My name is Tori Heller, and this past fall I had the pleasure of playing, working, and learning with kids at the Scotland Community Center in Potomac. I am one of the naturalist educators that works with Everybody Grows, and together with Andrew Shofer, a fellow naturalist, we have begun to explore wild nature with the kids! The Scotland neighborhood is directly adjacent to Cabin John Park, and yet many of the children have never spent time in the woods and creeks right in their community. We wanted to help them increase their sense of responsibility and relationship to the local forest by building an outdoor classroom with them and providing a space to play and explore. The kids were really excited every time we came to “go into the woods!”
One particular hit was the “nature museum” – a box of feathers, bones, rocks, and other cool nature objects. Kids walking by couldn’t help be drawn in to touching a snakeskin or checking out a pair of antlers:
Together, we asked each other questions like “what animal did this fur come from? How old do you think this bone is? Is this a shell or a stone? What part of a bird’s body was this feather on, and how did it help the bird fly?” Asking and answering questions like this stokes curiosity, and helps the kids realize how much they know already about the natural world.
We also started clearing out a small space in the nearby woods of Cabin John Park for an outdoor classroom. With the children, we raked a path, cleared saplings, and built a rock circle with rocks harvested from the creek. Later in the fall, once the garden was done for the season, we started working a couple of projects to make the space awesome to hang out in. We built a primitive “loom” to weave grass mats, which provide insulation and coziness. Weaving took focus and work, but once we were done, the mats made some nice seats!
We also started constructing a shelter called a wikiup, breaking long poles and lashing them together to build a frame where we could stack sticks and debris. We practiced different methods of breaking sticks: in pairs, in between a forked tree, and against a downed log. Even the half-finished shelter was fun to climb inside of:
Of course, our trips to the woods also included climbing trees, exploring, and even some coyote howling to the early-rising moon… We had some pure wild fun.
We can’t wait to come back to Scotland in this spring and continue the nature program. The kids have said they are most excited about playing in the creek, continuing to work on shelter building, and playing woods games. It has been amazing to watch their excitement for spending time in the forest grow these last few months. Our hope is that they hang out in the woods when we’re not around, and share stories with us when we return in the spring!