NEWCOMB - They gathered small sticks for a campfire, chased soccer-like balls around the gym with their toes, made "food" items out of birch bark and pine needles, and tossed rubber chickens and fake fish at each other. These weren't kids, they were actually adult educators, behaving like kids, and they were in the middle of learning new games and ways of having fun in order to bring new ideas back to the kids they work with.
The event was the "Get Out and Play!" conference, held at Newcomb Central School. It was hosted by the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry's (ESF) Northern Forest Institute along with Children in Nature New York. The Newcomb Central School Class of 2013 provided lunch for all participants. Nearly 30 people from all over the state attended the event, which was comprised of a series of hands-on workshops. It was loaded with activities introduced by presenters, who are experts in the field of encouraging children to return to the world of free play and creative self-expression.
"Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. Well-meaning public school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields," according to Richard Louv, the author of the 2005 book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.
The conference was designed to help educators discover (or rediscover) ways of re-introducing children to the joys of interacting with nature and playing in unstructured, self-created, and self-regulated activities. Current research supports the very positive effects of more exposure to nature and informal play. Kids are needing to re-learn how to play on their own.
Paul Hai, the program coordinator for the SUNY ESF Northern Forest Institute and co-founder of Children in Nature New York, organized this one-day series of hands-on workshops, along with Erin Vinson, education specialist at the Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb.