Living Arts Weekly: Hidden Gems

August 30, 2020

Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life. – R. Search

As our rhythm is crafted to include plenty of outdoor time, I am also considering how we can make our city backyard more hospitable to creativity and play.  My parents have worked hard over the years to create a beautiful and eclectic landscape, but their purpose has been mostly adult-oriented.  Now, we have the task of merging both worlds.

LifeWays’ current online course, “Learning in Nature”, has many inspiring ideas about outdoor environments and one of my favorites is the reminder that loose parts are essential!  Between garden spaces and fixtures, we are tucking in a variety of these loose parts.  For example, this week I gathered some scrap wood, buckets, sticks, larger smooth rocks and a few of my six-year-old’s outdoor toys next to our potting bench in the pea gravel.  He has a large container and a basket to keep things tidy when not in play, but honestly a new mini landscape has seemingly taken over the area already.  As soon as the space was established, my six- and ten-year old sons were hungrily at play. Miniature forests, houses, roads and lakes have been constructed and preserved all week.  My heart has been brimming with warmth as I steal a glance at them peacefully playing in the glowing morning light, or collaborating with narrative back-and-forth.

Another inspiration came from my mom, who likes to collect rocks from places she travels or hikes she goes on, to bring home and paint.  She puts these painted rocks in her front garden and every day toddlers from different neighborhood families walk by and stop to delight in these colorful works of art. This inspired the idea of “hidden gems”- little surprises that entice us into the yard and stimulate imagination.

One idea for a hidden gem came from the nature course.  Emily W. shared a photo of a young girl busy with a little story world they created during playgroup at a park.  I am imagining some story props made specifically for outdoors, such as a group of gnomes in a little mushroom home nestled in between border plants at the edge of a garden.

Lastly, we will create a little space for tucking away for alone time. Without space for a permanent teepee or trees that are particularly inviting, I am instead envisioning a wind chime hanging on the lower branches of a birch where the ground can be lined with moss or soft ground cover. Perhaps some cotton sheets and clothespins made available for temporary fort building around it, too.

What hidden gems could you imagine in your backyard or outdoor classroom space?

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