Friday, 24 June 2016

A Reflection on Preserving the Culture of Childhood by
Fostering the Freedoms Necessary for Play

By: Diana Fedora Tucci; Forest School Practitioner, Founder TFNS.  When I think back to my own childhood experience around play in nature I remember the acres upon acres of untouched natural surroundings made up of lush woodlands, a craggy, winding creek, steep, muddy embankments, scented wildflower meadows, rocky places, sky-high grasslands, and dusty, dirt pathways that stretched out just beyond my back door.  It's hard to believe that my home was located in Toronto but it was and the sort of play that unfolded there was one of very little parental guidance or supervision and very much child-led.  Adventurous to say the least, we (mainly myself, my three sisters, and neighbourhood friends) routinely left the house when it was light outside and returned home by 5:00 pm for dinner when our moms called out for us from our back doors.

My mom made a habit of embracing our community of friends around our nature playtime as she regularly enrolled us in summer camps, we played at local parks and swam and picnicked at various beaches.  Picnics actually became a great gathering time for our friends and family.  They marked a break from play and a communal sharing of food around a table in the outdoors.  We had a grape vine pergola in our backyard under which we ate starting from the moment it was warm enough in the season.  My dad also built a treehouse in one of the huge weeping willows in our backyard from which many adventures began.  Climbing trees became one of our favourite things to do. During wintertime, my parents flooded the land just outside our backyard at the foot of the woodland, creating a skating rink for our whole neighbourhood to enjoy.  I remember skating on it long after everyone went indoors to sit by the warmth of our wood burning fireplace to drink my mom's famous hot chocolate with marshmallows.  My mom embraced an entire neighbourhood of children into our home life.  One thing that I remember very clearly is that my parents made a habit of taking us out on weekends for nature and culture play outings to explore other communities and cultures.  This included visits to High Park, China Town, Little Italy, Harbourfront, Kensington Market, visits to the Toronto beaches, and so forth.  We became playful explorers of the city on weekends and the places we visited always offered us time to connect with nature in some way even if just through its local park as well as discovering the diverse cultures of the peoples that inhabit our city especially through customs and food.    

In addition to this, my father was an avid nature enthusiast who believed in the power of the natural world to teach all.  He made a ritual out of taking myself and my three sisters into nature on a regular yet non-scheduled basis to play, imagine, discover, wonder, explore, and learn.  My father had a deep respect for the natural world and his intent for us was that through play, with him as a partner in our adventure, we would come to learn all that nature had to teach.  The key difference here from all the other forms of play that I experienced throughout my childhood being my father's the whole-hearted trust in nature as a teacher and how he bestowed a sense of reverence on the time that we spent playing and exploring together.  The natural woodland behind our home called us to play and we came to know it experientially in, with, and through its perpetual cycles of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, and years.

I lived in the same home until my late twenties and then purchased it in my thirties when my family moved away after my father's passing.  To say that I was rooted in place is no understatement.  I lived and played amongst the wilds of nature until my early teens when a throughway was built in the woodland behind my home, uprooting and changing my entire world.  It was a pivotal moment for me because I remained there in that place and experienced nature being there one minute and then gone the next.  Moving elsewhere to another location that had little or no nature spaces around it would have been one thing but witnessing nature's vehement removal after knowing it for so many years weighed heavily on my spirit and taught me the value of play for my playground, as I knew it, was no longer there.

After the throughway was completed, my relationship to nature shifted.  The need for nature connection was always present for me but I began including camping, biking, skiing, hiking, and swimming into my life as a different sort of way to connect to the natural world through play.  

This is the story that comes to mind when I think back to my childhood and my experiences around play in nature.  A varied culture of play evolved through routines, habits, rituals, and sport.  We were invited to play and called to play and play emerged and unfolded and evolved naturally in our community surroundings with the adults weaving in and out of our experiences.  Play is manifold.  It is not one dimensional.  I did not want to reflect on the 'WHAT' of play (what occurred during our play adventures), I wanted to look at the 'HOW' of play.  I could write a book on what we did  during our playtime, but that's another story.

But nature play is slowly slipping away.  It is a loss of a language of childhood and a loss of the wisdom of knowing your land, yourself, others and all things experientially in all ways.  The natural world no longer holds the attention of the dominant culture in our society and there is a very obvious shift in the level of security that is felt within the overarching and fixed embrace of nature.  Navigated by test scores, commerce, economy, consumerism, and the media children are no longer afforded the freedoms that are necessary in order to preserve a culture of childhood that is shaped by the repeated opportunities to be guided by the seasons and the encounters and milestones that unfold in real, authentic exchanges between child and earth in play.

In her book, Rest Play Grow, Deborah Macnamara, PHD states,"The type of play young children need is often that which is done on their own without parents or peers or playmates.  A young child needs to have time to become immersed in their own world for the purpose of expression or exploration."

 I have been very inspired by the idea of rest and its importance for the manifestation of true freedom in play to occur.  It's not just about offering children free, unhurried, and unscheduled time to play.  That sort of play can unfold in a variety of  settings including parent and child playtime.  True freedom in play goes much deeper than that and it is for this reason that I feel so strongly about offering my summer Forest School series, Into the Forest with Diana.  To register please go to Tinder Forest School program offerings page.  I will be blogging as we go along so do pop back in here to see what we are up to.

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