Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wild Zones, Wild Zones

I think there's a song that goes like that, but anyway, yesterday we managed to fit a very cool adventure into our sports filled day. After two soccer games, I felt no need to rush to another outing before our later afternoon skateboard playdate, but really wanted to check out this Wild Zone set up in a somewhat nearby park. The co-founders of this awesome concept came to talk at a PTA meeting and I was enthralled with the idea. I like to think of my boys as nature loving creative adventurers, but frankly when we went camping they seem to enjoy a rousing game of UNO or soccer as much as building a fort or a hike through the woods.

After the meeting, where I heard things like "creative brain development occurs throughout your whole life, up to 90 years old" and "play to allow a complex brain to create itself" I didn't not want to pass up on this opportunity. (I've included more words of wisdom from various experts below). As an added bonus, the volunteers are teenagers and my kids, like most little kids, love hanging out with teens.

This free adventure is about 10 minutes from our house, so we had no excuse not to go. After a few missed turns, we arrived at the Ulistac Natural Area "Get off the Path and Play", said the giant sign as we made our way to the "wild zone."

Thankfully, my son quickly spotted a classmate of his. I knew Donovan would love this place, they had mud and water after all. Keegan can take up to 30 minutes to get comfortable with new people and places, and of course we only had 45 minutes to play.

A couple boys had already constructed a giant and beautiful tepee, with sticks and palm fronds, and "flowers to make the place pretty and smell good" in the boys own words. As I learned at the PTA meeting, the group brings in materials like bamboo, palm fronds, willow branches, flowers, and the kids make shelters or dens or forts, reclining chairs, or balance rocks to make a sculpture.

I went around and took pictures of some of the other creations, like this wall of palms.

Play is serious. Self-directed play in nature is vital for physical, mental and community health.

Another group of kids had made this structure. I should point out how much teamwork was going on here. Not only did little groups form to create these fabulous places, but the kids walked around helping one another. A few little girls stopped to admire the flowers and add some of their own.
This one reminded me of a Christmas tree. With some initiative and enough interest, you can have one of these set up at a local park. We were told if enough Castro kids showed up we might get one at our school, so I was glad to see so many of Keegan's and Donovan's school mates there.

Is he not the sweetest thing? He's the twin of the kid in the tie-dyed shirt.

People protect what they love, so they need to play in nature, grow to love
it, to want to protect it.

Funnily enough, the third kid in the background happens to also go to a Spanish Immersion school in San Jose, so the kids were practicing their Spanish.

Building the floor and patio.
Watching the kids carry around giant rocks, and my sons with huge sticks, I kept an observant eye. I had to learn early on to let my kids take risks, and to keep my heart in check. I know taking risks is important, but it was nice to hear what some "risk experts, ie. teenagers" had to say about the value of risks:
  • Decision making about actual rather than virtual reality
  • Gaining skills
  • Agility, balance, reflexes
  • Understanding limits
  • Risk deprivation leads to excess risk...lack of courage and confidence
  • Interesting and exciting
  • Appealing to kids
  • Trust and team building
  • It’s life!

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