The Night Primeval at Cherokee Marsh: Christ the Solid Rock and Madison Audubon Society


When the marsh wakes up, it does so with a riot of prehistoric sounds. Cranes bugle. Chorus frogs sing, blackbirds scold, and the woodcock peents, just like they have done for thousands of years. Even if you never see anything, the sounds tell us that life is everywhere. On April 17, members of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church joined the Madison Audubon Society on their annual flight of the woodcock hike at Cherokee Marsh.


The American Woodcock.

The woodcock is a funny little bird that has an elaborate mating dance. First, he walks around on the ground and makes a buzzy, peenting sound. Then, he darts into the air about 200 feet. On the way back down, he twists and twirls all the while whistling and fluttering his wings. It’s quite the visual and auditory spectacle and well worth a trip to the marsh just for the possibility of seeing this bird. I had promoted this trip to the church as a woodcock hike, so I was hoping that he would perform. I had my fingers crossed. Like clockwork, the male woodcock started peenting at 8:15 p.m. He was about 75 yards away so we couldn’t see him on the ground. Last year, he stood right on the trail about 25 yards away so we all got a good look at him through the spotting scope. Levi Wood, the Audubon guide, suspected that a recent prescribed burn opened up a lot more peenting territory making the manicured trail less attractive. It was too dark to see him flying, but we heard him twittering on the way down. When a bat flew by, we thought for a moment it was the woodcock, but no luck. Despite not seeing the little bird with the big peent, it was still a magical night. Just being present to this annual ritual is a gift, especially when that gift is shared with others. What did the kids think? They weren’t too impressed with the woodcock, mainly because they couldn’t see him. They were much more impressed with an American toad that hopped across the path. A boy picked him up so everyone got a good look. We also talked a lot about snakes and saw a really tiny brown snake slither through the grass. One girl was pretty freaked out about the snakes, but I assured her that snakes will not harm her. If I did this hike again with kids, I might play the video for them in advance so that they knew what to listen for. It takes time to hone listening skills and patience. Bird watching is great for that. Kids need to learn that real nature doesn’t always meet our expectations. That may be disappointing at first, but it makes the moment of discovery that much sweeter. Plus now, we have a reason to go back again next year. The woodcock dances through the first part of May. Diane Schwartz lead outings at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Madison, Wisconsin. To volunteer, contact Diane at 


Is Physical Inactivity the New Normal?

  • Do you walk less than you used to? 
  • Do you watch more television? 
  • Do you spend more time at the computer?
  • Are you getting older and moving less?*
  • Do you drive your kids to school even though they could walk or ride their bikes? 
  • Is your job more sedentary than it used to be? 
  • Do you keep your kids inside because you don’t feel safe letting them play outside?
  • Do your kids prefer being inside so much that you have to force them outside?
Dr. Jane Greenberg

Dr. Jane Greenberg

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are part of a scary international trend toward less activity. Since 1970, physical activity has dropped 32 percent in the United States and this trend is happening all over the world. For example, in 1969, 40% of students walked or biked to school. By 2001 only 13% of children walked or biked to school. Couple that with increasing use of computers and gadgets and it’s no surprise that some kids are gaining weight. According to the Center for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

In my day, there was usually one child in a classroom that was overweight, now it’s common.** The health ramifications of this are huge, especially in minority populations. Kids are at risk of heart disease, diabetes and other preventable diseases at earlier and earlier ages. 

Dr. Jane Greenberg, the District Director of Physical Education and Health Literacy for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, shared these statistics at the Healthy Living Summit.

Students learn to sail in the Miami-Dade School District as part of physical education classes.

To address this problem, Dr. Greenberg has transformed how physical education looks in Miami Dade public schools. In addition to the usual menu of track, volleyball and soccer, students can choose from kayaking, sailing, snowshoeing on the beach, dance revolution, yoga, and lessons in nutrition. Some schools have exercise equipment where kids use technology to get fit. Since schools have no money, Greenberg created corporate partnerships to fund the programs.

I love this and the kids do too.

We have to engage kids where they are at and come up with new solutions to get kids moving. While I truly believe that getting outside is the best form of exercise, it is unrealistic to think that this will work for all kids. Integrating technology with exercise makes a lot of sense.

We need to recognize that our culture makes it harder to be active. And, we need to realize that getting kids active is only part of the problem.  Parents also need help. Dr. Greenberg said that kids with active parents are 5 times more likely to be active as adults. Adults have a responsibility to their kids and need to get healthy themselves.

*Lest you get too depressed about these statistics, do keep in mind that much of the decrease in activity is due to our aging population. However, that still doesn’t excuse us from what’s happening to our kids.
** There is an upside to the obesity problem; Kids are less likely to get teased for their weight when more kids have the same issue.

You can find Diane gearing up for Bike for Life at the Goodman Community Center. What are you doing to reverse this trend?  

Researchers find time in wild boosts creativity, insight and problem solving

It’s nice to see research that validates what I’ve known for years: that being outside is as good for the mind as it is for the body and soul.

Click the link for full story from Learn from Nature.

Researchers find time in wild boosts creativity, insight and problem solving.

