When I heard that Julie Hantman, DC field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, was going to be on a discussion panel after the March 21 screening of Project Wild Thing at the 2015 Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital and I watched the trailer, I knew it was a must that I attend. The film is about a man whose children spend a lot of time inside and in front of screens, and he takes it upon himself to become the “marketing director for nature.”
Great Falls Park seemed like the perfect excursion on a sunny day during a long holiday weekend when we’d all eaten too much and not gotten outside nearly enough. Each pairing in our family of four needed to be broken up every 20 minutes. I hoped watching the water tumble over rocks would be good for all of our souls.
It was. The trip even garnered my son’s “favorite part of Thanksgiving” when asked today by the dentist. But that doesn’t mean it was perfect. My daughter, aged four, is not one to go long without whining these days. She’ll turn it off on an instant if we find the right antidote: a race, a “look over there,” and sometimes things I don’t care to share! She’s spunky and opinionated, and not accustomed to the kind of long hikes I thought I might take my kids on all the time if I hadn’t had so many postpartum (and lingering) health issues. Fortunately, her older brother has more stamina than he did when I read and wrote about the memoir Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, but I still marvel to think about how long Patricia Ellis Herr’s 3- and 5-year-old hiked with her. And how often!
Unlike those treks to peaks in New Hampshire, our short excursion in Northern Virginia was alternately beautiful and blissful and incredibly annoying. Mostly due to the finicky nature of my four-year-old. The path was fun until her brother outpaced her and me.
The reflection of a tree north of the falls was pretty cool until she complained she was hungry (which will happen if a child doesn’t eat her lunch and her parents don’t give in to piling her with snacks instead as they might on weaker days).
The view of the kayakers was impressive and garnered lots of commentary, but once we left the overlook, it was all downhill, so to speak.
I thought we might last more than 90 minutes and actually get a little ways down the River Trail. I recalled her brother scrambling over rocks at not quite her age and enjoying it. But alas, she had to pee. And we didn’t learn until later that further into the park, just before entering the woods, was a building with a flush toilet. Read More
Even with school already here for those in much of Maryland and DC or just around the corner for many Northern Virginians, the late summer weather is crying out for day trips. Once older children get back into the swing of school, their need for imaginative play grows even bigger.
Before soccer and fall festivals get into full swing, there’s a place I’m dying to take my kids. Alexandria mom of two Pallavi Raviprakash told me about Annmarie Sculpture Garden in Maryland, whose 5th annual Fairies in the Garden outdoor exhibit closes on September 1. I can’t wait for my children to pretend up a storm there! Thanks to Pallavi for this lovely guest post!
In midsummer, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is transformed into a flower paradise. The lotus are at their peak now, and walking among them is truly a transformative experience. The ponds are filled this time of year with what seem like fields of floating flowers.
There are light pink lotus and dark pink lotus with beautiful blossoms and leaves that are bigger than a toddler’s torso and rounder than their heads. Other ponds feature different kinds of lilies including white and purple varieties.
I’m told the large “Amazon” lilies will bloom later in the season, toward late August.
A very cool (and tiny) lizard on the steps leading toward the nature center was a great find to begin our day.
This year, we met up with friends, and it was a completely different experience than the visits we’ve taken in the past with our children, now 8 and almost 4. Our friend’s older son, almost 8, is a true nature explorer who finds interest in the smallest spider and excitedly flips over finding a frog. He was great to have in our walking party! We spied — and heard! — plenty of frogs.
The many turtles we met ranged from palm-of-your-hand small to one that appeared to be nearly two feet long that a kindly visitor pointed out to us as it swam among the lotus.
My kids enjoyed the trip the two previous times we’ve gone, and I liked walking further out to a viewing area where we saw herons when my daughter was in a stroller. But this year, with my daughter a little older, and sharing the experience with two buddies my children’s ages and another friend a little younger, no one needed to coax the kids to do anything. It was a regular self-directed nature class, with them out-doing one another to find cool stuff.
We didn’t travel as far in our 90-minute excursion as we had in years past, but we certainly went a lot deeper.
The park’s website recommends you head there in the morning before the flowers close in the summer heat. The grounds open at 7 a.m., and the garden shop (where your youngster can get a Junior Ranger activity book) opens at 9:00 a.m.
For more info, see http://home.nps.gov/keaq/planyourvisit/hours.htm
Looking for more locations for lotus viewing? The lotus flowers in the pond at Green Springs Garden Park in Alexandria (near Annandale) are reportedly blooming now, too, and Meadlowlark Gardens in Vienna, Virginia also has lotus in its three lakes. Further up north is Lilypons Water Garden in Adamstown, Maryland where I’m told the lotus are nearing the end of their peak bloom, but lilies will be blooming through October.
