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Nature: Fostering children’s social interactions

Children Need NatureBy Rachel Baltuch, Nature Preschool Teacher

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our nature preschool program. Read more posts here.

While researching the effects of unstructured play time in nature for young children, I discovered that the benefits are vast and encompass most aspects of children’s development. Play time in nature tends to affect children’s cognitive development, which includes intellectual learning, problem solving skills, and creative inquiry, and can lead to increased concentration, greater attention capacities and higher academic performance.[1]  These children also demonstrate “more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often.[2]

Additionally, the benefits of free play time in nature include reduced stress and symptom relief for some children with Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.[3] Lastly, unstructured free time in nature can improve children’s social skills, ranging from increasing children’s positive feeling towards one another, decreasing the amount of bullying and violence between children, increasing children’s imagination and creativity, and increasing their communication and language skills.[4] Continue reading

Rain Yard by Stacy Levy at The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education

Maintenance as Art

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Manager of Communications & Digital Strategy

SCEE6891Every week or so one of us (usually our Director of Environmental Art or one of our art interns) heads out to Rain Yard, an interactive environmental art installation by Stacy Levy, for a regular check up. Rain Yard is designed to be education, art, and intervention. The steel sculpture, painted a rich blue-purple, collects stormwater runoff from our Visitor Center roof, slowing the movement of nearly 100,000 gallons of water a year. Some of the water flows through a rain garden, over which visitors walk, and some goes into a cistern from which it is pumped through the sculpture by visors of all ages.  

That’s where these regular cleaning visits come in. The sculpture allows water to pool and drain through various hoses. The little openings for the drainage hoses seem to invite children to fill them – with sticks, pebbles, and other treasures found around Rain Yard. When it’s not curious visitors, the wind is carrying leaves and grasses into these openings. The result is that we regularly have to go out and clean them, making sure that water will continue to flow through the artwork. In the three and a half years since Rain Yard was installed we’ve also had to repaint the yellow strip thin the basin representing asphalt; a lesson in maintenance indeed.

Continue reading

Making in Place work by Oki Fukunaga

Making in Place: Art in the Open exhibition

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Manager of Communications & Digital Strategy and Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & PR Intern

This summer 14 artists will extend the Schuylkill Center’s art gallery onto our trails, with art that explores concepts in placemaking, reused materials, and natural-unnatural sound. These works were forged as part of Art in the Open, a public art event which brings art-making into public, along Schuylkill Banks in May. Dozens of artists participate in the biannual Art in the Open event and afterward, each brings their work to a gallery or art site around the City of Philadelphia, reinventing their artwork in a new context and drawing on their experience in Art in the Open.

This summer, the we are pleased to be hosting 14 of the Art in the Open 2016 artists, offering them the opportunity to bring their work into a natural context and adapt their work to our spaces. We’ll be featuring Aaron Asis, Jane Carver, Oki Fukunaga, Mary Olin Geiger, Elizabeth Hoy, Cayla Lockwood, C. Pazia Mannella, Heather McMordie, Angela McQuillan, Sarah Peoples, Leah Reynolds, Marian (Stasiorowski) Howard, and Katie VanVlient and Samuel Cusumano. An opening reception for Making in Place will be held on May 24th at 6 pm.

At the opening, artists will talk about their property and Director of Environmental Art Christina Catanese will lead a guided walk to explore the outdoor installations, ending with a performance developed by experimental accordion and vocal performer Jane Carver.

