At birth we are the buds, the tips of the tree of life. Our parents are the twigs on which we sprout, our ancestors the branches, and the boughs and trunk are as old as life itself. We are gifted with a precious heirloom, our jewel-like strings of genes. Worked and reworked through our long ancestral line, they determine both how we look and function and our potential. Three bright facets on this heirloom recently caught my magpie eye.
Children are born with small brains and five times the fat of their primate cousins – gorillas, for instance. They are primed with potential and fuel, ready to rapidly grow and learn how to survive and thrive in the world. Evolution has placed a tool in their hands. A flexible, quirky, unpredictable tool, useful when messing about and experimenting with the rich natural setting of planet earth. It’s called play, and children have a strong instinctive drive to engage with it. They enter the world expecting and anticipating play; it’s in their inherited genetic coding.
We are subject to the influence of biophilia, an instinctive attraction to all that is alive and vital. It is during childhood that we are particularly motivated to seek out the natural world around us. Paul Shepard calls it ‘loading the ark.’1
Human biological evolution happens slowly and our genetic make-up is still the same as that of our hunter gatherer ancestors of 12,000 years ago. ‘The neural processes that guided our ancestors’ behaviours in Pleistocene hunting and gathering bands are likely to still be in operation today’.2 Yet our culture has evolved at lightning speed over the last millennium, leading to today’s technological society. The ancient hand-in-hand journey of our genes and culture has been broken. They have lost each other on the path and are now strangers.
Earlier this year Tommy Leighton interviewed one of our directors Mike Jones for Early Years Childcare magazine. They spoke about why Mike got involved in designing for natural play and the unique approach Earth Wrights offers children and communities. If you want to know why we do what we do, read on!
Tell us a bit about Earth Wrights and your journey so far
The seeds for Earth Wrights were planted several decades ago when I finished my degree in Landscape Architecture. My focus had always been on how to make urban environments good places to live and creating playable communities is part of that. The pivotal moment came when I was asked to design a play space for a women’s refuge in London and couldn’t find anyone to build it, so I just got on and built it myself. I saw with my own eyes what a difference it made to the kids to have a playground that was exciting and imaginative and really met their instinctive play needs – allowing them to use the space whichever way they wished, rather than being stuck with just swings and slides. Continue reading “At one with the magic of nature”
It is easy to think that children and beautiful gardens don’t mix well. Think of balls and feet trampling your precious tulips and you would be forgiven for concluding that never the twain shall meet. But there are plants that are both robust enough to be handled and beautiful enough to inspire interest and appreciation from even the wildest kids.
Inviting your child into the garden – whether to tend or play – allows them to build a relationship with plants and wildlife that will stay with them forever. It lets them get up close with other species and develop an attitude of care and reverence as they watch the cycle of life unfold – a cycle which all creatures, humans included, are part of. In fact, when designing gardens for play the right mindset is one where children are considered just another wild species amongst the flora and fauna that we are attempting to nurture. Continue reading “Plants that love kids”
Along with bonobo apes and chimps, we’re in the top 3 most playful creatures on Earth. To most of us this will come as no surprise: watching them rolling, climbing, jumping, running – testing their bodies and minds at every opportunity – it is obvious our children love to experiment and explore. Play is vital to children’s health and wellbeing, so how can we ensure our children get to play in ways that suit their primal nature? Continue reading “Primed for Play – Responding to our children’s instinctive play needs”
Mike Jones and Mark Renouard think a lot about children’s play needs. They also think a lot about the needs of the natural world. As directors of Earth Wrights, they design play ‘habitats’ – natural spaces where active, social and imaginative play arises naturally from the environment – and believe these can encourage a reciprocal relationship between what both humans and the earth require to thrive.