Labor Day weekend + a repurposed garden bed

Our Labor Day weekend was unexpectedly busy, but in a good way. Friends of ours were in town for Knoxville's last Boomsday festival and while they stayed at a hotel downtown, we saw them every day and got to spend a lot of time with them and their daughter. Their daughter is just over a year old, not quite walking, and man did she love tearing apart Jake's train tracks on his table. Surprisingly Jake didn't bat an eyelash over it and had fun crawling around the house with her. When they left, he walked around the house saying, "Where's her?" It took me a second to understand who he was talking about. Too sweet.

This morning we planned to go hiking but didn't make it. Deric had a late night event for the students last night and he was up past midnight, plus he spent most of the weekend running from one thing to the next. So while we tried to go hiking, about halfway there he finally admitted that he thought he might be getting sick. We got home and he slept most of the afternoon, then laid on the couch for the rest of the evening. Hopefully a day of pure rest will help him dodge whatever sickness he might be on the brink of. Fingers crossed!

While Deric was sleeping, Jake and I played outside in the backyard because it was thankfully not too hot out. I recently read yet another article online about how kids are so disconnected from nature now and the impact that's taking on them. My thesis for grad school was along these lines so I've always been aware of the importance of being in nature, but I hadn't made much effort outside of regularly taking him to parks and occasionally going for walks through our backyard and our neighbors' lot next door. And even then, most parks have manmade play structures so that's really not getting Jake involved with nature. The article I read recently outlined some pretty simple ways to help kids interact with nature, rather than just being in nature. Things like having an area of the yard solely devoted to the kids, where they are free to explore and move things around and do what they please, and incorporating movable elements like logs, sticks, and rocks for them to manipulate.

So I ripped out our remaining green bean plans that have been struggling for a month or so in one of our raised garden beds and created a little natural play space for Jake. I dumped in a little more dirt and mixed things up so the dirt was loose and easy to dig through, added sticks from the yard, brought in a log headed for the fire pit, and grabbed his beach bucket and shovels. (No rocks around our house, unfortunately.)

After his nap, I showed him his little space and he played for about an hour (!!), totally content and fairly independently. Usually he always wants me to do things with him so I've been trying to help him learn to play on his own. He mostly scooped the dirt into the bucket or into his lap, but he also piled up the sticks to make a castle (he can make a castle out of anything!). He tried to lift the log but got frustrated when he wasn't strong enough, but I watched him pull a stick out from underneath it and accidentally lift up the log. I was happy to see him quickly make the connection and use the stick as leverage to lift the log. When Jake first started to play he had to get used to the dirt but by the end of the hour, he had dirt from his forehead to his toes and was happy as as could be about it!

I'm just now realizing that this little space may be even more perfect for Jake because he's quite a bit like me and gets easily frustrated if things aren't working correctly. Things like puzzles and even train tracks, where there is a right and wrong way to put it together, can make him upset. But in the dirt, there's no wrong way to play. So while today may have been the honeymoon phase for his little nature box, I'm excited to watch what Jake discovers as he plays in it more. I plan to have Deric cut some logs into slices for Jake to use, and we'll see where he goes from there!

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