The show’s title, Making in Place, elegantly evokes one of the central components of Art in the Open: art that responds to and is part of the place where it is made. In this case, artists adapt their work and create new works to respond to the unique feel of the place where it is both created and installed. Poet Cayla Lockwood writes her poetry in reused scrap fabric woven into structures – both natural and built – to embed her words with the landscape. Sound and sculpture artists Katie VanVlient and Samuel Cusumano, of DataGarden, bring their “biodata sonification” device, which collects real-time data from plants and translates it into sound and graphic printouts as the plants respond to external stimuli. Continue reading

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Hollow Perspective

By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & Public Relations Intern

Katie Murken Debtors Inheritance imagesPerched on tree stumps, floating on water, hidden in the reeds – artist Katie Murken’s painted gourds were scattered across the  land at the Schuylkill Center in 2007. Debtor’s Inheritance was created as part of Green Machine, a multi-media exhibition on our grounds. The project was formed in collaboration with P’unk Ave, a Philadelphia based design studio with a focus on non-profit organizations, that helped Murken create her site specific and interactive work at the Schuylkill Center.

Murken described the Schuylkill Center as a place that exemplifies habitat that was once native to this region, but as a space that is still infringed upon by surrounding roadways, urban dwellings, and commercial and industrial spaces of the city. “The air, even, that pervades its empty spaces and is consumed by its organisms is manufactured by the city. In symbiosis, the fumes that we exhale are drawn in by this land.” Murken goes on to say the Schuylkill Center is visited by city dwellers as a familiar, but distant friend.

Debtor’s Inheritance aimed to visualize our conflicting relationship to the natural world. It invited viewers to consider the inverse of this scenario— a vast, wild and uninhabited landscape. Murken described Wind Dance Pond at the Schuylkill Center as being hugged by the hillsides, appearing as a bowl of water within a bowl of land. Murken took inspiration from these configurations and extrapolated and rescaled the form of the bowl. The artist used dried and hollowed gourds to convey this idea; the gourds were cut, shaped, painted, and piled together to create an installation to float on the surface of Wind Dance Pond.

Gourds also were scattered around the pond and placed throughout the Schuylkill Center, such as lining paths, set between tree limbs, and dispersed in streams. During the exhibition, visitors exploring the grounds of the Center encountered a series of stations demarcated by site-specific arrangements of the gourds. At each station, the gourds prompted participants to use their cellphones to initiate a series of narrative text-messages, a system setup with the help of P’unk Ave. The messages layered local history and ecology with residual dialogue from project collaborators.

Debtor’s Inheritance created a portrait of the Schuylkill Center as a living site that embodied the struggle between progress and preservation. As opposed to seeing the natural world as it stands today, Debtor’s Inheritance invited visitors at the Schuylkill Center to reverse that perspective, and imagine the landscape as it was centuries ago – vast and uninhabited.

Steve Goin and Andrew Kirkpatrick remove landscaping fabric

Introducing Fox Glen: a new chapter in land stewardship

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Where our Grey Fox Loop and Wind Dance Pond Trail meet, just uphill from our beloved 19th-century springhouse and its pond, is a section of our forest that has been overrun with invasive plants. But on May 20 we’re turning it around, planting over 200 new trees and shrubs to stabilize the land and reforest the area. We’re calling it Fox Glen.

I hope you’ll transform it with us. Continue reading

Climate March, DC 4-29-17

Why I Marched

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Today I’m writing as a neighbor and friend, and I’m writing about something personal. On Saturday, under a brutal April sun, itself both oxymoron and bad omen, my wife and I joined more than 200,000 people in Washington, D.C. for the People’s Climate March. It was an extraordinary event, witnessing a rainbow coalition of people from every corner of the country and in every walk of life coming together for action on climate change.

We walked alongside a nurses union from New York, behind the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, themselves just behind the Service Employees International Union.  Grandparents marched alongside their grandchildren.  A Jewish group paraded just ahead of a Catholic organization carrying banners of Pope Francis quotes, the Quakers right behind them.  “The seas are rising, and so are we,” said the Unitarian banner. Continue reading

Gary Miller

Growing from the Past

By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & Public Relations Intern

Artist Gary Miller began his visual arts career by studying the traditional farming techniques of isolated southern farming homesteads, and his early work reflected the simple, unadorned functionality of their commonly used materials and homemade tools.