There ought to be a law: Wisconsin Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights

This may seem like a no brainer, but in today’s world of competing interests and childhood obesity we can no longer assume that kids are getting outside.

Come to a public hearing on January 5th from 10 am to 2 pm at the State Capitol to promote the Wisconsin Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights.

Meet the bill’s sponsors, Assemblywoman Taylor and Senator Larson; witness the official announcement of the bill; hand deliver children’s artwork and information packets to other legislators; and celebrate with kid-friendly snacks at a Children’s Bill of Rights social. Read the language and co-sponsors here.

Bring your children, students, scout group, afterschool club or church group!
Help demonstrate to legislators just how many children, families, schools, and businesses find this topic critical!

Tentative schedule:
10am – Meet with Representatives Taylor and Larson
10:30am – Official press conference and speakers (children to display artwork)
11:15am – Children and other attendees hand deliver artwork and information packets to other legislators
12pm – Social and treats for attending children

Please register here.

Admission: Free and open to the public – but please register.
Parking fee: Call for information on downtown parking

State Capitol Building
115 East State Capitol Bldg.
Madison, WI United States 53702

Why kids don’t walk and what we can do about it

I hated walking as a kid and would beg my mom to drive me places.

“You can walk,” she’d say and then explain how when SHE was a girl she had to WALK 100 miles just to get to the bus stop…”

Okay, I exaggerate a little, but I truly hated walking. Other kids got rides. Why do I have to walk?

Now, I’m grateful.

Truth is, kids don’t walk unless they have to and it seems like kids walk less and less with each generation. There are several reasons for this:

1) Kids live further away from school.
2) Residential neighborhoods are isolated from grocery stores and services.
3) Madison streets are busier than the streets I grew up on.
4) We love our  cars.
5) Parents are afraid their kids will get abducted, lost, or hurt. This is the most troubling trend and probably the most restricting.

For the most part, Madison remains a safe place for  kids. However, while many of our families live close enough to the center to walk, very few do. For many it’s a necessity to drive, but for some it isn’t. What’s especially troubling is when parents cancel their kids participation in outdoor activities because they cannot pick their kids up.

To address this I ask?  Why not let older kids walk or take the bus home?
What a gift it would be for these kids to get home on their own.

Therefore, I’m going to start making this outrageous suggestion. This will likely raise other issues. For example, will kids need to be taught how to walk on their own? Probably. At the very least it will get parents and kids thinking about alternatives.

Will kids protest?  Absolutely.  But I can’t wait to respond with my own “When I was a kid I walked 100 miles story.”

Do you have any stories about walking with kids?  How do you  motivate  kids to walk?  Do you let them walk to the store, to  school or elsewhere?

You can find Diane working on a grant proposal to start a biking program at the Goodman Community Center. You can also find her slopping through the mud at Schumacher Farm County Park looking for signs of spring. As always, register for this blog now and receive an 11-page Bubble Activity Guide.

Two Cool Things: Nature Hike made Easy

Looking for an easy Nature Hike?

Just ask the kids to find two cool things.

I did this with a small group of Kindergarten and First Graders and
was amazed by the results.

Joe immediately found a crack on the ground.

“Maybe there’s magma down there,” he said enthusiastically.
He then started to dig in the crack with a stick. He got excited when he
dug up a rock. Another child joined him. I watched as they poked around
in the dirt, digging up rocks and talking about them.

“This one’s sandstone,” John said.

They dug away at a large rock for about 20 minutes, trying to get it out of the
ground.  They dug around it and they kicked it. They eventually got it out (with a little help).

Joe took it back to the classroom and showed his friends.  He was proud of his efforts.

Nearby, Lily was collecting leaves… her cool things.  She spent her time playing in the sand. I watched as she used a stick to make patterns in the sand. She also covered the leaves with sand and then let the sand roll off.

This kind of exploratory play is so important for kids. It teaches them to play with the simplest of things… cool things… and to entertain themselves. All they need is a stick, some dirt, some leaves, and a little imagination.

Try this out sometime and let me know how it  goes.

Diane Schwartz is an Outdoor Education Teacher at Goodman Community Center in Madison, Wisconsin. She is also the Site Coordinator at Schumacher Farm County Park in Waunakee. Register for this blog now and receive your free 11-page Bubble Activity Guide.  Thank you!

Nature as Tonic for ADHD: Louv Part 3

This is the third installment of reflections from the book: Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.

It makes intuitive sense that kids diagnosed with ADHD would benefit from outdoor activities. I’m glad that Louv’s book is full of research to back this up.

In a study done at the University of Illinois (p.104), researchers showed that outdoor play in “green” settings resulted in fewer symptoms. By comparison, indoor activities such as watching TV, or outdoor activities on paved, non-green areas, increased symptoms. Even looking out the window at something green, can improve attention-deficit symptoms.

This is why I invite kids with the most energy to come on my outings. Tomorrow, we’re taking a trip to Picnic Point for a cook out.  Nearly half of the kids on the trip are high needs kids, some with the label of ADHD. While I believe that all kids need nature to thrive, grow and develop their senses, these kids benefit most from simple green activities.