Bottom line on lotus viewing:
- go soon (this weekend!)
- go early in the day
- wear hats, sunscreen or long sleeves/pants if you’re out past 10 a.m., and some natural bug repellent
- take at least one camera! (My son got some of the best shots!)
When I learned that Jessica Wallach of Portrait Playtime was going to teach a photography-themed camp at the nature-loving Eastern Ridge School in Vienna, Virginia, I had to share this unique opportunity! My son just completed a wonderful photography enrichment program at his school, and I couldn’t be more excited for him to explore his creativity through a lens.
For seven years, Jessica Wallach has been capturing the natural beauty of families as part of her business. She loves engaging people, especially young people, to show their passions and explore who they are. Read on to get the scoop on her photography-themed camp being offered July 7-11 for children entering grades 2 through 5. Hours of the camp are 8:30 to 3:00 with before and after care available for an additional fee. Lunch and morning snack come from home; a healthy, gluten-free afternoon snack is provided by ERS.
ERS is offering a special deal to one lucky winner of our promotion: one $75 discount for the camp, normally priced at $415. Additionally, any entrant to this promotion who wishes to register will be sent a code for $15 off. The promotion campaign will start tomorrow and expire Wednesday, June 18 at 11:59 p.m.
Background on Photography Camp teacher Jessica Wallach
Jessica loves to teach and to encourage people to share their voice and vision. Since 2012, she has been running an art camp for Fairfax County Parks and Rec in which she gives children a bigger sense of themselves and their ability to tell their stories using a wide variety of art media. She is thrilled to lead a photography camp at ERS. “There is such a wide variety of things to capture with our lenses, we will never do the exact same thing twice, but always build on what came before and take it three steps further,” she says. She loves the “magical” meadow of ERS as a prime location for exploring photography.
Q&A with Jessica Wallach
Mindful Healthy Life: What do you like about working with children?
Jessica Wallach: I love working with young people, putting out an idea and seeing where their minds run with it or taking their idea and weaving something about photography into it. In my last few children’s photography classes, it’s great that we get to that point where they start coming up with ideas about what to do next. I also love incorporating play into whatever I do, and kids’ first language is play, so we are a natural fit.
Also I think young people of this generation are going to use cameras and photos to both learn and express what they know in a way that has never been seen before. A camera will become as common as using a pencil and paper was in my elementary school. I have a passion for exploring this with young people.
Just the other day, I asked the children in my class to tell me things they know and then we talked about how we would show that through pictures. …I said I knew that mass cannot be destroyed, it just changes form and I could take a photo of an ice cube in a frying pan as it melts and then evaporates. One student said she could show how the sky changes color as the sun goes down and that she could take a photo of the sky and a clock at different times of the afternoon and early evening.
MHL: How did you come to be involved with Eastern Ridge School?
JW: My daughter went to the predecessor, Discovery Woods Learning Community, for years and I worked as a photographer there on and off. I spent a ton of time behind the camera there, from capturing students at work and play to doing photo fundraisers to documenting family gatherings and workdays to teaching the teachers how to use their camera’s better. I tell you it is a magical place that just begs you to pick up your camera. Early on I assisted with ERS’s marketing and they use some of my photos on their website.
MHL: How is ERS different from other schools and camps?
JW: My favorite thing about ERS is the central theme that children are smart, capable and need scaffolding to get to do the next big thing. As teachers, we facilitate their learning, never forcing, always remembering they are capable and that we work from their strengths and build on them.
Another way ERS is different is that art, nature and scientific inquiry are the basis for learning. We are outside all the time. It is just the way things are.
MHL: How will you structure the camp?
The camp is structured to keep the kids interested in photography by balancing structured activities and unstructured play time. The hope is that the unstructured time will inform and inspire our photography. If kids love running in the meadow, how do we capture that? If they make a city in the sand box, can we do a stop action video made up of tons of photos showing life in that city? If they get bored with the photography, we will go play. The schedule will change according to what the young people need to do that day.
Here is the basic schedule:
- Free Play: slideshow going and books filled with photos on the table for kids to look at if interested
- Sit spots or nature walk in meadow with cameras
- Morning meeting: discuss what we did the day before & what we could observe that could change that day; decide on day’s activities
- Observational photography
- Activity Block 1
- Free play: encourage running a lap, rolling stumps, climbing trees…activities where the children can physically go all out.
- Activity Block II
- Look at photos, editing, creating mini movies
MHL: What will children walk away with?
Children will walk away with a sharpened set of skills, a large number of gorgeous images, and some videos of their work. We will set up an online gallery just for this camp which we will upload to every afternoon. From there, we will make videos using our stills and video clips and Pro Show Web/Producer. At the end of the week, we would love parents to join us for a showcase.
