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  • Jennifer Jewell


Lindsey Lusher Shute Speaking at the Ohio Ecological Farming Association. Image courtesy of OEFA and Cleveland Democrat. All rights reserved.


Last week my eldest daughter was on spring break Next week my youngest daughter will be - Here in the US, it’s that time of year. With recent reports indicating our kids are not getting even close to the amount of time they need outside, I offer out this week’s guests and their work as inspiration to help your kids go outside and PLAY.

Mid-march in my part of the world means schools are beginning their annual spring break rotations. Spring is almost officially here and with that what used to be the standard adult admonition of GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY is as enticing as it ever gets. For all of us, but maybe especially for school aged children looking toward the last long stretch of the school year and the rising feeling of restlessness after the winter months more cooped up than usual.

According to the most recent reports: the average US child "has on average only four to seven minutes of unstructured outdoor play per day while spending an average of seven and a half hours in front of electronic media. As a result, child obesity has reached unprecedented levels and continues to rise. Children are carrying this sedentary lifestyle and a disconnection with nature into adulthood which creates a troubling national trend for the future of conservation, our economy, and the health and wellness of our communities."

Just in time for Spring Break, this week we’re in conversation with two women dedicated to helping us and our kids get outside, get in touch with our natural world, soak up some sunshine and perhaps regain their (and our) inherent senses of selves.

We're joined first by the inimitable Amanda Thomsen - whose work under the name of Kiss My Aster with humor and refreshing irreverence asks us to reconsider our relationship with our gardens. Her newest book Backyard Adventure: Get Messy, Get Wet, Build Cool things and Have Tons of Fun (out now from Storey Publishing) asks us to reframe what is fun allowed and actively encouraged in our backyards with our children. It’s a fabulous permission slip (with helpful and affirming instructions and messages) for us and our kids to get outside and really PLAY.

"For years people have asked me what my favorite tools are, and I say: my two hands and a packet of seeds.

That's all you need to get out there and garden. If you want to do more than that, you can,

but I want to evangelize how little you need so badly. Even if you make mistakes.

If we can get people started, they end up in all the right places. I

don't know what makes people are so afraid of messes, ultimately it's about being afraid of judgement:

'If I make a mess, someone will see that mess'- WHOOOO CARES?

At what point does our own well-being supersede what our neighbors think we're doing on the other side of the fence?

Amanda Thomsen, Kiss My Aster & Backyard Adventure

In the second half of the program we're joined by founder and principal designer at EarlySpace, LLC Nancy Striniste – With backgrounds in landscape design and early childhood education, she teaches at Antioch New England University in their nature-based early childhood graduate certificate program and serves on the leadership team of NoVA Outside. She attended the College of Design at NCSU where she created her own program that included architecture, product design and landscape architecture - all related to children. She tudied with Robin Moore before he started what is now the Natural Learning Initiative. Nancy's new book, Nature Play at Home: Creating Outdoor Spaces that Connect Children with the Natural World is out in early April from Timber Press.

"“What I really try to do when I’m working with school groups or

clients is to get them to remember what they loved to do as children and how they liked to play and

that helps to kind of help shift their focus into thinking about outdoor spaces as the magical sites for childhood and

children today don’t have the opportunity to roam the way that lots of us remember, and so I think it’s really important to create outdoor spaces where kids CAN have those experiences in nature."

Nancy Striniste, Nature Play At Home

Amanda and Nancy - their kids and their students, the gardens and their garden designs remind us how and why outdoor play – apparently another endangered element in US childhoods – is important and how it’s done.

Follow along with Amanda's work at, and on Instagram @kissmyaster and Facebook KissMyAster.

Follow along with Nancy's work at, and on Instagram @earlyspacenancy and Facebook EarlySpace.

Join us again next week as the conversations continue, when the first day after the First Day of Spring and the Vernal Equinox, we kick off a 5 part series on our Gardens as Healthy Habitats (this week was really a start of the series as our gardens are also meant to be healthy habitats for us humans and our offspring, right!? ;)




Are you a DONOR to Cultivating Place? If so thank you! You make these program possible! If not....and you want/need a little incentive to join the ranks of others supporting this program they love - click here for the Spring audio-extra #GARDENLIFELOVELETTERS coming donors way as of next week. You don't want to miss out! here to find out more.

Thinking out loud here – I think if anyone in the world knows the importance – and cellular need of we human living beings to be outside, it is we gardeners. And my bet is that our children benefit greatly from this model and sometimes forced time outside time in the name our own sanity….

This information from Harvard Health will come as nothing new to you – but I’ll just recount it here anyway – as your weekly permission slip to get not only your children but yourselves OUTSIDE to your garden or trail and to know without question it’s among the very best things you can do for you and them.

Here’s what Harvard reminds us about what we already know: Getting outside for some UNSTRUCTURED TIME provides us with all this:

1. Necessary Sunshine. Which helps us make vitamin D, which in turns improves everything from our bone development, immune systems, healthy sleep — and mood. Our bodies work best when they get some sunshine every day.

2. Exercise. humans should be active for an hour every day, and getting outside to play is one way to be sure that happens.

3. Improved Executive functioning. These are the skills that help us plan, prioritize, troubleshoot, negotiate, and multitask; they are crucial for our success. Creativity falls in here, too, and using our imagination to problem-solve and entertain ourselves. These are skills that must be learned and practiced — and to do this, we need unstructured time alone and with others.

4. Getting outside teaches us to Take healthy risks. Children need to take some risks. Being outside teaches us limits, confidence and as we all know the lessons we learn from failure are just as important as those we learn from success.

5. Love of and Connection to Nature = environmental literacy: so much of our world is changing, and not for the better. If a child grows up or an adult exists never walking in the woods, digging in soil, seeing animals in their habitat, climbing a mountain, playing in a stream, or staring at the endless horizon of an ocean, they may never really understand what there is to be lost. The future of our planet depends on our children; they need to learn to appreciate it. We as gardeners who get this to the very core of ourselves can help others – indeed our whole culture – reset baseline to a more expansive place – not a more contracted one. The shifting baseline concept is scary and tragic and something we can help address. With our gardens and our gardening ways.

Finally –

6. It gets us socializing - a skill and activity we also all need and need to practice.

This past weekend I was reminded of this when John and I took a #Gardenersdayout and drove the 3.5 hours to the wonderful gardens of Filoli in Woodside CA where we heard the fabulous Jinny Blom speak on her life’s work and the power of conservation potential in gardens and design.

I had the great pleasure of seeing old gardening friends and meeting new ones – especially Monica, Amy, and Caroline – three listeners out there who very kindly introduced yourselves to me and MADE MY DAY. It was a gift to be in company with so many wonderful plants, plantings and plantspeople together – thank you for finding me!




Thank you to everyone who has contributed this year! We simply could not produce this program without your help.

Backyard Adventure

Nature Play at Home - Cover

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