How to Raise a Wild Child


I received an advance reader’s copy of the book How to Raise a Wild Child by paleontologist and educator Scott Sampson over six months ago, and I’m just getting around to talking about it in this unsponsored review.  Is the fact I was busy raising wild children a good excuse?  I’d like to think so.

It is impossible to talk about a book about children and nature without bringing up Richard Louv’s contemporary classic The Last Child in the Woods.  In Louv’s book, he talks about how much reduced exposure to the natural world has so deeply changed society, and about what we can do to get some of those benefits back.  His Children & Nature Network has become an entire movement.

Scott Sampson’s new book has already joined Louv’s as a critically acclaimed go-to reference, but although they both have a very similar mission this book takes on a much different angle.

Louv’s book very much preaches to the choir.  It appealed most to those who already had one foot *out* the door.  He also wrote extensively about how the modern world’s infrastructure has changed our relationship with nature.  It is engagingly and accessibly written, and interesting from historical and sociological points of views. It captured the attention of a broad audience, from educators to politicians to conservationists and other scientists.

How to Raise a Wild Child seems to be more directed at the parents, but it doesn’t come off as condescending at all, as some parenting books can be.

He speaks of free play, of just immersing oneself in nature, and touches quite a bit on nature mentoring.  He explains how nature mentoring should not be preachy, and should be child-led.  You’re there as a guide, and not as a lecturer.  Nature mentoring can mean anything from starting a Forest Kindergarten for your community (thanks Angelika!) to simply not brushing your children off when they say “Why is the sky blue?”

Personally, I like to let my children be independent and push boundaries outdoors, but “free-range parenting” just brings to mind fried chicken to me (or maybe I’m just hungry from running around outside?) and helicopter parents are generally seen as too clingy.  He includes a great quote from nature writer Michele Whitaker:
“I call myself a hummingbird parent.  I tend to stay physically distant to let them explore and problem solve, but zoom in at moments when safety is an issue (which isn’t very often).”
This nature metaphor sounds like an appealing happy medium!

Your nature mentorship can have a broader reach than you’d suspect.  Over at the Friends of the Fells, where Angelika and I are both involved, another staffer and I discovered we had the same science teacher–at opposite ends of the state.  He taught and influenced me in the foothills of the Berkshires and her on Cape Cod.  And now we’ve met in the middle, working together to educate children on the same subject he helped inspire passion for.  Thanks Paul Niles!

Another thing Sampson focuses on is “thrivability”.  He doesn’t like the word “sustainability” because it has a bit of a “just treading water” feel.  We can do better than that!  Some nature geeks completely eschew screen time and technology.  As the host of PBS’s Dinosaur Train, it would be disingenuous if Sampson completely brushed it off.  It can be a matter of balance and perspective.  If your child is fascinated by “technology” but you’d like to expose them to more nature, consider GPS systems or telescopes and so on as a gateway.

I put technology in quotes because that is another area where perspective comes into play.  Some things are more transformed and processed than others, but truly the whole world is natural, is it not?  We need to keep sustainability (thrivability?) in mind when interacting with the world, but it might benefit us more to stop viewing them as separate.  We should innovate and support our human population in a way that is best in tune with our fauna and flora and the rest of the planet.  We’re all in it together and should stop viewing nature as separate.  The world right now is a very different place than it was several hundred or several thousand or several hundred thousand years ago.  But overall?  We still view it as beautiful.  Some conservation discussions take an Armegeddon approach.  While it is a serious subject indeed, that tends to inspire more hopelessness and depression than connection and action.  Yes, it is likely the status quo won’t remain.  The way we live on this planet will likely change in a big way–in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse.  But we’ll likely still see it as beautiful even if it is indeed very different.

This train of thought can be especially important in urban wilderness regions like the Greater Boston area.  Scott Sampson’s book has become an instant classic in outdoor education circles.  Start small–like with picking up this book!–and look at the big picture.


Stanley Park–Westfield, MA


Our followers in Western Massachusetts are probably familiar with Stanley Park.  It is large, beautiful, well-known, and has lots of amenities.  Those of you in Eastern Massachusetts (and everywhere!) who went to Westfield State University–as I did!–are surely familiar with Stanley Park.  The students are lucky enough to have it practically on campus.  It’s not officially, but it might as well be.  If neither of these things apply to you, and you’re one of our Greater Boston readers, this park may still be worth a visit.  It is quite close to Six Flags New England and other tourist attractions, so it is a doable side visit.

See that tent behind my speedy daughter? That's the jumbo sandbox, with shade and benches.

See that tent behind my speedy daughter? That’s the jumbo sandbox, with shade and benches.

As usual, playgrounds are a top priority for us and Stanley Park has a great one–a relatively recent rebuild.  It is large, and ADA accessible, with a toddler structure as well.  Stanley Park is quite accessible overall, and has an annual “Wheel Walk” tour to showcase this.
Some playground highlights include an extra large twisty slide, and a huge canopied sandbox.  The playground is fenced, and dogs aren’t allowed in that area, but are welcome leashed in the rest of the park.