Through the camp we will be practicing the following skills and they will walk away with a slew of photos that helped them practice these skills:
- How to work a camera
- Telling a story
- Creating art for art’s sake
- Using a camera in the investigation/scientific process
- Using camera to take notes
MHL: What kind of device do children need? Will there be a lot of screen time?
JW: Children can use a point and shoot, smart phone, iPad or DSLR. All of them will capture photos and offer many options that will provide many learning opportunities.
Viewing and editing photos is a critical part of this camp experience. We will be looking at screens to do both of those activities. We will be looking at our photos and others to figure out what we like and don’t like and be inspired. Most likely much of our editing will be done communally on one computer and/or in small groups.
MHL: Will there be any collaborative projects or will everything be individual per student?
JW: There will be both collaborative and individual projects and how much of each will depend on group interest. Campers will be presented with these choices during morning meeting and we will figure out together when we will do what. Some projects we will most likely do include:
- Storytelling, stop action video, hybrid photography…children design a little life or big life story, capture it on camera, put it together as a movie.
- Being inspired by others photography and then creating photographs in a similar fashion
- Photo scavenger hunts
- Photos of water, dripping, moving fast, still
- Photos of people and things in motion
- Macro photography in the garden
- Bug hunt
- Something that changes
- Shade garden: The way things work
- In the dark with flash light
- Other campers
- Create a how to set of photos or video
- Reading a book and taking photos that represent what we read
- Field guide photos
- Photos that show what you know
- Photos that say something about yourself
- Photos that show how you feel
- Photos that ask a question
- Capturing things they do
- Free choice camera work
MHL: Anything else you’d like to add?
JW: I am so excited about this camp. It will be amazing to spend a week immersed in photography and play at ERS.
For those unfamiliar with ERS, the camp coordinator, an ERS parent, shared this additional information:
Spring is a busy season for gardeners and, as the past few weeks have been busy for this parent just learning about school gardens. Three local schools with some amazing gardens have inspired me to take a more active role in my children’s school gardening program.
The non-profit group NoVA Outside held its third annual Early Childhood Outside conference on April 26 at Westlawn Elementary in the Falls Church section of Fairfax County. The morning began with an interactive keynote titled “Dancing Through the Natural World: Nature and Child-Initiated Choreography” given by Amanda Whiteman, Wolf Trap Master Teaching Artist, from the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts . It was followed by several workshops and hands-on sessions, including the presentation “The Benefits of Outdoor Learning in the Elementary School” by two kindergarten teachers at the school, Carol Hunt and Libby Hagen.
The Discovery Area that these teachers were instrumental in building at Westlawn includes a garden, a digging area and hill, weather-resistant cabinets with small parts toys for creative play, several learning stations, and an Earth Loom designed by Cheryl Corson Design (like the one that was recently built at Brookside Gardens in Maryland) into which children can weave flowers, leaves, grass anything they dream up. The courtyard at Westlawn offered up even more great opportunities for learning, including a vernal pool.
I got even more inspired a few weeks later when I learned about another wonderful school garden from Christy Przystawik of Feeding Families Well. Christy teaches and coordinates the garden program at Peabody Elementary for the FoodPrints program of FRESHFARM Markets. She was so taken with the gardens at Stoddert Elementary in NW DC when the school held a recent inservice that she offered to take me on a visit.
Stoddert’s full-time garden coordinator is a position funded in part by DCPS and in part by the school PTA. Ms. Kealy works with two different grade levels per month, teaching each class two times per week so that they children can see things growing and changing. The lessons are an hour long and fit into the schedule as science. The classroom teacher stays during the lesson to assist or to break the class into two small groups.
The garden is maintained in part through weekly Monday afternoon open work times that might see 20 children and their parents as well as larger workdays a few times a year.
Over in north Arlington, Tuckahoe Elementary has a robust outdoor learning program thanks in part to PTA funding that supports a garden maintenance coordinator and to the school’s outdoor learning Exemplary Learning initiative that allocates a part-time position to Nancy Libson to create and implement outdoor curriculum. I hope to visit Tuckahoe soon, but one look at the Tuckahoe Discovery Garden and Outdoor Classroom website will have many a natural-minded parent drooling, and Nancy has many more lessons she told me she hasn’t even put up yet on the already-impressive outdoor curriculum page.
We here at Mindful Healthy Life would love to know about other great gardening and outdoor education programs in DC-area schools. We’d especially like to know about public schools that have made experiential learning work despite pressures to prepare students for standardized tests. Wonderful learning can occur through hands-on means, but those approaches might not be so apparent to teachers who haven’t had adequate training.
Please share in the comments (see the thought bubble in the green circle at the right toward the top of the post) or on our Facebook page about other schools or programs we should check out, or feel free to submit a piece about the program at your school.