I was inspired today by this quote attributed to Fred “Mr.” Rogers.
Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.
If play is really the work of childhood, then what do we say to our children if we do not create a world in which they may play? The natural world has done a very good job of creating an environment where children may run in, climb up or simply contemplate the world that is around them. Natural habitats provide ample learning opportunities to explore the ways in which everything is connected and how we might imagine that things are.
Is that bush really a bush, or is it an excellent plant for hide and seek? What about that tree? Is it just a tree, or is is the tallest tower that guards a treasure at the top? And what about the acorns, pine cones, needls and leaves that are falling to the ground at this time of year? If we allow children to cultivate their imaginations, then who knows what kind of world they might create.
Earthrise as observed by Apollo 8, December 24, 1966
Neil Armstrong died Saturday, August 25. He was one of only a handful to have step on another extraterrestial body. The space race was launched for many conflicting goals and had some unintended consequences. One of those was to inspire a whole new generation of environmentalists with images like this earthrise taken by the Apollo 8 mission as is orbited the Moon on Christmas Eve, 1966.
As Martin Rees, astronomer royal, noted in aside partway through his tribute to Armstrong in the Guardian:
The images of Earth’s delicate biosphere, contrasting with the sterile moonscape where the astronauts left their footsteps, have become iconic for environmentalists: these may indeed be the Apollo programme’s most enduring legacy.
For now and the foreseeable future, this the only home we have. Let’s plan to make our schoolyards and parks look more like Earth than like like the Moon, scraped clean and without shade.
You can tell a problem has become mainstream when you read about it in the funny papers. Believe it or not, this comic strip originally ran in 1965. More than 45 years later, hot playgrounds are still a problem.
It seems like there’s a few people in small towns that kind of make their mark on things, and the there’s a lot of people that do a very good job and, you know, ten years after they’re gone, you may or may not remember them. And then there’s a lot of people that don’t do anything. They just could come and go, and that’s that. But I guess I wanted to be one of those people that kind of made a mark a little bit.
Canadian author Chris Turner has written two books on the environmental state of our world and more imporantly of the ways that people around the world make a difference. These people range from low to high socio-economic statuses, from developed and developing countries, and from professional to hobbyist. Together, everyone does their part to make the work a better place.
David Ausberger is quoted in Turner’s latest book, The Leap: How to Survive and Thrive in the Sustainable Economy. Turner tells the story of Ausberger and how he came to own a wind turbine in rural Iowa. Small communities are often home to the start of any large-scale change for two reasons according to Turner: an abundance of social capital; small scale to test the feasibility of a larger concept; and a cautious nature that means that projects are well thought out and have community buy-in.
Our communities are built through the collective vision of everyone who as lived, learned, worked and played there. We don’t often plan to leave a mark on our communities. We plan to fix a problem and make the world a better place. Sometimes it starts with something as simple as tree.
When I stood on a hot schoolyard 23 years ago studying children’s play and realized that something was wrong—the children were not playing, because it was too hot, because there was no shade—I thought that the problem that I had just identified could be easily fixed. Speak to the principal, plant a few trees, problem solved. We did plant the trees but I soon realized that without a policy to acknowledge the need for the trees and their shade and to keep the trees in place once planted, we were caught in an unending cycle: plant, cut down trees, replant. Just a waste of time, effort, and opportunity lost as one hot unshaded year followed another.
As well as planting trees, I began to lobby for a tree provision and protection policy about 17 years ago. Thirteen years ago I began my surface temperature research and it became clear that not just tree policy but shade policy was also needed. Ten years ago, I began lobbying my local public school board to adopt a schoolyard shade policy. Finally, in January 2012 a shade policy was adopted. In the policy, the need for shade is acknowledged, schools and school councils are encouraged to plant trees, and the trees will be the responsibility of the schools.
The school board shade policy is a good start but imagine for a moment how much more shade there would have been on their schoolyards if 23 more years of effort and growth was present today. A whole generation to implement policy. Yet another generation of children who had to bear the discomfort and the health risks. One might be forgiven for asking why.