A neighbor’s tree fell in our yard. Back-to-back storms quickly worked against the old, dead wood, and it came crashing down, toppling their fence, sprawling the tree across the entire width of our backyard. Nobody was hurt and there was no damage to our property, and my children were enthralled. Immediately they ran outdoors to assess, scrambling like Lilliputians across a felled Gulliver. The branches, long taken over by vines, draped across the yard, pop-up rooms in a damp, earthy fort. My children were swamp creatures, covered in moss and lichen, mud and rain water, and they couldn’t have been happier.
These moments are not often, and are certainly not planned, but are nothing short of a miraculous experience for children. As a parent, my every instinct is to shout, “Stay away from there,” and “Be careful!” Instead, I worked to scaffold their play and discovery: “Will that branch hold your weight?” “How can we test to see if this is safe to climb on?” To encourage playing near the tree, but not necessarily on it, I brought out magnifying glasses, bags of sand left over from last summer’s sandbox, and the hose. They spent all morning (until the storms started up again) digging, examining, mixing, creating, and getting their hands (and everything else) dirty. The morning was fully summed up by my three-year-old: “That was really gross. That was makin’ me HAPPY!”