the process of acquiring a new skill who may show frustration. Please be patient.
  • Arts and crafts that have been designed and completed by the children. Most of them aren’t going to make a Pinterest board but we love them more for that.
  • Adults who are asking questions instead of solving every quarrel and issue that arrises between children. You’ll hear, “Did you talk to your friend about it?” or “How do you think you can solve that problem?” or “What could you do differently next time?”
  • A peaceful, honest place of learning and discovery that welcomes the struggles that make our victories so much sweeter and children that own their challenges and accomplishments.
giant adarondak chair at Our Giving Garden
Uncategorized

What Camp Taught Me: Part One

Remembering What I Already Knew

Hi friends! Long time no blog. Spring was a challenging season at SNP followed up by Summer which was SLAM PACKED with programming and fun! Know that each time I saw a poignant moment I made a mental note to share it with all of you once things calmed down and I could begin “blog season” once again.

I had the incredible opportunity to lend my skills and further ply my trade at a great place nearby called Our Giving Garden. If you don’t know about this place, you’ve really got to check it out. I am so thankful for the seven weeks of programming I was allowed to create and run alongside with some amazing counselors. We ran camps about gardening, pond studies, environmental studies, bushcraft skills, campfire cooking, crafting with nature, and animal care there at their farm and forest site in Mableton, GA.

It was good for the body and soul but, most importantly, it reminded me of some foundational principals that I already knew to be true but tend to forget if I’m not able to be engaged in wild spaces with children regularly. These principals have so profoundly affected me that I have allowed them to shape my career goals – indeed they are why we began Sparrow’s Nest Play.

The Gift of Presence

The gift of being present in the moment with a child is priceless. Nature play and emergent learning allows for agendas to be completely forgotten so that my full attention and “presence” can be offered as a gift to each and every child. Never underestimate the value of taking the time to notice just how amazing that particular worm they have in that hand is. I remembered the value of asking questions that invite investigation. And finally, I experienced the joy of sharing wonder together. All because I was present.

child brings large worm for adult to see

The Value of Unstructured Play Outdoors

Now it isn’t always idyllic. Almost each session had at least one child who had been signed up by a parent or grandparent so they could experience this for the very first time. I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t say it was somewhat painful to watch those kids try and acclimate themselves to the all-day, outdoor environment. But only in that kind of space – the Wild Spaces – could I have seen this particular kind of magic happen.

In every case, those standoffish children would begin to become curious. (After, first complaining loudly that they were bored and didn’t have anything to do.) If even out of that sheer bordom, they’d soon begin to poke around and try and figure out what the other children were finding so intriguing and engaging in all this dirt and sweat. And then, communication began between those who had been strangers and “others” to one another. Questions turn into ideas, projects and stories. Sticks become wands, pine boughs become brooms and paintbrushes, and hollows of trees become treasure troves of keepsakes to be visited and revisited. Curiosity leads to communication. Communication facilitates imagination. Then imagination makes them curious again. And round and round it goes all the day long.

view from behind of two children seated on long

Nature Restores

When I first experienced this kind of healing, I was in East Atlanta working at a day camp. You can find that story on our YouTube Channel. In 30+ years of camp programming with children, I’ve yet to have a summer that didn’t encounter a child experiencing profound grief and loss. Sometimes it is the loss of a grandparent, parent, or sibling. Other times they are struggling to make sense of divorce or another life transition over which they have no control. This summer was no different in that aspect. Some children were grieving loss of a beloved family member, others anticipating a divorce or transition. No less than three children were preparing for an out-of-state move. Some of them bore the marks of worry, others of extreme loneliness. A few still bore the scars of feeling deficient due to learning differences they experience in the traditional school classroom.

