I set up an invitation at camp* to make “nature soup”.
If we had had the access, I would’ve loved for the kids to be able to pick whatever flowers and leaves and weeds and pinecones were interesting to them and were in the vicinity. However, for our specific purposes, all we had was a very manicured, mowed field and we didn’t have any ability for the kids to go somewhere else that was more nature-y.
So we worked with what we had! I gathered things ahead of time — things that grow in my backyard, some wildflowers that grow in a wild patch in my neighborhood, pine cones and fallen sticks from trees near where I work, interesting big leaves from a tree in my yard, trimmings from the houseplants that I grow, roses from centerpieces rescued from the trash after an event, non-poky weeds that I pulled.
I left as many plants large and intact as I could and placed them along with a ton of kid scissors, real pots and pans and lids, cups, ladles, spoons, and spatulas on a child-height table with a dry kiddie pool next to it outside. I put some water in like 2 of the pots and there was also a different station that had pre-filled bottles of colored water with holes poked in the lids so that the water could be squirted out without taking the lids off.
I wished to have been able to have a hose running out for water play but it wasn’t possible with our setup the way it was, but the kids really used and reused and reused the available water in the pots and the small amount of colorful water for the entire time!
There were kids playing intently and with great focus at this station for the entire time that it was available. Kids used scissors and their fingers to cut specific petals or bunches of flowers from the stems. Kids used the kitchen utensils to carefully transfer flowers or pinecones from one pot of water to another. They invented intricate play scenarios about potions and medicines and blood (the red-colored water) and soup and magic that I was not even fully privy to because I was an adult stepping down into their world, not immersed and living in their world like they were.
That’s what I love about children’s play: how all-encompassing, how rich it is. How there’s give and take and push and pull and social dynamics and fighting and figuring it out, all plunged in a powerful state of flow and decorated with rose petals.
*I recently ran a week-long, sensory-rich, arts-and-crafts, child-led play day camp for 30 kids and their parents! I’ll be talking about it for awhile. You can find all the posts under the tag Camp Creativity.