Tag Archives: Children & Nature Network

Huffington Post: Rise, Fall & Rise of New York City’s School Gardens

Every now and again, you stumble upon what is simply a great story. Daniel Bowman Simon’s Rise and Fall of School Gardens in New York’s Past Can Guide Us Into the Future traces New York City’s early community gardens, such as the 1902 Children’s School Farm in DeWitt Clinton Park on 54th St. and 12th Ave. in Manhattan, which was planted as much for the civic virtues and love of nature it would instill in its young gardeners as it was for its vegetables and flowers.

A couple of years after its inception, there would be a whole School Farm movement, with an astonishing 80 plots in New York. In 1931, there were 302 school gardens, which accounted for 65 acres.

Over time, the gardens vanished. In most cases, their land was redeveloped. Simon notes that we need to take heed and not let that happen again. He cites some wonderful trends regarding the current uptick in school gardens – namely First Lady Michelle Obama‘s White House Garden and other programs that I’ve written about here, the new school garden at P.S. 29 in Brooklyn that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and celebrity chef Rachael Ray helped promote, and the work of the Children & Nature Movement.

Do yourself a favor and read the article. The graphics are wonderful. And the story turns out to be the writer’s testimony in the recent public hearing held by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, which very recently completed a set of community garden rules designed to strengthen protection for gardens.

White House Photo: Samantha Appleton

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Mushroom Hunting in Norway

I love this video, which Kari Svenneby of Toronto, Canada’s Active Kids Club posted on the Children & Nature Network forum. Kari is an enthusiastic mushroom forager, harvester and cook, in addition to pioneering a very active outdoor play group and web resource for others. Her and her family’s joy in nature is evident in this beautiful video. Thanks for sharing, Kari!

New Research Links Time in Nature with Children’s Health

An important new paper has just been released that links children’s time in nature to their overall health. Using Nature and Outdoor Activity to Improve Children’s Health was published in the journal, Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care.

According to the forward, “Within just one generation, the definition of ‘play’ has changed dramatically among children in industrialized countries.” Before the 1980s, most children were encouraged to play outside, and much of that play was unsupervised. In January, 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that children ages 8- 18 spend an average of more than 7.5 hours per day using some sort of electronic screen.

These same children, the paper cites, may be the first generation at risk for having shorter lifespans than their parents and a variety of chronic conditions in childhood, such as childhood obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, vitamin D deficiency, ADHD, and depression.

The good news? Outdoor activity in natural environments may directly benefit children’s health in such areas as: Building and maintaining healthy bones and muscles; reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease; reducing feelings of depression and anxiety; and promoting psychological well-being.

I wrote more about the paper for the Children & Nature Network. That group also puts out a lot of excellent research about the many benefits of nature for children.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Mom’s Gifts of Nature

Today would have been my mom, Bunnie’s, 77th birthday. She died four years ago after a long illness. We were close but our relationship was not without rocky patches. Since I began working for Children & Nature Network a couple of months ago, I can say without hesitation that my appreciation for her has grown. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t thought about her influence on my enjoyment of nature and the gifts she gave me in that regard.

The gift of walking. My mom didn’t drive. In L.A., a place built especially for transportation by car. As a result, we walked everywhere when I was little. She walked with my brother and I to different parks and playgrounds, talking to us the whole time. She ran errands on foot (and then by bike when we were older), so that we had a sense of our place on the earth and in our community. We knew neighbors and shopkeepers and had a different kind of life than the kids who were driven places.

It helped that my parents had settled in Santa Monica, which they chose because it was (and is) a very walkable, livable place, with real streets where there are neighbor-serving businesses (this part has diminished over the years, as the businesses have largely gone upscale) and good public transportation. I rode the bus by myself at age 9. Pretty much everyone walked, biked, or bussed to and from school. I only recall a couple of rides to school ever, and those would have been early mornings in high school, when my dad would take me before he and Mom went to work.

I love to walk to this day. I enjoy the activity in itself, and a pace that allows you to engage with your surroundings and neighbors.

The gift of splashing in puddles. We didn’t have snow in Southern California, but we did get rain. My mom was not one to let the weather impede any plans. Dressed appropriately, in raincoats and boots, we were encouraged not only to walk in the rain but to enjoy it and to splash in the puddles. Her attitude was, “Who’s afraid of a little rain?” and I adapted it in junior high when I secretly looked down on my peers for using umbrellas. This seems a bit guerrilla now, but the spirit holds. To little kids, especially, rain is something to be enjoyed, not cowered from. And children’s bodies and clothes are meant for play.

The gift of summer camp. My mom was a Brooklyn girl, but her childhood memories from upstate New York’s Camp Guilford and Oxford had deeply imprinted on her. She talked lovingly of classic camp activities like archery and color wars. My parents worked summers; There were not a lot of family vacations. But what my brother and I did have was camp. I got to go to camp for nine summers, seven of them at Tumbleweed Day Camp, beginning incredibly enough when I was four.