(Click to enlarge thumbnails)


Stanley Park was founded by philanthropist Frank Stanley Beveridge in 1949. He moved to Massachusetts as a teen but he was originally from Canada–a legacy that is shown in the famous black squirrels he introduced to the park.

My nephew and daughters found a different kind of "tree fort".

My nephew and daughters found a different kind of “tree fort”.


Stanley Park has many other amenities.  It will always hold a special place in our hearts because Craig and I got married there, right between the Rose Garden, the fountain, and the dinosaur tracks!  It also has many other award-winning gardens, hiking trails, playing fields, and event pavilions.  They are known for their historical tours and the wide variety of community-building events they host.

My husband took this photo. I would NOT have taken this photo because I have a goose phobia. But I'll grudgingly admit it shows off the duck pond area pretty well.

My husband took this photo. I would NOT have taken this photo because I have a goose phobia. But I’ll grudgingly admit it shows off the duck pond area pretty well.

Please take some time to check out some more photos at the Facebook feed and the park webpage linked above. We were rushing around with small kids and didn’t have time to do the gorgeous grounds justice photography-wise.

Do you have any favorite Stanley Park memories?




Springs Brook Park

The last time we went to Springs Brook Park was two years ago. Last year they closed in early/middle August and we missed the chance to go. We made sure to go this year:

SPRINGS BROOK PARK is a man-made, filtered, swimming facility. The park is set back in a beautiful wooded setting. It is located at 181 Springs Road, just north of the four way intersection at Springs Road, Page Road and Pine Hill Road. SBP is staffed by lifeguards/swim instructors who are certified in water safety,lifeguard training, first aid and professional rescuer CPR.

Turns out there are some changes for this year. For 2015 the park is not open on weekends. There is now minigolf and a few other extra things to do.

General Info

Hours: Monday-Friday: 10:30-7:30 —  Saturday & Sunday: CLOSED (Park will not be open on weekends summer 2015.)

Cost: $7 per person, with a maximum of $25 per family, free for under 1y.o.

GPS coordinates:


Springs Brook Park has a decent sized parking lot, which is free. I like to get there as close as possible to opening as I can. I suggest arriving before 11am, or after 3pm.

Stuff to Do

  • Sandy beach with shade
  • playground
  • sprinkler park
  • water slide (must be >9y.o., or level 3 swimmer, or wear a life jacket)
  • swim lessons
  • volleyball, basketball, golfball (I’m sure that should be a thing)
  • concession stand (reasonably priced – e.g., icecreams are $1 to $2) that sells snacks, icecream, drinks, hot dogs, pizza
  • mini golf
  • barbecue spots
  • picnic tables


playground photos

Playground at Springs Brook Park

lake photos

Panorama of man made lake at Springs Brook Park


Beach and Lake at Springs Brook Park


Lake at Springs Brook Park

Panoram of Sprinkler Park at Springs Brook Park - sorry, it looks wonky as panorama

Panoram of Sprinkler Park at Springs Brook Park – sorry, it looks wonky as panorama

Figment Boston 2015

We needed a Figment Boston fix!  Last year we took the train to the city, and the skies opened up.  We got in exactly one round of garden gnome mini-golf before the festival shut down early due to inclement weather.

For this weekend’s festival, the skies were also quite overcast on the way in, but it stayed dry enough to make the most of the festivities all weekend.  Plus, while we’ve been lucky enough to be able to spend half the summer camping, weekends home have been tied up with various obligations and home repair–part of the reason updates have been slow in coming.  It was nice and relaxing to do something purely fun in our own area!

To read more about the history and the mission behind the Figment art festival click here to read our last post on the subject.  Meanwhile, on to the fun stuff:

The installation below is called the Collabyrinth.  Participants attempt to move the ball through the maze by stepping on panels.  All the displays are creative and interactive, but it is not a requirement that they be Boston-themed.  People seem to get a kick out of it when they are, though.



The contraption below is called Mobius Chess.  I’m not going to lie.  I’m a pretty high energy person who does not usually have the focus to sit down and play strategic games.  But a glowing 3-D chess game on a dance floor?  I might be tempted to give it a try!  Add in the commentary (intended or not) that this “game of life” goes on indefinitely, and they’ve got a neat concept here.


Mobius Chess

Next up was Look to Start.  Someone had artistically embedded simple words in homemade bricks, and the concept was basically the same as magnetic poetry. My 6-year-old is a beginning reader, and she was thrilled she could make out all the words.  She then proceeded to spell out “My but but” and giggle but others came up with more profound messages.

Look To Start

Look To Start

This is Sprite’s Delight.  They are leaping water fountains.  They were like a poor man’s version of the Imagination Fountains at Epcot, but the low budget aspect did not faze any of the kids (or adults).  Everyone was entranced, wanting to chase the droplets.

