The Complex Relationship Between Learning, Playing, & Our Environments
The last day of our first TimberNook camp was one to remember. We read a book called “Jamberry” and then we had our own jamboree! The campers made costumes out of cardboard boxes and drank juice and found necklaces in the woods and painted their faces and played in the pond… phew, it was a busy day.
It was absolutely amazing to see how everyone grew and learned in one short week. If you missed any of our previous recaps, here they are:
Fine Motor Skills & Creative Expression
Fine motor skills require control over small movements using muscles in the hands, fingers, face, and feet (however, the focus is generally on dexterity of the hands). Today’s activities beautifully incorporated these skills alongside creative expression. We even had an egg-and-spoon race to involve fine motor skills in the face!
But first, we gave campers cardboard boxes with pre-cut arm holes so that they could wear their floats. They painted their boxes, but also had tons of other loose parts they could use: foam paper, felt glue, fabric, dowels, scissors, and whatever else they could get their hands on.
Building the floats required a great deal of creativity and dexterity!
We had a feeling the youngest children might do best with another activity choice, so we set up a drinking station as part of our jamboree.
It was a big hit!
Sensory Experiences (Especially Tactile)
Our jamboree had so many different things going on – it was a festival for the senses!
Face painting offered a tactile experience on the face. Not everyone participated (we never want to force a child to do an activity – part of play is choosing how to participate in the experience), but those who did had a grand time.
I also dumped two jugs of jelly into a big tub, mostly to see what the campers would do. One child grabbed a big handful and started chasing other campers through the woods, trying to catch them. Soon enough, several kids were happily playing with the jelly!
Some pretended they were bleeding, which prompted another camper to run through the woods with paint while yelling, “Ahh, I’m bleeding!”. It was so fun watching them play freely, taking inspiration from all of the activities and items around them.
The jelly experience leads me to one of the biggest changes I observed in our TimberNook campers… increased resilience!
By the end of the week kids were quickly bouncing back from things that would have bothered them on Monday, like sticky hands from jelly or muddy feet from playing in the pond.
Our campers also got tons of practice moving different body parts at the same time! Their coordination was strengthened on Day 5, and throughout the previous days of camp.
Running through the woods, climbing onto different things, making crafts, and more all involve a great deal of coordination.
How did the dogs react to TimberNook?
How did the Doglando dogs react to having TimberNook going on in their environment? Well, they didn’t.
I even put out metal pans for the kids to play with. They made music by banging them with wood, banging them together, and hitting them. The dogs were totally fine because they’re already habituated to changes in their environment.
Adding TimberNook into their daily mix didn’t change their behavior. They didn’t stop playing. They didn’t line up at the fence to watch the kids. There was no anxiety.
Why were our dogs so resilient? Because they have plenty of experiences to draw from, and they’ve been developing and strengthening their coping skills with us since their first days on campus. TimberNook simply added more value to their ongoing learning and empowered them to a greater sense than ever before.
Our environments are a very complex system of stimuli, with a lot of different things that could affect or cause a behavior change. We put a lot of effort into constantly exposing the dogs to new stimuli, because building on positive experiences is continuous and should never stop.
It’s the same with kids.
If their repository of experiences is limited it will take them longer to get involved in any new experiences.
They’ll feel more stress and will have slower recovery times because they haven’t had as many opportunities to learn from previous experiences. Giving them more opportunities to “get over” something will improve on that skill.
Everyone is affected by a stimulus, but not all of us will be impacted to the point of behavior change. Again, this all comes down to prior experiences. For example, we have one dog at Doglando whose behavior generally changes around children.
Even with TimberNook going on and kids running around the property, his behavior didn’t change.
His mom was shocked! But, this dog has simply strengthened his resiliency and ability to bounce back, regardless of the environmental stimuli around him.
These are the types of skills that all living beings can learn through play. Play isn’t just about rolling around in the mud or running through the woods. These types of experiences lead to valuable learning opportunities.
And as we’ve learned, learning never stops!
Think about play in your own life: What are some of your most memorable experiences that involve playing? In hindsight, what did you learn from those experiences? Play is important, and we need to talk about it far more often — help us lead the play revolution by participating in the comments!