I loved everything about Tumbleweed. It was in a gorgeous, special spot in the Santa Monica Mountains. Days began and ended by sitting by group in an amphitheater made of logs, singing folk songs. (I can still sing the camp and other songs.) I learned to swim there, and ride horses, and jump on a trampoline. We had cookouts and sleepouts and dress-up days. In the 70s we did modern dance to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” while the boys played caroms. There were nature hikes. (I learned about poison oak and bee stings.) We cared for animals and made lanyards and paint-and-macaroni covered cigar boxes. There was one camp craft I loved so much that we started doing it at home, too — gathering items from nature and placing them in a paper cup, pouring resin over the items so that the whole hardened into a medallion, and then drilling a hole and stringing it to make a necklace.

Because I loved camp so much (can you tell?), I sent my own daughter to camp and sought the most classic, outdoor-oriented ones I could find. So far she has attended five years of JCC Day Camp and three years at Mountain Meadow Ranch in California’s Lassen County, and I believe her experiences have been formative.

The gift of independent exploration. There is no doubt some personality trait involved, but I got on that camp bus by myself at age 4, and it wasn’t even an issue. I also, from maybe age 5 or 6 on, regularly took my own “adventure walks” around our neighborhood — with age-appropriate limits, like working up to crossing streets. My mom championed and encouraged these. She understood the power of exploring on ones own, the serendipity of what might transpire. That I called these “adventure walks”, even though they were in a neighborhood of suburban apartments, speaks volumes. Any walk can be an adventure, given the right spirit and desire to find something new. To this day, I enjoy being in a new place, whether it’s an exotic location or somewhere a bit more close-by and mundane. I like to have map and resources, to consult if need be, but I’ll also let curiosity take me someplace if I’m pretty certain I can find my way back. (Warning: This does not always fit others’ comfort levels.)

The gift of quiet and observation in nature. I believe I inherited my mom’s mix of gregariousness and solitude. On the solitude end of the scale, she loved any walk in nature, in various seasons, usually with her twin-lens Rolleiflex camera. (A camera case is visible in the above picture of her, which was taken among cherry blossoms in Japan.) She would slowly stroll, pausing often to aim her camera and look down into its viewfinder to compose her shots. She took great pictures — in New England falls, of the plants in the park near our house, in the Japanese gardens she loved. As it does with me, I believe nature provided her a kind of meditation. The photography was an activity within it, and then a result. It was fun in itself but also a way to harness and focus observation. On my early walks, I took a notebook. I now often carry a notebook and a camera. And, if my family is any indication, I can take just as long as Mom did to compose and take a shot.

The gift of appreciation of nature. My mom’s appreciation for the beauty of nature was apparent in her photos, and also in our home. She had a beautiful rose garden, which she lovingly tended. Once a week, she’d pick roses from it and arrange them in vases that would be placed around our house. She seemed to spend hours arranging them to please her aesthetic eye. I have memories of the lovely rose smells, the snipped stems on our kitchen counter, and also of her being lost in the activity, as her slender fingers repositioned the open roses in their vases. Here, I believe I have her eye but lack some of her patience.

Come to think of it, I especially enjoy taking pictures of wildflowers. Perhaps wildflowers embody much of the above, and so much of the gifts available in nature: serendipity and discovery, solitary enjoyment, continuing wonder and delight, appreciation, and sheer beauty of form.

For all these gifts of and in nature, Thank You, Mom!


Resolution for 2010: Spend More Time in Nature

Happy New Year, Dear Friends!

As we leave the holiday season and swing into 2010, I have many resolutions that involve improved health, balance, time with loved ones, and calm. Foremost among them, and the act that can really enhance all of the above, is spending more time in nature.

Richard Louv, Founder and Chairman of the Children & Nature Network, has done a great deal of work linking time spent in nature with great improvements in health, cognition, creativity and well-being. Of course most of us know and experience this — All one needs to do is step outside, take a walk, breathe deeply and look around. Of course there’s a rich, unique experience to be had in the moment, as well, while we’re busy accumulating benefits and filling the well of our own capacity for wonder and awe.

Over the holidays, good friends held a hiking party, which was a superb, healthy, uplifting alternative to an indoor gathering. The weather, which had threatened rain, held out. The spot was the breathtaking Ring Mountain Preserve in Tiburon, CA, which I wrote about when I visited at wildflower time. And the host had prepared (and hiked in!) a veritable feast of holiday foods and hot Toddies and chocolate, which we enjoyed along with great company.

While not every gathering is going to have this confluence of fortune (I’d be hard-pressed to pull off one to this degree), I took with me a great deal of inspiration and creativity as I headed back down the mountain, the smaller kids still running around up top. Sure, why not have an outdoor party when everyone else is indoors? Why not get ourselves and our friends out in nature, to enjoy the bounty of beauty and fun that is so available and so often overlooked? Whether it’s a local park, a short trail, a community garden, or a backyard fortress, nature is somewhere near you and ready to fill the well of awe.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman