A Young Boy’s Magic Stones

by Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant

mining stones

As we age, we usually forget most details of the magical world we all inhabited when we were very young. Through education and experience, we gradually learn the scientifically and socially accepted explanations for the ways the world works. But for a few short years, the world is truly ours. Not understanding the form and function of materials, we invest them with our own properties, and often see beauty in things we later pass by. As we gradually learn what things are and how they interact, our imagined world fades into a misty past. We accept that artists can remain in this state of rich and creative personal associations with our environment. The rest of us tend to move on, keeping these “child-like” relationships with the world in discrete pockets, such as hobbies. 

Our relationships with young children give us glimpses of those early days, reminding us of our fluid worlds of imagination. Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms, with their abundance of natural materials, offer children the richest stage for imaginative play and many opportunities for adults and children to connect on a level of shared excitement and learning.

At Nature Explore, we say that children’s connections with nature lead to transformations- in the children, in their schools, and in their families. One such transformation is in the story of how a young boy’s stone collection dissolved a distance between him and his mother; and a distance as well between her adult self and the child within.

One day an upset mother appeared at the door of Charlotte Watts, the Director of a childcare program in Texas. Mom said, “Johnny has been bringing home rocks in his pocket and they are going through the washing machine! I have told him he cannot collect rocks anymore!”

Charlotte replied, “Have you ever asked him about the stones he is collecting? He is so thoughtful about which ones he selects.”

“I have just told him he can’t collect these anymore. I want you to tell him the same thing.” Charlotte knew this was not the teachable moment.

Over the weekend, at a garage sale, Charlotte found a small pill sorter box with multiple compartments, and bought it for a nickel. On Monday she gave it to Johnny, asking him to put his stones in the box instead of his pockets. All week long Johnny thoughtfully added colorful stones to the box; sometimes replacing previously collected ones to refine his collection.

That Friday, Charlotte sent all the children in her school home with the Nature Explore Families’ ClubWhat is Beautiful to You?” activity sheet. This is a catalyst activity that gets parent and child outside to look for one natural item that is beautiful to each. Johnny took home his little container of stones along with the activity sheet.

On Monday morning, bright and early, Johnny’s mother was back at school. “Oh my goodness, I had no idea the beauty that Johnny was seeing in those stones! He held up one and said, ‘Look Mom, this rock is the color of my favorite shirt!’ He held up the next and said, ‘Look Mom, this one has the letter J in it, just like in my name!’ He held up one more rock and said ‘Mom, when you look through this one you can see a rainbow!!!”

She paused, “I just never knew.”

Johnny and his Mother then began collecting stones together, and proudly displayed them at home. From that day on, Johnny shared his stone discoveries with his friends and other family members. And, from that day on, there was a transformation between parent and child.

In understanding the creative ways Johnny was moved by objects that most adults would pass by, his mother was validating his very personal excitement about learning. Her transformation in attitude from misunderstanding and unintentional rejection, to understanding and embracement, created a bond based on shared learning. Johnny’s mother also likely experienced connections with her own distant learning experiences, allowing her to participate more fully with her son while collecting stones.

Although the boy’s name was changed, this story actually happened in Jewel’s Learning Center in Houston, Texas- which has not one, but two Certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms.

Back in Nebraska, elementary teachers working with graduates of our Dimensions Nature Explore Classroom preschool have told us that these children are different. Their capacity for self-motivated learning is unusually high for their age. Repeatedly, we see that transformations children experience through play in Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms inspire love of learning.  Johnny and his mother are on that path.

What environment offers more numerous, varied and creative learning opportunities for children than they can discover in nature? Spending time with a child in nature opens doors to her rich world of learning- yours, too.