But the Wild Spaces offer a healing and restoration unlike any other. For some, it is learning a new skill they might have thought unattainable – like how to whittle a stick with a knife. For others, it is physically accomplishing a task they didn’t think themselves strong enough to do – like rolling a large log into place for an obstacle course they can enjoy with their friends. Still others just realize they can make friends more easily than they thought and that people find them likable and that they have valuable ideas to contribute when building a shelter or playing a game. Most of this is completely un-orchestrated by an adult, but I count myself very honored to witness the healing miracle.

boy learns to whittle with knife

I’ve got more to share about summer camp and all that I “remembered” while I was there, but I hope these three help remind you today that some of the most valuable things you can give a child can’t be bought but can only be freely given.

events

March Meet Up

We’re thrilled to be partnering with our friends at Rooted Trading Company for another great Pop-Up Event on Saturday, March 12th from 11am to 4pm. Our goal is to recreate a mini Sparrow’s Nest Play experience so families can learn about us and try us out before making a commitment to our afternoon enrichment program, Nature Play Adventures, beginning in March at Powder Springs Park. Here is what you can look forward to…

For Parents:

  • This is a great chance to meet our staff and ask questions about our program.
  • Watch your children interact with our staff and the kind of play we practice each day.
  • Pick up articles and information about the benefits of nature play and time spent outdoors for children.
  • Cash in on discounts on our annual Registration Fee!

For Kids:

  • Plant your very own seedlings to take home and watch grow!!
  • Play in our fort with our “campfire,” small world play, and other nature toys.
  • Enjoy looking through our books about nature and the great outdoors.
  • Make a fun nature craft to take home while making new friends!

We have one more vent planned for April, so if you don’t catch us in March you can watch our Facebook and Instgram for announcements about upcoming events.

events, nature play, programs

Come Meet Us

Pop Up Event February 12th at Rooted Trading Company from 11am - 4pm

We’re thrilled to be partnering with our friends at Rooted Trading Company for our very first Pop-Up Event on Saturday, February 12th from 11am to 4pm. Our goal is to recreate a mini Sparrow’s Nest Play experience so families can learn about us and try us out before making a commitment to our afternoon enrichment program, Nature Play Adventures, beginning in March at Powder Springs Park. Here is what you can look forward to…

For Parents:

  • This is a great chance to meet our staff and ask questions about our program.
  • Watch your children interact with our staff and the kind of play we practice each day.
  • Pick up articles and information about the benefits of nature play and time spent outdoors for children.
  • Cash in on discounts on our annual Registration Fee!

For Kids:

  • Play in our fort with our “campfire,” small world play, and other nature toys.
  • Enjoy looking through our books about nature and the great outdoors.
  • Make a fun nature craft to take home while making new friends!

Similar events are also planned for March and April, so if you don’t catch us in February you can watch our Facebook and Instgram for announcements about upcoming events.

programs

January at Nature Play Adventures

We are more than a little excited to be gearing up for our Nature Play Adventures program which will begin in January at Powder Springs Park. Here is a short preview of what our forest friends will be discovering through play and projects…

Birds in Winter

A fun part of getting to know “our forest” will be cataloging the birds that we observe there. We’ll begin identifying birds by sight and even by call for our running list of birds that live there. We’ll learn about their ideal habitats, as well as that they eat during the winter months. On our project list will be bird feeders – both for home and for “our forest.”

Winter Tree Study

We’ll also get to know our native plants and trees by mapping our forest. It’ll be a little tougher without the leaves to help us identify them, but it’ll be a lot of fun to see if our deductions based on bark and other observations were correct in the Spring when leaves come out! We’ll take some sticks and twigs from our favorites and do some nature weaving this week.

The Winter Sky

Noticing the signs of the seasons will become a daily part of our rhythm, so we’ll begin by taking note of times of sunrise and sunset each day. We’ll review each season’s solstice or eqinox and learn how this affects the length of our days and temperatures. Noting the small changes each day will sharpen our observation skills immeasurably. As we notice that we often have “wet” winters here in our region, we’ll make a rain gauge for our base camp.

The Moon

Building on our knowledge of weather and seasons, we’ll discuss the phases of the moon. We’ll research the Farmer’s Almanac for moon phases and learn about special moons like “Harvest” and “Blue” moons. We’ll be sure to have lots of books on hand about the moon and it’s phases.

