Just as water nourishes our bodies, so does the Red Gully Creek enrich our school days. In our
area of salt and brackish waterways, it’s unique to have access to an ankle-deep body of
freshwater. But the children at Nature Connect Outdoor School don’t know that. To them, it’s
just part of their daily routine. After beginning their day with free play, morning circle, and
snacks, the children follow the teachers like little ducklings toward the water. One by one, they
press the tree “button” mid-way down their descent to the small beach along the creek bank.
They learn quickly how important it is to sit here before running into the water. One teacher
must make sure that a snake isn’t already enjoying this portion of the creek.
Once released to explore, many children tip over rocks looking for salamanders
to cup in their small hands. “Scoop water in your hands,” a teacher will say. “The salamander
must stay wet.”
Many work together with their classmates to build salamander habitats. They search for
the perfect rocks, place them in a circle, and dig out sand from the middle to create a pool. In
goes the salamander for observation.
Sometimes we hear frogs nearby, but the elusive amphibian is hard to find. Children
easily notice the Ebony Jewelwing, a species of damselfly that hovers above the water with its
blue iridescent green body and black wings. They chase after them through the creek, up and
down, squealing as the cool water soaks their rain boots and clothes.
Along the winding creek are banks of sand perfect for making drip castles, and within
the sand are pockets of white, red, and gray clay. The clay instantly becomes face paint,
turning the children into tigers or lions. They round it into balls and press their thumbs into the
middle to form bowls. Sometimes the children use the clay to reinforce bridges or walls that
they have made in the water. Other times they use it to write letters or their names on rocks.
But most often, they stand in the middle of the creek, boots submerged in the water, and
meditatively squish the cold soft clay over and over again in their little hands.
There are many pirates down at the creek, so many, in fact, that there are two pirate
ships, one on each bank. These ships live in the beautiful imaginations of 3-5 year olds and
grow more intricate each week. Pirates are so busy. They run from the ship to the creek, into
the woods, and back to the ship over and over, sometimes collecting Coral Berries on their trek.
When they have a second to rest, a dinosaur stomps out of the forest. And not just any
dinosaur, but a T-Rex! Ship. Creek. Woods. Ship.
It isn’t unusual to see a student face-painting a teacher with clay or a really tall pirate
among the group of short ones. And who better to taste chocolate soup in a clay bowl than a
Recently the Nature Connect staff attended the first annual Alabama Nature Teachers
and Schools (ANTS) at Camp McDowell in North Alabama. It was a gathering of like-minded
individuals who advocate for nature-based education and outdoor learning. At the end of the
second day, our team hiked to a small waterfall. Our leader, Brinkley, led the way, and when we
reached the destination, she trudged through the muddy pool without hesitation to soak under
the falls. One by one, we followed, squealing, slipping, and eventually soaking in the water. On
our way back, some saw salamander eggs nesting on the underside of a rock overhang, and
the excitement was equal to that of the children. There were no pirates or dinosaurs on this
adventure, but there was camaraderie, encouragement, and laughter. And the pure joy of
playing like a child in the water.