Word Muse: Lights, Camera, Mantis Action

by Tina Reeble, Education Specialist, Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and Nature Explore

This week’s Word Muse, Action, was inspired by Ascension Lutheran Early Childhood Center in Thousand Oaks California.

Lights, Camera, Action! This well-known phrase brings to mind a theater set designed in detail to create the atmosphere of a story about to unfold.  My favorite memory is from the musical Cats. The actors who will bring the story to life are offstage waiting with anticipation while running their entrances and lines in their minds. Within moments permission will be given, the signal given and action will begin.  I am ready for the story, ready to be entertained.

I have experienced the same kind of anticipation with groups of students as they transition from their indoor classroom into their Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom. Their eyes shine, bodies buzz with energy and their voices come alive with excitement. As they stop briefly to make a thoughtful plan, they too are considering the story they might tell, the character they might become, the tools they might use and the space that might be the perfect backdrop. Here too, the action begins but now I am a keen observer. As a teacher/co-researcher for Dimensions, I have learned to read the stories of their play and understand the valuable learning that is taking place.

Today, the children’s play features several roles as praying mantises waiting for the baby nymphs to emerge from the egg cases. The stage is set in the Messy Materials Area where the “adult praying mantis” characters are busy moving stumps and tree cookies to make the perfect home for the new arrivals. Nearby musicians in the Music and Movement Area are providing sound effects as the praying mantis characters move in and out of the prairie garden, using their “mantis motion” to collect bits and pieces of nature. Suddenly two mantises come face to face and the drama heightens with challenge and potential conflict. Bodies move, a “mock mantis battle” is staged, negotiation happens and crisis is averted. All mantises are healthy and well, and the story develops as new roles are defined.

Quite often an element of the play taking place is action that seemed “too much” while we were indoors. In the Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom, we can embrace the energy and activity that brings about play filled with children’s intention and deep engagement. As an educator, I am even more aware of the brain-body connection that is taking place. I know that the active play energized by the children’s own ideas and curiosity translates into meaningful learning experiences.

Sometimes the action is the “boisterous, large motor, very physical activity that young children naturally seem to crave,” which Frances M. Carlson discusses in her book, Big Body Play.  She reports that “big body play is a play style that gives children the opportunities they need for optimum development across all domains from physical to cognitive and language to social and emotional.”  When children have regular opportunities to test out their physical abilities they become impressed with their own personal strength. It’s a kind of play where self-confidence can flourish.

I am thinking more intentionally about the action that I personally experience and I want to be sure it  is a regular part of life for my elementary and high school-aged children. I’m not sure if we will reenact Cats this weekend, but I can be certain that we will spend hours outside playing the roles of super heroes, sports figures, gardeners and dog trainers.

Now it’s your turn. Go outside. Connect with nature, and do so with your whole self.