For example, I work with a first grader who is so high energy that sometimes he literally can’t stop moving. He acts out at times and inadvertently hits others when he loses control of his body.  However, when he’s on a hike, these behaviors are non-existent. He’s happy and engaged. His senses are fully piqued.

If you know of a child that can benefit from some nature tonic, be sure to get them into an outdoor program. Or, get them out in the backyard, to explore insects, worms, buds, anything to stimulate their senses. I’ll be looking for easy ways for you to do this and will post the best as I find them.

For now, if you subscribe to my blog, I’ll send you my Bubble Activity Guide for free. It’s full of fun, easy and inexpensive things to do with kids. And, it includes my famous bubble juice recipe.

Sidetracked from Louv… Spring Reflection

I hope to get back to reading and responding to Louv’s book this week. The Big Burn sidetracked me along with various other projects.

I am growing ever more convinced that providing outdoor experiences for kids is one of THE most important things we can do to help them as they grow up. That said, I’m happy to be starting Inner City Outings on March 26th with a trip to Picnic Point. We’ll be building a bonfire and cooking wieners. I’m going to ask the volunteers to let the kids start the fire. I’m not sure that this will work because of time factors and safety concerns, but I’m sure some of the older kids would love to learn this skill.

The weather here has been very warm for March, so I’m hoping this holds. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. Today was exceptional and in the 50s. I used it to rake my yard and survey the flower garden. My crocuses are already up and blooming. They are such a welcome sight.

Well, tomorrow is an early release day at Goodman Center so we’ll have kids from 10:30 on.  We’re going to the zoo and building spaghetti towers. The weather is going to be nice, so it will be a fun day.  I’d better get some rest.

Last child in the woods: Part 2

I agree with Louv that we are making outdoor play more structured. In my work, all the activities are structured. We hike, we ski and we skate as a group. We are not just letting the kids go off and explore on their own. As a staff member working with other people’s kids, I do have to be sensible.

Regardless of this structure, I have observed that kids do act differently when they’re in the woods. Kids that are normally loud are quieter, though not all together quiet, while hiking.  Kids are humble and more respectful of adults. I think they sense their smallness and vulnerability. Their senses are peaked. They look for things. They wonder about things.

On a recent hike, the water pump provided endless fascination. They showed great satisfaction and joy when pumping while pumping and especially when the water pour out. Just the act of pumping creates an awareness of the earth’s geology and where water comes from. I could see their brains ticking frantically after telling them that the water is stored between cracks in the rock. They thought there was a tank underground. My heart grew several sizes in that moment. I’ll never know what these kids will take home from these trips, but I doubt they are the same.

In today’s world, we do what we can to get kids outside, even if it’s structure. We can encourage outdoor play and creativity. I don’t see how I can do more.

Last child in the woods: Part 1-Nature Deficit Disorder

This is the first installment of my comments about the book: Last child in the woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.

About 6 months into my job, a volunteer said, “So, you’ve probably read about Richard Louv, right?”  I hadn’t.  He told me a little about him and I Googled him that night. So this was the guy who coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder (NDD)?”  Brilliant.  Now that I have a year-and-a-half of experience working with kids, I’m finally ready to pick up his book and find out what he’s talking about.

Like me, Louv thinks that kids need nature to thrive. Without access to nature, kids are missing a sense of wonder about the world that they can’t get from a book or video.  I only have to remember my first look at the ocean or a glacier to know this is true. To be sure, books inspired me, but the actual thing filled me with awe and wonder that never left me. Louv talks about kids that know much about the natural world because they’ve seen it on TV. These kids can talk about the rain forest and think they know the rain forest and nature. The sad part is that they don’t know that they are missing anything. Louv writes that nature has increasingly become a spectator sport, something to be consumed just like toy. That’s NDD. And that’s a shame.

While Louv is careful to say that NDD is not an illness, I think he’d like us to think of it that way. For myself, I know that if don’t get outside to enjoy nature on a regular basis, I get sick. Sick in the head. Sick of myself. Sick.  Nature keeps me well and it heals me. It stands to reason that a growing child, who is deprived of nature could be considered ill. In his book he cites ample evidence to show that nature makes a difference in people’s lives.

It’s fascinating how scientists and researchers are documenting the benefits of nature. I’d love to hear a doctor say, “Take a walk in the woods and call me in the morning,” to treat someone for depression. Or, “Lay on your back and watch clouds,”  to treat an overworked professional.  We all intuitively know nature works and now there is growing evidence, all documented in Louv’s book, that proves it. Kids who don’t have nature as a tool for living are at risk. At risk for depression and for numerous physical and emotional ailments.

What I do in my work is provide programs to help get kids outside so that they develop lifelong habits. That way, they’ll have nature to fall back on when the going gets tough. They’ll also just have fun. Hopefully they are getting a sense of wonder. It’s unfortunate that kids don’t have the unstructured access to nature that they used to, but we can’t go back.  My programs are structured. They have to be.  However, I’ll write about the “Criminalization of Natural Play” in my next post. There’s a lot more to read and comment about….