environmental justice, nature play

Moving the Starting Line

I suppose I got into outdoor education (a.k.a .forest schooing, nature play, etc.) in a completely backwards way. Rather than be in a place in nature and decide to share that particular space, I identified a group of children who were underexposed to nature that came alive given the opportunity for nature play. That particular “group of children” is urban and inner city youth and you can watch me tell that story on our YouTube Channel in our Origins Story video linked here and also seen below.

I didn’t have my own farm or piece of land to share with people and invite them to experience, all I had was the idea of the opportunity to come to nature itself – but the desire to do that was VERY strong. Since that time, I’ve been educating myself about the gentle art of enticing children into natural spaces and conversations about nature through what we call “provocations.”

A provocation, in forest school practice, is a point of interest laid out to specifically spark the interest of a learner. If learning about seeds, it could be a variety of seed pods or packets. If conducting a tree study, one might set aside a variety of leaves, bark or needles from nearby trees for identification and conversation. All in all, it is a gentle introduction through natural curiosity and wonder. I have found it a refreshing way to teach and learn.

Most of the time…

I add this because I must honestly mention that in some of my more urban settings if a learner is not in the least familiar with noticing the natural world, their eyes run right over a provacation without the slightest bit of notice – even if it is laid out as a “Discovery Center” on a mat. This is not because of a lack of curisoity or a handicap in wonder. Likewise, these urban children and youth have all the same capacity to be captivated by the samples from nature that a veteran forest school attendee would have. So what is missing?

Exposure. We sometimes call this the “Starting Line.” The idea of a Starting Line refers to where we begin in a nature education program with a set of learners. It involves finding out their previous levels of exposure to the natural world so that you can spark curiosity at a level that will actually catch fire in their imagination.

This means that there are times that before a provocation, nature toy, loose part, or discovery center can be offered a simple introduction must be made. I recently began a lengthy instruction for a game where we would pretend to be squirrels hiding acorns only to find that most of the children (and a few adults present) could not identify the difference between an acorn and a pinecone. Both were frequently seen in the parking lots and driveways where they live. Learners reported that they both crunch when they are run over by a car. But other than that, they were the same thing, or even interchangeable. I quickly realized that I was in error and needed to move my Starting Line.

Tips for Moving the Starting Line:

  • Do it respectfully. There is a good chance this is a case of under-exposure and NOT ignorance. When remediating instruction, avoid demeaning your learner with materials designed for very young children.
  • Use relationship. In the acorn versus pinecone lesson, I just started talking about the yard I played in where I grew up. I told them that in the front yard we had lots of acorns because oak trees grew there. I explained how we played with them and how it was always full of squirrels. But our backyard was full of pine trees and a great place for pine cone battles. I even mentioned getting in trouble for nailing people in the face with them. Was it technical – no! But it introduced the difference through a story about myself.
  • Be available. These introductions might not stick with all of your learners. So when you have to make a correction for the twentieth time don’t sigh, roll your eyes, or put your hand on your temples. Remind yourself to intentionally smile and retell how it comes from an oak like the one that grew in your front yard. Leave out the comparison for now it that is confusing your learner. Just be present for them in a moment of discovery.

All of this being said, though it may change your plans and wound your pride, I highly encourage you to move this line when you sense it needs adjustment. While it may seem like an initial “hassle,” the rewards are just too great not to do it. I’m never sorry that I took the extra time or delayed my plans to be the person who introduced a wonder of nature. Never.

And, after all, it’s not about us – it’s about the kids. Every time.

nature play, Partnership Highlights, programs

New Nature Club in East Point

We are so happy to announce a new partnership with the City of East Point Parks and Recreation Department to bring a Nature Club to children in their after school program. Some partnerships are just “made in heaven” and with a little help from a nature loving mom, Jasmine Crisp, with her own organization (The Love for Animals Outreach) who made this introduction we’re off to a great start! Check out all the great things Jasmine’s organization is up to on Instagram at @Love4paws404

We visited the Jefferson Park Recreation Center in late July for a nature play session and had a great time getting to know new friends as we talked about everything from nature at their homes, to clouds, to animals, to food! The like-minded dreamers who plan this program saw potential in getting these city kids outdoors and teaching them that there is nature all around them even in the city. Serving close to 60 children ages 6 to 8, Sparrow’s Nest Play has greatly expanded not only our program hours but our reach with this one program offering.

