I am Debbie Greene and in real life I manage Pilcher Park Nature Center in Pilcher Park (a 640 acre park in in Joliet Illinois with spring fed ponds, a large creek called Hickory Creek and many 250 year old oak trees). We see 15,000 children per year for school field trips, we have a Nature based Early Learning Center called Little Sprouts plus an after-school program called Kids n Nature. All of this plus 15 years at this job is where I get my ideas to share with you. I am lucky to have a VERY creative and talented staff to make this all work.
I belong to a great organization, ANCA, Association of Nature Center Administrators. They are a great resource and a great trigger for ideas that lead to a jumping off point. Most of my current beliefs about nature play come from an ANCA conference in Wilmot, Ohio where Ken Finch ( you will hear lots more about him in the future!) and Gordon Maupin gave a speech. They said we were not changing the lives of the children who come to our centers for school field trips. They said this was an old model that isn’t working. They said that one hour in the fourth grade for a child isn’t going to change their lives. They were 1000% correct! This began a debate in the Nature Center world and it hasn’t stopped yet. (more on that to come later also)
What came out of that debate is a new way to teach children to love nature. They need to have extended contact with nature to have it make any difference in life. They need to become a part of it. In today’s society we have lost that contact. Our children stay inside and play video games. They play on sterile playgrounds and they wash their hands over and over with anti bacterial soap! There was a time in this world when children drank water directly from the water hose! Not from the sink with a filter on it and not from a bottle from a store. From the hose! They made mud pies, ate dirt and rolled in the grass. And most of them survived!
They climbed trees instead of jungle gyms made of plastic and steel and they saw actual BIRDS in those trees. They learned the songs of birds. They saw butterflies and wildflowers. They chased rabbits and sometimes they caught them!
This is what I wish all children could experience. In our Little Sprouts Early Learning Center and our Kids n Nature after-school programs they do. It is my hope that through this blog I can give you inspriation to help you give some of this back to your children, grandchildren and students. Thank YOU for letting me share this with you.