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by Kristin Mullen, Children’s Garden Educator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Volunteer Barb Sawyer building with her granddaughter, Emmie Kobus.

Volunteer Barb Sawyer building with her granddaughter, Emmie Kobus at Explore the Outdoors on Sunday.

For two years in a row, we’ve arrived at Explore the Outdoors with a van full of familiar, readily-available natural materials (sticks, stumps, moss, gum balls, grapevine, pine cones, etc.) and watched the creativity unfold as families spend un-structured time creating masterpieces of art and engineering out of underappreciated items. When everyone slows down, amazing things happen.

a family hard at play creating their loose parts masterpiece

A family hard at play creating their “loose parts” masterpiece.

Kids start to notice details about the pine cones. Branches and raffia become rafts and forts. Families talk about the gum balls in their own yards. Parents and kids work together to balance sticks and stones. When something doesn’t balance, they try it again. And best of all? When we overhear parents promising the kids that they can do the same thing once they get home.

When children get excited about the natural world, they tend to care about the plants and animals in it. If the excitement level at Explore the Outdoors this year is any indication, the future’s in good hands!

a family enjoying a few books in the shady reading spot.

A family enjoying a few books in the shady reading spot.

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