We are planning four hours of programming a week on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays and the possibilities are endless! They have a wonderful interior courtyard that could be perfect for gardening and raised beds. I can already see a pollinator garden and vegetables growing with kids tending them as they learn where their food comes from and how to grow it. The front of the property, while it faces a fairly busy parkway is completely fenced in and shielded by overgrowth that runs along a drainage culvert. There are fruit trees growing on the hill and birds in the brush, along with evidence of rabbits and other wildlife that visit to feed in this little urban Eden.

With access to the city’s many parks, paths and new Nature Trail, we’ve got the makings of a first class Nature Club. Our sessions begin in September and run through November, with plans to extend this Nature Club into the winter beginning again in January through Spring! Now more than ever, your donations will make a lasting difference in the life of a child as they come to know the wonder of nature! Look for more details to come about Special Projects and Sponsorships for this promising program in a great community!


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.


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.

Stack of books with title reading "Buy Us A Book Love Us Forever: read about our wish list" with Sparrow's Nest Play logo

Buy Us A Book…Love Us Forever

Looking for a small way to show your support of Sparrow’s Nest Play in a tangible way? Well, buy us a book and you’ll be showing us how much you loved and supported this cause forever!

Education is a big part of what we hope to do at a session of Day Camp or our After School Program. Sometimes a well-written book to read aloud is the best springboard for community discussion and activity starters. We cover a lot of ground at Sparrow’s Nest Play. Some of our topics include:

  • Creation Care
  • Sustainable Agriculture
  • Responsible Consumer Practices
  • Acts of Love, Kindness, Mercy and Justice
  • Friendship and Community 
  • Peacemaking and Reconciliation
  • the teachings of Jesus

It is our hope to have quite a library of literature for children and parents to access. If you know of a book resource you’d like to donate to “the nest,” we’d love to add it to our collection. Or you can help start our collection by checking out our Thriftbooks Wish List

The small act of buying one of these resources can set a child’s imagination free to explore the world through a renewed sense of wonder. Please consider partnering with Sparrow’s Nest Play today as we play in nature, care for creation and teach just living.

creation care, nature play, programs

What I Learned in Forest Teacher Training

A few weeks ago, I sat at my kitchen table with dear friends who have agreed to form my first board at Sparrow’s Nest Play and made a confession. I told them that as passionate as I was about nature play, creation care and just living, I didn’t have a clue what a session with children would actually look like. I had a bunch of disconnected thoughts, but no real cohesive plan for how to fit my philosophy into a construct that included daily schedules and a curriculum framework. While I wasn’t discouraged, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say that it set off a bit of “imposter syndrome” for me, and I felt discouraged.

Forest Teacher Training from the Forest Teacher Training Institute has completely changed those feelings for me. I have left this 30 hour certification with everything I knew I was missing and so much more! If you are at all interested in the forest school movement – even if you are not sure where your passion might take you – I encourage you to investigate this course of study. Here is just a taste of what I have taken with me…

Community is at the heart of the nature play and forest school movement. I have spent many frustrated years in the “for profit” markets where all resources (access to philosophies, curriculum, and even people) were commodities to be purchased. I’ve always resisted this in favor of an approach that was based on sharing for the good of the greater community. Not only does the forest school movement generally reflect this spirit, the daily practices share the value of honoring the community of learners. (See my post on Kinship from my Forest Teacher Training Diary series.)

Daily Rhythms and Rituals have now replaced the space in my mind once occupied by the dreaded “Master Schedule.” After studying FLOW Learning, as well as the Waldorf philosophy of “inhale/exhale,” I have a totally different approach to organizing learning activities. The variety of ideas I have been exposed to helped me to create sample schedules for everything from a One-Hour Session for a learning center or daycare, to a Full-Day Session for a day of camp. I’ll be making my Teacher Training Portfolio available soon so you can see how Sparrow’s Nest Play will approach learning together.

Before my training, I was somewhat at loose ends when I considered how to approach curriculum. As non-commercialized as the forest school movement is, you can still find those willing to sell you complete curriculum with scope and sequence for your group. I was unsure if this was how I “had” to approach it. I learned that becoming co-learners with the children means that I will have the liberty to let the children show me their interests and build from there. Of course, this means having about 20 or so curriculum units “pre-planned” and organized seasonally so you can be prepared to capitalize on an encounter with nature. But the freedom this brought me immediately took so much stress from my lens of what curriculum had to be that I was immediately able to create a Seasonal Curriculum Framework. It will also be included in my portfolio.

And the delicate, random and fear-producing questions I had answered are just too numerous for me to write about, but here are a few:

  • It is okay to have multi-age groups?
  • Can I incorporate sustainable living and justice issues?
  • Can animals be a part of a nature play environment?
  • Will I really be able to keep the kids safe?
  • Are there ways to envelope families into the forest experience?
  • Can I do “forest school” in an urban area?
  • Will the ideas from forest school work if I want to start with an after school program?
  • Do I really know enough if I’m not a naturalist?

