Park Stories

“By creating libraries with integrated natural spaces, we create a center for developing kids’ intelligence, curiosity and imagination. Books nurture learning and inner imagination, while play in nature engages the sense of curiosity and exploration critical to healthy brain development. Putting both of these essential childhood experiences in one place is a simple idea, but one that could have profound effects on whole neighborhoods”. — Richard Louv, co-founder of Children & Nature Network and best-selling author of Last Child in the Woods

Dan’s Story 

As a young boy, I thought reading was not for me. Sitting still was truly a challenge, and the classroom seemed to be the hardest place for me to learn. Being a child, I thought that I was not smart enough to focus in a classroom, and that my inability to sit still and stick with the task at hand made me different. I felt I was labeled as a “bad kid”. It would have been monumental if I had known then, what I know now. If I had the opportunity to learn, for example, about a bee’s behavior by watching it suckle on wild flowers, AND THEN, bring a book outside with me to identify which type of Bee I was looking at I would have found solace in nature, and in books, long ago.

Luckily when I was 18 I moved to Vermont and finally found that solace in nature. For one of my first science labs, I needed to go observe ecological systems. I would spend time in the forest near my university, reading, writing, and observing… and, for the first time in my life, reading was no longer a chore. I wasn’t just reading science abstracts in the woods either… I was now doing most of my reading outside. Currently, I am an outdoor educator. I work with students each week, and I witness the same struggles I battled in my youth.

What I have learned, is that my mind works better when my body is working too, Its not that I was stupid, or a bad kid. Four walls and a desk just didn’t WORK for me. The movement of my hands, and my body help to quiet my mind. When I teach now, you will find me with something in my hand. A stick to pull a part, a rock to rub. The small movement with my hands helps immensely in my ability to sit still and concentrate. I offer this technique to my students. And the results are striking.

When I started taking students outside, I realized children that have difficulty in a classroom, were the ones who flourish when they are outside. I saw these students able to stay on task, concentrate better, and push the conversations we were having even further than some of their peers who do great in a classroom setting. I used to run a summer camp in Colorado called Book Trails. We would take campers outside, read adventure books, and do activities based on the books. When I met Nancy Gerdt along with Michele and Jim Mosher, I shared this personal story with them, and their eyes lit up. I didn’t know it then, but they were in the midst of a 15 year vision to create a space for the kinesthetic learner.

This library park combination is a beautiful opportunity because it creates a learning environment for all different kinds of students.

I want to thank you all for listening to my story and for supporting this legacy. This project is going to change the lives of learners, of all ages, in our community.

Dan Lazarus

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