Bright Ideas

Tiny Essay Series Wrap Up

Natural Start Staff


At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when stay-at-home orders were being issued across the country, we found ourselves feeling overwhelmed. How could we help support the field in a way that was meaningful and genuine?

We were personally finding comfort in connecting--whether talking with friends and family or reading stories and watching videos online. It was valuable just to hear that others were going through the same thing. So we decided to create a space where nature-based professionals could connect and share how they were feeling, good or bad. 

Below you’ll find tiny essays, written in 500 characters or less by nature-based professionals from around the country, that provide a glimpse at how the field has been coping with quarantine. We hope this will help us all feel more connected. And a big thank you to those who contributed! 


“#GetoutSpreadout That is my organization's battle cry. Three weeks ago we had huge dreams of what the summer would bring.  Now we hold on tight. The future is blurry. In the moment though, we want people to get outside and find ways to spread out so we can all stay healthy and safe.”
- Aaron, Trails and Open Space Coalition (Colorado Springs, CO)
"Hello out there. I am still here. In this void we call ‘stay at home.’ Are you there? Can you hear me? I feel your presence in my new routine. I take you with me on my daily walks, as I explore the vast unknown. It is you I think of when a new discovery is made; the return of the red-winged blackbirds or when the ice left the lake. I see you in the faces I pass while making these new paths. I share with you these new discoveries. Can you hear me? I am still here.”
- Britney Stark, Dodge Nature Preschool
“My children and I have been knee-deep (literally and figuratively) in ephemeral pond investigations as part of a wonderful citizen science project organized by our county parks. We’re daily trapping, collecting, and identifying about frogs, crayfish, macroinvertebrates, and anything else we can find in our local pond. Our silent sit spot sessions are consistently interrupted by the call of native songbirds, the chatter of woodland mammals, and the chorus of frogs.”
- Peter Dargatz (Menomonee Falls, WI)
“There is no school, there is no schedule, and time is no longer relevant. In the absence of normalcy, I’ve found focus in something tangible. English Ivy. The invasive vine has overtaken the ground and the trees behind my house, and I am determined to take back the land. I spend two hours every day battling — pulling, cutting, detaching, and burning. I have the time, I have the will, and I am determined to win this battle. I have power over the ivy. I can’t control anything else.”
- Dianne Rose (Reston, Virginia)
“Our school closed on March 15, it was a Sunday.  We left school on Friday with a see ya later and then we didn't get to go back.  It's been a  scramble to ever since to maintain connection.  There are questions about how to sustain income for our staff.  I've wondered about how many children will be able to afford to return, if we can return this year.  I'm sad, I'm drained.  My students feed my fire every day and without their exuberance for life influencing me daily my fire is dimming.”
- Sarah Chatwood, Montana Audubon Center Preschool Lead
“By far the greatest gift this crisis has brought me is time with my teenage daughter, who, at almost seventeen, is dangerously close to growing up. We have been taking daily walks, challenging ourselves to find empty places, far from other people. Wisconsin springs are damp and brown, but as we stop to identify tiny trout lilies, turkey tail fungus, and the purple bloom of skunk cabbage, these walks are allowing us enjoy the emergence of spring at its own slow and steady pace.”
- Catherine Koons Hubbard, Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool Director
“How do we do our work of supporting the socialization of children when we are socially distancing?  The work of a teacher in a nature- and play-based setting, we instinctively facilitate, model, listen, connect, touch, and feel alongside children.  That can't be transferred to a screen or a packet or an email. But, those connections we have been making since August will carry us through this time and we will stretch to find new ways to connect with nature and one another.”
- Aja Stephan, Kindergarten Teacher, Friends School of Portland, Maine
⁣"I have been spending a lot more time indoors then I ever have in 10 years. Now I spend hours on a computer connecting to children virtually, by the end of my day my eyes are sore and my heart is full. This week I made a shift. I decided to take work outside, when I could and enjoy the calmness of nature. I have been feeling more grounded in my connections to nature, myself and others virtually because of the time outdoors.”
- Jenn Leibham, Fiddleheads Forest School (Seattle, WA)
“Parents, it is okay if you don't have digital access to support everything that is going online. One thing school curriculum lacks -nature. I argue to the detriment of a child's academic learning. Take advantage of the developmental benefits of spending time in nature during this interruption. Just know unstructured exploration in nature builds skills like problem-solving or gives space for creative thinking. Childhood could use a break from the standards-based driven classroom.”
- Kathryn J. Andrews, Ph.D. St. Bonaventure University
“Our family embarked on a hiking challenge when my son's school shifted to crisis schooling. The daily hikes have sparked inspiration, wonder, and joy at the ordinary, yet amazing tiny discoveries and changes occurring all around us; beyond what time and space normally allow in the busy spring. On one chilly hike, my son asked, “Mom, do you hear the snow sizzling as it hits the leaves and melts?” Time slows, senses heighten, and body and mind find presence and renewal on a hike in the woods.”
- Brooke Larm (Greater Detroit, Michigan)
“It’s strange to end the year with no warning, no chance for the moments that usually mark the end of the year - blistering sun and heat, a mud day, constant water play, and seeking the shade of the forest or the warming waters of the sound. There are geese nesting near my house and there a couple dozen tiny friends I wish I could share that with. I want to exclaim over the azaleas riotous blooms and watch the bees buzz around and observe spring exploding everything into life - with them.”
- Katie Andrews

A few of you had a little more to say--thoughts that couldn’t quite fit into 500 characters. Enjoy a few not-so-tiny essays below. 


