If you Google the word “Hollyhopsie,” the search engine will tell you,” It looks like there aren’t many great matches for your search.” Aren’t the words created in the imagination of a child spectacular? Recently, I spent an enchanting afternoon watching open-ended, outdoor play and exploration at a holiday family picnic in Buffalo, Wyoming.
The children adorned the picnic table in the backyard with small colorful votive candles, pinecones, and clover blossoms. With a basket in hand, my great-niece, 5, and her sweet little brother, my great-nephew 2, had collected treasures to decorate the table. I am sure I have never seen a more lovely setting for a 4th of July family picnic in Buffalo, Wyoming. When the table was ready, we had a feast complete with favorite family recipes and happy conversations.
After lunch, I spotted the most treasured of weeds, hollyhocks. The bright, pink blossoms were tucked away by the fence. My great-niece and I picked three pink buds and three pink flowers and using toothpicks fashioned hollyhock dolls. For the next several hours, the
backyard was magical. She collected leaves of all shapes and sizes and other items to weave into her storylines. New blossoms became hats, and beds, made of leaves, were adorned with clover blossoms. The basket became a hat as she ran out, barefoot into the rain. She even sang a song to me about the hollyhopsies! It was like looking into the pages of a textbook on outdoor play and emergent curriculum through my early childhood educator lens.
An abundance of articles and books have been written recently on the benefits of outdoor learning and exploratory play. What comes to mind when you reflect on the word “exploratory”? The Wyoming Coherent Path to Quality suggests, “Exploratory learning experiences spark curiosity, invite investigation, and nurture learning.” (page 42) When children play and pretend, they activate all domains of learning.
During the Teacher Tom’s Play Summit 2021, I listened to Tom interview Jan White, a scientist, and expert on outdoor education. Jan
shared how play behaviors like exploring, gathering, and collecting from a rich outdoor environment contribute to children's learning and well-being. Through outdoor play, children will develop a love for the outdoors and will continue to value and protect these spaces as they grow. They will care for trees and conserve water and gardens, and they will know how to play!
As she gathered new items to add to her stories, my great-niece invited adults to play with her. I loved watching the symbolic representation evolve as leaves became beds and the dolls made of colorful weeds became princesses. We know the connection between symbolic representation and later literacy development. Just imagine the ideas and creative language that will eventually emerge in her storytelling and writing!
Do you have memories of playing in favorite outdoor spaces? My own grandparent's yard came alive in the summer with countless treasures
and invitations for imaginative play. Colorful hollyhocks were waiting right next to the rhubarb that became my most favorite pie. I was allowed to make mud pies, climb trees, and sort through my grandmother's rock collections. My great-niece and nephew are fortunate to have parents and grandparents who also love to spend and provide opportunities for time outdoors.
Though all seasons are perfect for outdoor play and learning, summer is especially magical. How will you encourage the young children in your classroom or home to play outdoors? In my neighborhood, the hollyhocks are in full bloom!
Early Childhood Outdoors
Jan White, Co-director of Early Childhood Outdoors https://www.earlychildhoodoutdoors.org/
Wyoming’s Coherent Path to Quality http://www.wyecplc.org/index.php/professional-learning-library/wyomings-coherent-path-quality
Books That Inspire Nature Observations https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/books-inspire-nature-observations
Message in a Backpack Going Beyond the Playground: Math, Science, and Outdoor Fun
by Rachel J. Franz NAEYC https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/tyc/summer2021/message-backpack-beyond-the-playground