Embracing Children’s Passion for Creativity: Lessons from the Arboretum

Embracing Children’s Passion for Creativity: Lessons from the Arboretum

By Noah Sorin

Last week I had the immense pleasure of working at the beautiful Arnold Arboretum during the Boston Outdoor Preschool Network (BOPN) annual February break program. This experience served as a powerful reminder of the magic that unfolds when nature, children, and imagination blend seamlessly together. This theme has been deeply embedded in my values throughout my life, leading me to start Idori in the first place. As a children’s book author and creator of early childhood toys, each opportunity to engage with young minds is a treasure to me, offering insights into the boundless creativity and curiosity that children possess.

In alignment with BOPN's emergent curriculum, at the beginning of the day on February 21st, I laid out my books and stuffed toys on a blanket, inviting exploration and interaction without mandating any of the children to participate. This approach mirrors the philosophy championed by Peter Gray, emphasizing the significance of self-directed play and exploration in childhood development. Gray astutely observes, "Self-education through play and exploration requires enormous amounts of unscheduled time—time to do whatever one wants to do, without pressure, judgment, or intrusion from authority figures" (Gray, "Free to Learn"). This ideology was the heart of our day at the arboretum, where the children were free to choose their path of engagement, be it through an imaginative game of "Ninjas vs Dragons" or the tactile joy of arts and crafts and nature observation with magnifying glasses.

The most meaningful moment of connection during this day came unexpectedly when a group of children, drawn to the stories and plush toys, requested a reading. Witnessing their reactions to my first book "Benjy the Treehopper" was a profound joy. However, the true highlight of this storytime was the birth of "Ninja Dragon Stuffies," a game conceived by the children, blending elements of their ongoing play with the new narrative and toys they had just engaged with. This spontaneous creation was a vivid illustration of Gray's insight: "We have forgotten that children are designed by nature to learn through self-directed play and exploration" (Gray, "Free to Learn"). Here, in their laughter and imaginative play, was a living testament to the power of play in learning and the development of a deep, intrinsic connection to the characters and, by extension, the environment they represent.

This experience underscored the critical role of play in learning, particularly in fostering environmental stewardship. The children's enthusiastic protection of the "sacred stuffies" mirrored a burgeoning sense of responsibility towards our planet, a lesson in sustainability delivered not through didactic instruction but through the joyous freedom of play. It was a powerful reminder that when children lead their learning journey, the lessons become ingrained, fueled by the genuine excitement and engagement that only play can inspire.

As we endeavor to educate the next generation on the importance of environmentalism and sustainability, let us not forget the invaluable tool we have at our disposal: the natural propensity of children to learn, explore, and care deeply about the world around them, all through the simple act of playing. I feel so lucky to be a part of an organization that embodies these values, and a community that constantly reminds me of the importance of having fun. So my recommendation to all of the parents and teachers out there is simple; encourage unstructured outdoor play, have fun with your kids, and have an open-mind towards the meaningful impact of all the silly games out there like “Ninja Dragon Stuffies” that kids conceive on a daily basis.

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1 comment

Go Noah! Boston Outdoor Preschool Network supports your vision to educate the next generation about sustainability and environmentalism. We appreciate your disposition to delight in who children are, including their inventive “Ninja Dragon Stuffies” games. We must treasure the time of life called childhood!

Sarah Besse

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