“Four weeks ago I was a nature-preschool teacher at the University of Delaware hiking with my class through our woods, just as I did every other day of the week. In mid-March, we received word that the University, like many others around the country, had moved online for the remainder of the semester due to the spread of coronavirus. I had a feeling there would be a short break for cleaning and distancing, but my brain never entertained having to teach my group of nature preschoolers online. When opening this program, I was hoping to get children away from screens, not pull them toward one.
My preschoolers and undergraduate students at the UD Lab School’s Nature Preschool program look to me as their leader, their guide to exploring the forest. Getting children and undergraduates to take risks in new ways was my everyday practice. Climbing trees, searching for animal tracks, finding early signs of spring, building forts, making sticks into any and everything … this was how I reached my group of learners. I believe in child-led curriculum -- handing over the reins and trusting the process; believing that the natural environment can and will teach. After three Zoom meetings with my young students and their families, I started to wonder, How does a school meant to function outdoors go online?
Online or in the woods, we still have our routines, and we are still together. Our morning meetings are now held on Zoom. Instead of sitting on tree stumps, we have our laptops and iPads. They are the same children, with the same voices, the same smiles, the same personalities. We do the same yoga song we were singing before. We look for birds in our own backyards. We have started “yard tours” where the children have the opportunity to share their own wild spaces with their peers. We have parent vent sessions to help families cope with the changes. These help me as much as they help the parents.
As for my undergraduate students, I would have had two more months to get them to look up from their phones and connect with nature. I am reminded about planting seeds as I have been planting a lot of them in my own home lately. Seeds take time. We plant them in soil, we water them, we place them in the sun. We wait. My undergrads have been writing to me and telling me that walks in nature have been the only thing bringing them peace right now. They think of our program when they see a flower or onion grass or step into a puddle instead of around it. Nature-based educators have absolutely planted seeds in our children, families, and, in some cases, pre-service teachers. Now we get to water them in a different way -- through technology that has bound us together during this pandemic. I can’t wait to see what continues to grow.”
- Katie Pollock, Master Teacher for the Nature Preschool program at the University of Delaware Lab School
A Bright Spot in our Shift: Virtual Show and Tell
“Show and Tell has a rich history. Teachers of young children know that it encompasses much more than an object shown to friends. I’ve seen a child’s self-confidence rise when speaking about a tiny shell. Students gather together to observe a hole in a leaf with vibrant discussions ensuing as to the cause of the hole. I’ve witnessed keen observations, problem-solving, and attentive listening. The art of storytelling is alive and well!
We begin each class at Roots + Wings Nature Community with Nature Show and Tell. It’s an opportunity for children to share a treasure they’ve collected. Students collect what appeals to their eye and sparks their interest. Students have presented sticks in many sizes and shapes. We’ve inspected stones. The spikey sweet gum seed balls continue to fascinate us. Since our class on lichen and moss last October, beautiful treasures of turquoise attached to rocks and bright green, earthy moss smelling of the forest have made their way into our classroom.
Like all schools, we have paused. While we work to stay connected our best tool for engagement is our students and their show and tell videos. Since social distancing, we started Show and Tell Tuesday. Parents are invited to post a video on our closed Facebook page. Bird nests, lizards, tadpoles, beetles, wildflowers, worms, moths, cocoons, butterflies that land on tiny fingers, caterpillars, toads and so much more shared, in their own words, on Show and Tell Tuesday.
What I have found remarkable is the serendipitous benefits of virtual show and tell. We have several students who are quiet. Talking in front of the group, even with our small classes, is difficult. These children bring something to show each week, but telling about it is challenging. When a parent captures that same child’s love of an inchworm on video, they speak eloquently about the little green worm crawling up their arm. No hesitation. Other students chime in. “Did it tickle your arm?” “Where did you find it?” The quiet child feels one with the group. Their satisfied smiles tell the story. Another benefit of virtual Show and Tell is the vast number of things to show. A nest of birds is impossible to bring into the classroom, but a video with a smiling 3-year old counting eggs is wonderful to watch. A spray of frog eggs with tadpoles emerging is happing right now…on the pond in a child’s backyard! One of my favorite moments is a 4 year old who exclaimed, when showing some found gastropods, “Snails are our future!”
Friends making nature discoveries, not in parks or on trails, but right in their own backyard, inspire our students. Neighborhood walks have turned into opportunities to share. Parents are facilitators and support their child’s engagement. We are all searching our small worlds for spring’s revival. We are, despite our distance, able to enjoy the beauty together. Now, more than ever, Show and Tell holds our heart like never before.”
-Sandy Babbitt, Roots + Wings Nature Community Teacher