Add to all of this a dash of Outdoor Safety Skills and the splash of ongoing fun that will be getting acquainted with “our forest” and you’ve got a recipe for adventure. Tell a friend about our program while there are still spots available! To register today go to our Registration Page.

donate

A Special Day is Coming

As an organization only 6 months old, we are experiencing a set of “firsts.” Some of them are cause for joyful celebration, while others leave us in rapt anticipation of good things to come. And so we stand at the beginning of our first #GivingTuesday fundraising campaign frantically researching every way we can extend our reach and accomplish our mission at Sparrow’s Nest Play.

One of the most discouraging parts about being “new” and “small” is the fact that many of our efforts at fundraising for #GivingTuesday will be swallowed up by larger and more established organizations that have campaigns they paid to develop and push out. We’re homegrown here at Sparrow’s Nest Play, so every piece of graphic design, video and marketing was done on my personal laptop and posted by me. And as I told my Board of Directors at our quarterly meeting last week, even if we did have the funds for that kind of fundraising campaign, I’m not sure it falls in line with our values.

We’ve set a goal of $1500 to assist our budget needs in the first quarter of 2022. The overwhelming majority of these funds (70% of those raised) will be distributed in the form of scholarships allowing children to attend Sparrow’s Nest Play programming. The remainder of our funds will be dedicated to Operations/Marketing, items including our insurance, website fees and maintenance, and other promotional expenses. At this point in our journey, no one here at Sparrow’s Nest Play receives a salary or compensation. We are a 100% volunteer led organization at present.

The environment offered to children through Sparrow’s Nest Play benefits them and their families by providing an enrichment program designed to teach care for nature and our communities through a uniquely peaceful perspective, and the opportunity for them to have experiences and learn skills that many children raised in urban contexts may never get to have. 

Through immersive play in nature, children at Sparrow’s Nest Play will: 

  1. Have a safe place to learn and grow.
  2. Learn to care for creation through sustainable agricultural and consumer practices.
  3. Learn the value of small things, such as small acts of love, kindness, and justice. 
  4. Experience being part of a membership with one another and with creation. 
  5. Develop and practice tools for peacemaking and reconciliation. 

Consider supporting us at Sparrow’s Nest Play by donating to our mission. You can also support us by following us on our Facebook and Instagram pages and sharing our content so that word of our mission spreads.

environmental justice, nature play, programs

For Love of Place

I’ve spent much time during the last few years bemoaning “used to be” and what we don’t have. I have grieved for the political system we haven’t had, the compassion unspent and the justice unseen. It has been a topic of constant conversation in my home and with my loved ones. We have kept our eyes on the horizon longing for a sign of hope.

Through it all, I’ve lived in the same place – the same physical location. My son finished high school and began college here in this smallish suburb of metro Atlanta. It has a rich history with which I am still acquainting myself. While tensions ran high across our country and diversity seemed to bring tension and strife in many communities, our little town just “kept on.” For the most part, white, black, and brown folk continued to wave and say “How you ta’day” when they met in the local Mexican restaurant. We don’t know one another by name, but we’re familiar enough to know where we know one another from.

Jason and I like that about our town. We like that the diversity is something that is a part of being where we are physically located in our county and state. It is in harmony with our values, and with who we wanted our children to be when they became adults and had families of their own. We aren’t naive enough to think it always works out perfectly in our community, but we do sense an intentionality here. Our love of this place is one of the reasons we’ve chosen to invest our hearts here in the name of Sparrow’s Nest Play.

The past is our definition. We may strive with good reason to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it. But we will escape it only by adding something better to it.

Wendell Berry

Born of privilege, we realize we’ve had opportunities others have not enjoyed. The realization of those inequities has made it impossible for us to continue on as if we never knew about all people on the margins. Our identification with the autistic community and those who identify as “neuro-diverse” have awarded us opportunities to experience some of those margins ourselves.

COVID has only highlighted areas of drastic inequality. When many schools went to virtual learning, it wasn’t an issue for areas with wifi access or families with technology to support that kind of learning. For others, it was impossible. Some families saw this as an excellent opportunity to try out forest schooling and nature play as alternatives. However, these programs are often expensive and comparable to private school options. For families of lower income, this was not an option.