The answer to all of these lingering questions was “Yes!” Now my enthusiasm is brimming over and waking me up at all hours of the night.

I’m also humbled to say that I’ll be able to continue my certification to earn my Forest Director Certificate because of a generous scholarship. I am beyond thrilled to extend my learning to include topics like Site Development & Risk Evaluation, Developing Forest School Culture and Identity, Staff Development and Program Assessment, Marketing and Proposal Development, and a seminar in the Global Forest School Movement. The end product of this certification will be my own formal Proposal Presentation for Sparrow’s Nest Play.

For all of you who are following our journey at Sparrow’s Nest Play, I appreciate your comments and all the ways you are encouraging me to put forth the ideas of creation care, nature play and just living into the world. Please continue to follow our blog, as well as our social media on Facebook and Instagram to see where our journey takes us next.

nature play

Why We Need Sparrow’s Nest Play

Welcome to Sparrow’s Nest Play! This dream seems a long time in coming to fruition, but at the same time a little bit like randomly jumping off a cliff. My hope and dream has long been to offer a place (or places) of peace for children in today’s violent, busy, and consumer oriented world. Small people can easily get lost in the “rat race.” Even more tragic, experiences that were once common among children during their development are now viewed as “fringe,” “niche,” or even “liberal.”

There is something inherent in us that wants to inspect and wonder. It is easily recognizable in the preschool aged children with which I have worked. But somewhere along the way, wonder and creativity get stifled and suppressed by standards and expectations which are far outside the natural interest of many children.

One such child I had the joy of teaching was Peyton, who simply could not imagine playground dumptruck in the sane
time without sitting in a pile of wood chips rearranging them to his personal liking. He used any tool he could find to move the chips – toys, cups, spoons and other objects from our dramatic play – he just had to be digging and touching and exploring the dirt. He would come in filthy and almost require a good bathing before we could continue our learning each day. Thankfully, his mother knew of his predilection and always packed additional clothing for this purpose.

The problem? Our policy absolutely forbade the children to touch or play with wood chips in any way. One might ask, “Then why cover the playground in 3 inches of them?” As is common, this policy was the result of a lawsuit that had been filed in another center where a child had an eye injury from a wood chip thrown by another child, costing the center many thousands of dollars in settlement.  Thus, it became standard policy to have be “hands off” concerning the wood chips. Similarly, they were to be discouraged from touching sticks, dirt, leaves, pine cones and any other natural debris on the playground–all things children were made to play with.

This is one example of many where I’ve seen children eager to immerse themselves in nature only to be told that nature is too dangerous and a safety liability. I witness them trying to find ways to make playground equipment move more than it does or to find heights to jump from each day, only to be told that trying this isn’t safe. As the children turn aside from reprimand, I feel like we’ve killed something natural and beautiful inside them. I always wonder if it will reemerge or if that was its last natural occurrence, and like the last thing living of its species have we doomed wonder to extinction.

And then once inside the “safety” of our classroom once again, these same children display anxiety at risk taking – just unguided but supervised play that encourages them to “see what happens if…”.  Sometimes, I think that because I’ve had to tell them so many times “We don’t do that because it isn’t safe” they see danger around corners where there is none.

image of toddler's hand while sitting in leaves with shovelSparrow’s Nest Play is a place to investigate and wonder and learn using all of those natural, God-given curiosities. With supervision and caution, teaching a child to use their senses to explore the world around them is highly beneficial to their development. But it takes intentionality. If we need to have a time of digging in the dirt, let’s provide a safe space to do so, tools to assist and an appropriate place to clean up afterwards. And let’s teach about what healthy soil is while we are doing it so we don’t waste this learning opportunity!

But more than just nature play, Sparrow’s Nest Play seeks to cultivate curiosity about our world and our place in it. We ask questions like:

  • Where does food come from? Who grows our food?
  • What does a healthy world look like? How did it get unhealthy?
  • What is our responsibility in caring for creation?
  • How should I treat my fellow human beings as we share resources?
  • How can I promote peace with creation and with humanity?

One day we hope to have After School Programs and Day Camps, in order to provide not just education, but experiences and a community for children to explore these questions and many more. For now we’ll be creating online curriculum and content with the hope toward partnering with small groups of like-minded individuals. Join us in our journey at Sparrow’s Nest Play. subscribe to our blog and stay up-to-date with our journey toward getting our 501-C3 designation soon!