Crow’s Nest: On my night table, “Nature Play”

February 4, 2015

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


I recently came across a new publication of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Alliance that offers guidance to land trusts and nature preserves on how to encourage the next generation of conservationists. It’s called, Nature Play: Nurturing Children and Strengthening Conservation Through Connections to the Land. You can download a PDF of Nature Play from the Conservation Tools part of the PALTA website, conserveland.org.

I attended a training session by the principal author, Ken Finch, a couple years ago. He starts by asking the participants, all conservation professionals, to think about the childhood experiences that led them to a career working in nature. People gazed faraway and smiled as they remembered turning over rocks, diverting a stream, climbing trees, picking flowers, picnics and play forts. Ken then asks, “How many of you permit these activities on the lands you conserve today?”


He quotes Steven Jay Gould, “We will not fight to save what we do not love” (p. 4). At Crow’s Nest we operate on the premise that kids need to enjoy shared, unstructured play outdoors to come to love it. This book helps land managers and educators make decisions about what kind of place, what kind of play, what rules to relax, and how to put risk in perspective.


At Crow’s Nest we make use of the whole preserve in our programs, but we also have a special play area that is a designated “sacrifice zone” for kids’ play. We know plants may get trampled here, holes dug, and rocks piled up. That’s okay. Lessons in stewardship come later.¬†There’s no point protecting land now that future generations won’t also want to see remain in a natural state. The land would be protected mainly on paper, not benefiting from the stewardship that maintains the qualities for which these lands were initially preserved.

I think it’s great that the Pennsylvania Land Trust Alliance recognizes this importance and supports the kids’ nature play we host on our preserves.