We realize many parents in our community are working extremely hard to provide for their children. This can often mean working a job and a half, which means utilizing an after school care program to assist with childcare. Sure they’d love to pick up their children right after school and let them go home and play outside in the fresh air, but that option is simply not open to them. For those families, the school after care program is the most cost-effective option, even if it does mean three additional hours each day inside a crowded school cafeteria.

Sparrow’s Nest Play wants to partner with families in our community to change the way children spend their afternoons. Using our town as an educational hub, we want to immerse our kids in nature and creation care every afternoon, engaging them in projects that will enrich their minds and build relationships.

Through a partnership with Rooted Trading Company and the City of Powder Springs, we will be bringing our Nature Play Adventures Program in Spring 2022. We’ll be starting small, with only room for 6 students – but we’ve always believed that it is the smallest of things that really make a difference.

Please consider helping us in our endeavor by sponsoring this program so that we can make it a cost friendly option for families in our community.

creation care, justice

Place, Hope & Neighbors

I’m an Atlanta native, now living just outside Atlanta. That may seem commonsensical to some readers, but those here in the area might realize how extraordinary I really am. When I completed a degree in 2010, out of 38 people in my cohort, I was the only native. It is more and more rare to find people who live where they grew up. Even now, I reside around half an hour from my town of origin.

Understandably, “Where are you from?” is a regular conversation starter. You can start a great number of conversations and learn quite a lot about someone by beginning that way. Learning where someone is from gives us the opportunity reminisce about a time when we visited that part of the country, or even tell of relatives that live nearby. My husband always finds a fellow “Hoosier” when we are meeting new people.

But for all of the interesting banter this creates, the question I wish we asked is “Where is your place?” Much like the famed (and culturally inappropriate) “Laughin’ Place” of Brer Rabbit from The Tales of Uncle Remus, where is the place where you can be you? Where are you known?

For instance, we don’t venture out as often as we once did, but I can tell you with certainty that Donna at our Waffle House, Gustav at Monterry’s, Kerri at Johnny’s Pizza, and Stephanie at Chili’s all know us. Noah and Jason don’t even order any more. (Because I enjoy more variety, I usually require a little more maintenance.) It is comforting to go places where the staff remember Noah, understand about his autism, and are patient as he works through noise and other stressors during a meal. These are places we are known – they are our places.

We’ve recently come into the habit of spending even more time in our place, which is Powder Springs, Georgia. An amazing local business owner has given Noah a part-time job in his store which specializes in locally made goods, outdoor gear, and rental of bikes and kayaks. It is the coolest place in town and has become a hub of neighbor-love. Noah is now installed there and is a part of that place, as are we.

I had already fallen in love with our local library and linear park, but now I’m finding myself passionate about the people and smaller spaces within this larger place. I’m learning names, learning about the local businesses, and the history of this town. I’m becoming a part of this membership, as Wendell Berry might say.

In his poem, A Poem About Hope and Place, Berry exhorts us to “belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are your neighbors in it…” and in doing so find restoration as you age and struggle to hope.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power

Or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful

when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy

when they ask for your land and your work.

Answer with knowledge of the others who are here

And how to be here with them. By this knowledge

Make the sense you need to make. By it stand

In the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.

Speak to your fellow humans as your place

Has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.

Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it

Before they had heard a radio. Speak

Publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

– Wendell Berry, A Poem About Hope and Place

There is much to be spoken in this place – words of hope and inspiration, peace and unity, care and reconciliation. I must learn my neighbor to fulfill that commandment to love them, and in doing so fully love myself. This place can birth that process. It has “birthed” it for my son, a young man with a disability who was unable to get a job with the larger stores like Kroger and Publix because his speech wasn’t clear on a phone interview. Yet, in this place where he is known, his speech impediment hasn’t been an “impediment” at all. It has restored our hope.

As Berry advises, we are founding our hope “on the ground under our feet.” And in doing so, our neighbors and our place have illumined our way.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.

Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground

Underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls

Freely upon it after the darkness of the nights

And the darkness of our ignorance and madness.

Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,

Which is the light of imagination. By it you see

The likeness of people in other places to yourself

In your place. It lights invariably the need for care

Toward other people, other creatures, in other places

As you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

Wendell Berry, A Poem About Hope and Place
creation care, environmental justice, justice, theology

The Violence of Falsehood

Violence against our world and our fellow beings finally cannot be dissociated from the violence of falsehood.

Wendell Berry, On Receiving one of the Dayton Literary Peace Prizes, Our Only World

I’m hardly ever consciously trying to be controversial. Usually, I just mildly annoy people with “my passion” for whatever it is I am speaking into. But occasionally, I really set someone’s teeth on edge by becoming what they might call “political” about a topic. As I’ve written in another blog on Nature and Spirituality, I’m an equal opportunity offender – irritating both the Conservative Right and the Liberal Left. It once bothered me greatly and I would loose sleep at night. Now I sleep just fine.

creek bed along trail

I preface this post with these thoughts because I know my recent research into environmental justice has made (at least) one of you uncomfortable. I can hear you saying, “Why does she have to go there? Can’t she just do her nature play outdoorsy thing and leave well enough alone? None of this really has anything to do with loving and sharing the world God made – that is Creation Care! Leave the justice issues out of it.”

The problem is that leaving justice out of it is falsehood. It is a lie of omission. Omitting the facts about our history of environmental injustices allows us to anesthetize ourselves not only to our past, but also to present and future dangers that share the lives of those we would call “brothers and sisters.”

We must act daily as critics of history so as to prevent, so far as we can, the evils of yesterday from infecting today.

Wendell Berry, On Being Asked for ‘A Narrative for the Future,’ Our Only World

While hiking at a state park just minutes from my home this weekend, I was thrilled to see many black and brown faces on the secluded trail we chose. I met so many diverse people on the trail that as I journeyed, I wondered if the issues surrounding environmental justice might have not already been solved. Maybe these issues really aren’t worth noting and writing about any more?

Suddenly as the trail descended, we were met by a large rock outcropping that I remembered reading had been studied by archeologists as a site of shelter used by Native Americans for several thousand years. I didn’t see any of them on the trail, however, because we relocated the Cherokee from this region a long time ago. And I was reminded that we are all susceptible to the violence of falsehood out of a desperation for a sense of well-being.

rock outcropping used by Native Americans

The hidden truth is, recognizing and acknowledging matters of environmental – or any other kind of – justice will not exclude us from appreciating, enjoying and sharing the good and beauty of a place. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. The joy of being appreciative for a place cannot be disassociated from understanding the history of that place. And understanding the wrongs that have occurred don’t change the way I can appreciate the spicy smell of a hardwood forest.

To fail to enjoy the good things that are enjoyable is impoverishing and ungrateful.

Wendell Berry, On Being Asked for ‘A Narrative for the Future,’ Our Only World

So I will hold both the beauty and the conflict in each hand, allowing myself to always know the tension between what terrible things have happened, so as to more fully know the burning desire to share this beauty now with all peoples. Any other way of pretending is falsehood and violence. It would not be peacemaking.

creation care, donate, nature play, programs

Sponsorships Change Lives

We’ve recently posted a series of articles about the Physical, Social-Emotional, and Cognitive benefits of exposure to nature. Without listing them all again, there is research-based evidence to support:

  • Extended time playing in nature creates the minds business leaders call “21st Century Leaders” creative thinkers, innovators, problem solvers and collaborators
  • Nature play promotes healthy bodies during a time in our history when childhood obesity is at an all time high
  • Place-based learning and care for the natural world create learners who are adaptable, compassionate and interconnected to their community

At Sparrow’s Nest Play, we are in the process of putting together our VERY FIRST DAY of Mini-Camp. This day of learning will expose children to nature play through crafts, den building, tracking, nature journaling, and outdoor safety lessons. But we need funding to help get things started. Listed below are some of the ways your donations will add to the experience for a child at a day of Mini-Camp.

Please consider introducing a child to the wonders of creation by sponsoring a child or activity. Donations of any amount help us further our mission at Sparrow’s Nest Play.