Between every two pines, is a doorway to a new new world.John Muir
Visiting my family in western Pennsylvania always triggers a bit of nostalgia. As a child, the majority of my summer days were spent outside. The porch replaced the living room and everyone congregated outside from sunup until sundown. On our most recent trip to PA in July, it was comforting to realize that some things never change. As I played with my kids in the yard at my parents’ house, I was struck by how much green surrounded us. So much green. Western Pennsylvania is known for its rolling green hills and in the summer months, you feel enveloped in soft green grass and green leaves of every shade.
We spent the week outside, engaged in natural play, and I realized that that was the kind of play I always experienced as a child. Playing in the woods, building a treehouse, picking huckleberries, running barefoot all day long, and swinging on a tire swing under the apple tree are the memories that call me home. So many moments that week caused me to pause and reflect on my own experiences with natural play. Perhaps this is why natural play at Woodlawn is so important to me. I love to see students building a fort in the Nature Club or discovering that the pile of rocks and sticks and tree stumps are actually part of a fairy village that we shouldn’t disturb.
The "Nature Club” is a wooded area that has been a favorite part of outdoor play at Woodlawn for many years. In an effort to make the rest of our playground more “natural", we removed the blacktop and added play structures built from Robinia wood. Artist Nico Amortegui designed and built a treehouse. And parents are lending a hand to help finalize other natural play elements such as a recycled tire climbing structure, a mushroom reading garden, fairy and dinosaur gardens, and outdoor chalkboards.
We love everything about the nature club. It's our favorite part of the playground - it has always been, but we would love more big sticks. We need the sticks to build things like houses, forts, and stores. We also use the sticks as tools for carving.
According to a recent University of Tennessee study, children who play on playgrounds that incorporate natural elements like logs and flowers tend to be more active than those who play on traditional playgrounds with metal and brightly colored equipment. The children more than doubled the time they spent playing, from jumping off the logs to watering the plants around the creek. They were engaged in more aerobic and bone- and muscle-strengthening activities.
It is my hope that our students are making memories through natural play that they will remember long after they graduate Woodlawn.