Similar to the farms Miller studied, Brolo Hill Farm also used the same techniques to create thriving crops. Over time, however, small farms experienced crop yield reductions brought on by inefficient planting and catastrophic flooding from indiscriminate clear cutting. Recognizing that their actions were depleting vital natural resources, farmers began responsible use of the land by applying advances in animal husbandry, seed varieties, crop rotation, timber management, and innovations in tools and equipment.

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However, as technology progressed, many hand-crafted tools became obsolete, and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides were introduced. While this resulted in greater crop yields and profits, it also caused the near extinction of small family farms, as well as the loss of many indigenous plant and animal species. Continue reading

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Children Need Nature: Fort building as a way to connect

By Alyssa Maley, Nature Preschool Teacher

When you think back on your childhood memories what stands out to you? Perhaps it was a less complicated life where you spent most of your day playing outside, when you were not bombarded with technology at the end of your fingertips. More and more parents are actively seeking out educational programs that match this outside nature component of their childhood memories. They are quickly becoming aware of technology, and the sedentary life it provides for their children through interacting with iPads, computers, and gaming systems. The excessive use of technology in the home drives a disconnection between both children and parents on a socially. As a new parent myself, I am concerned with the amount of screen time that my child may encounter daily. I want my daughter to appreciate the wonders of nature and all of the unique play opportunities it provides. It saddens my heart that the concept of building forts has been successfully buried under the accessibility of technology. So what can be done to connect parents and children in a more authentic way and while simultaneously bringing playing out in nature back into the fold? Continue reading

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Coyotes in Roxborough? Absolutely

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Early in my time here at the Schuylkill Center, a neighbor who lives close to our sweeping Upper Roxborough property gave me a call one day. It was not the phone conversation I expected.

“Mike,” he said with concern in his voice. “I spotted a coyote walking down my driveway the other night. “

“Wow,” I stupidly answered, “that’s great. I’m not sure anyone here has seen one yet.”

He wasn’t as excited as me. “What are you going to do about it?” he challenged.

Ah, of course. He’s worried about his dog, as I believe his pet is a smaller-sized animal that might be a tempting target for a hungry coyote.  I replied that we’d be on the lookout, but there was little else we could do. Keep the dog on a leash, and keep it near you. Continue reading

Abby Williams

2017 Winter Photo Contest Winners

We loved your submissions for the 2017 Winter Photo Contest– many lovely photos of happy critters, icy plants, and dreamy landscapes came in, but we’ve managed to narrow the dozens we received down to a few winners. Thank you to everyone who submitted a photo!

Anna, Jenny and Liz weigh in on our finalists below:

Winners

Abby Williams

Abby WilliamsI gasped when 18-year-old Abby Williams submitted this stunning portrait. Black and white perfectly captures the texture of the fallen snowflakes against dark hair. The ice around her chin is so visceral I can almost feel the familiar sting of an icy scarf brushing against soft winter skin. What a fierce look—we might as well declare this model a contest winner, too. – Jenny

Walking in Winter, Caileigh Mahan

Caileigh Mahan, Walking in Winter

Even in a big city, one can find a quiet, still moment by stepping into newly fallen snow and seeing familiar surroundings as if they were brand new. – Liz

Georgia Young

Georgia Young

Georgia Young’s photo of a conifer in the snow captures the luminosity and stillness of new snow. A shallow depth of field draws the viewer in, creating an intimate view of the delicate dusting of snow in the foreground. – Anna

Runners-Up

Estelle Atkinson

Estelle Atkinson

Love the way the splintering light showcases these lively winter thorns.

Richele Dillard

Hover Fly, Witch Hazel, Richele DillardBrilliant macro of this resilient winter pollinator(that’s a Hoverfly!) on witch hazel by Richele Dillard.

Rebecca Dhondt

Cresheim Creek, Rebecca DhondtFun at Cresheim Creek!

Staci Vernick

Staci VernickHappy to see this little critter doing what they need to do to survive!