It's a sad fact that many kids don't get an opportunity to splash in creeks, play in the mud, search for bugs, climb trees, use their imaginations and take risks in the wild world anymore. NLI's mission is to help create spaces and places where kids can once again explore the natural world and in so doing develop a greater sense of self and stewardship for our fragile planet.
This is my third year attending the design institute and each time I've been struck with an overwhelming combination of sadness and hope. Sadness that the childhood I remember with so much freedom and opportunity to test my limits is outside the framework of most modern kids. Hope that efforts like NLI and their colleagues around the world are making it possible for kids to have these kinds of experiences again.
I heard about a place in the British Isles where children go with school groups and birthday parties for a "barefoot swamp walk" pretty much as it sounds, they take off shoes and slide into a waist deep trench of water and walk, sometimes crawl, through the mud. When they finish they scream for another turn and finally get hosed down before changing into warm dry clothes.
Phil Waters, a play worker at the Eden Project in Cornwall spoke about his latest effort, "Muddy Shorts" an outdoor adventure program for kids with disabilities where they have the same opportunities as children without disabilities to play in mud, build rafts, get wet, climb in nets, sit in old airplanes, toast marshmallows over open fires and enjoy being outside.
When I first heard Phil speak three years ago I thought- though the term play worker feels oxymoronic- I would love to have that as my job title. Don't know if that will every happen but it sure is good to know that there are people in the world who are helping kids to play again. And there are things going on right here in our own community thanks to NLI and BCBSNC and others. More on that in a later post.
For now- suffice it to say that having the chance to have a freshly hatched and tagged monarch butterfly placed on my nose in preparation for flight was a once in a lifetime experience. Having it wander around on my face for 10 minutes was pretty spectacular too. As I stood with my eyes closed and faced the sun to help my friend warm up, I was filled with so much pleasure and joy it brought tears to my eyes. Or was it the tickling feet of the butterfly that made me cry? The cause is not important, the depth of feeling is what counts. I'm so lucky to have the chance to be a part of this movement of bringing kids back outside.
Click photo to enlarge and see the citizen science tracking tag on this butterflies wing