Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
THERE'S A PARK BEHIND our community library where I like to go with my boys after school on Friday afternoons. My son who turned 4 in February loves it most for its forest-like spot shaded by redwoods and with just enough incline to challenge his growing limbs without too much risk.
There’s this 5-foot-long stick he always hopes to grab before someone else older and bigger does. It’s twice his size, and he struggles to heave the stick up the small hill – using it as a cane, pretend weapon or mast for the pirate ship he’s assembling in his mind. Once I saw him summon up the courage to ask an 8-year-old if he could have the stick back because he had been playing with it first. (We’re always telling this quiet observer-type child to speak up for himself. He did that time – and got the stick back.)
He loves to submerge his fingers down to the joints into dirt that is never quite dry beneath all that shade. He yells for me to toss him a toy monster truck I have in my bag, then drives it through that freshly loose dirt to the tune of those magical make-believe car noises that only very young boys can make.
Markos will enter his preschool’s pre-K classroom this summer. They’ve been doing pre-pre-K work with alphabet and number recognition for a brief circle time period each day. One teacher told me, “He knows five capital letters, and we go over this material all the time.” This information meant little to me. My older son, Lukas, had known 12 letters when assessed prior to kindergarten when he was a full year older than his brother is now. Two years later, by his teacher’s assessment Lukas is reading three grade levels ahead.
To that preschool teacher, though, it meant something that circle time was lost on Markos. I dug a little bit to see if this meant anything to the head teacher at the preschool. She responded that some of his peers do indeed know more from that circle time work but that Markos is just in “play mode.” She told me that he sits down from free-play time outdoors and asks his teacher, “Is it time to play yet?”
I exhaled at her answer. What a relief. Imagine if at 4 he knew all of his letters but didn’t relish in play? I tried to picture him stumbling past that 5-foot-long stick to pick up a book to trace his letters or rushing indoors each morning from the slide at pre-school to review the days of the week in earnest. What if he hadn’t made a few pre-school buddies and wasn’t – as the teachers say – the kid everyone wants to play with since he’s “nice.”
Experts say my priorities are in order. They believe that, with more screen time and organized activities, our nation’s kids are suffering from nature-deficit disorder. The Wildflower Center’s new Family Garden (“The Family Garden,” page 20) is our answer to providing unstructured nature-based play to counter this physically and mentally damaging reality.
I acknowledged to the head preschool teacher that there was value in Markos knowing more information heading into his kindergarten assessment next year. She said her job once he’s in pre-K is to get him to learn his letters and numbers through play without him realizing that he’s learning.
My job in the meantime is to take him to that shady spot beneath the redwoods where no one asks him his letters.
CHRISTINA KOSTA PROCOPIOU