Sprite's Delight

Sprite’s Delight

The installation below is called Place:  Suspended.  There was a little green platform with train set props and little toys. Participants could design their own park, and then it’d be sent up on an anchored balloon periodically.  This was a big hit!  The kids play with their doll house only sporadically but I suspect this could have kept them occupied all day–perhaps because they love nature themes. Plus, we love anything related to park rebuilds here at Playground Hunt.


This one is called Color Drops.  “Nest Rests” are becoming more and more trendy.  Nearly everyone I talk to would love one for their yard, and it’d be fun to see more in urban spaces, as well.

Color Drops

Color Drops

For Exquisite Creature, they had a frame where you could cover up two thirds of the paper, and participants took turns drawing a head, a body, or feet without knowing what their teammates created.  Many whimsical and hilarious drawings emerged.  This could be easily adapted at home.  I will definitely keep it up my sleeve for rainy days.  Click to enlarge to get a better look at the crazy critters (both the drawings and my spawn).

Exquisite Creature

Exquisite Creature

This is just a small sampling of what was there! In addition to the art booths, there were many performances. There was the “Happily Booth” performance art space, many dance shows, and a bubble wrap dance floor combined with a bubble blowing station.


Bridget looks like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders, but in truth her mood was lighter than ever!

We always have a wonderful time at Figment!  If I had a question or criticism it would be about the fact there were a good handful of booths sitting empty.  In the past, we’d only been able to make it on Sunday so we weren’t sure if a lot of people just don’t make it the second day.  But this year we made it on a busy Saturday and it was the same.  They may have drop-outs, or some artists may only come at night.  We haven’t tried that yet!  I heard it turns into a whole different place, and many of the installations are built to incorporate light or glow-sticks.  I’m not sure if it is as kid-friendly then, but we hope to experience it one day.  Either way, an explanation for the obvious gaps would be nice, but there is still PLENTY to see, so they cause more curiousity than disappointment.

In addition to the Figment sponsored art, it is a good time to go check out the Greenway Conservancy Public Art Program installations, from Janet Echelman’s As If It Were Already Here, and beyond.

As always, Playground Hunt is excited to take part in events that combine green space, community, and art, and we look forward to next year, as well as some of the other events and festivals our creative city is known for.



Best Giant Bubble Recipe


  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 cup blue Dawn dish detergent – original
  • 1/2 cup corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder (not baking soda)
  • 1 Tbsp Glycerine


  1. Mix cornstarch in the water, stirring very well.
  2. Gently stir in the remaining ingredients without making froth
  3. Allow mixture to sit for at least an hour.
  4. Stir occasionally if needed
  5. use giant bubble wands/rods




Avoid creating froth when playing with the mixture Overcast/humid conditions are best. Wind, dry air and sunlight will wick the moisture out of your bubbles.

Poison Ivy Field (Fence?) Guide


We receive quite a few questions about poison ivy.  I’m embarrassed to say I have the perfect specimen growing right in my yard!  We haven’t had a chance to veeeery carefully get rid of it yet.  Hopefully the photo will help clear some stuff up.  Except for your rash if you already have one.  Can’t help with that at the moment!

Anyway, a common phrase is “leaves of three, let it be”.  But there’s a lot that looks like it could be it if that’s the main thing  you’re going on, right?  Poison ivy can be tricky even for the experienced because it can look so different at different ages and stages.

I decided to get a shot of this because it has multiple good examples.  See how the leaves are a bit shiny when they are little?  That progressively goes away and they tend to darken up as it gets bigger.  And see the actual vine?  That red, hairy vine?  It just looks like it wants to define the word itch, right?  Don’t touch that either; it can also give you a rash.  It can get pretty thick and ropy–up to several inches across.  It can get you even in the winter, when the leaves are dead.  We hope you’re a treehugger, but be careful about it!

Anyway, I may add to this or post a follow up with more trivia, history, and avoidance and treatment tips at some point.  But now that this stuff is out there in earnest I wanted to get the photo up if anyone wanted to bookmark it.  And do that, because I hope to cautiously get rid of it before anyone can come check it out in person!

Camping Checklist

Angelika’s Car-Camping Checklist, with free printable pdf file at the end. I have linked each item to the actual product I use. This is the list I use to go with Alex and Jen. We sleep together on a Queen-sized mattress and all in a double sleeping bag. We put sleeping at one end of the giant 8-person tent and the table at the other. The kids keep their toys and books there so that they are off the floor.




  • table
  • chairs
  • insect repellant
  • sun screen
  • bikes
  • clothes line
  • powercord rated for outside use
  • insect bite medicine
  • allergy medicine
  • camp towels


  • underwear
  • shorts
  • shirts
  • pants
  • fleece top
  • rain jacket
  • sandals
  • swim suit
  • sun hat

Here is the downloadable pdf file Car-CampingCheckListbyPlaygroundHunt


Best Body Paint Recipe

We have tried making body and face paint from a bunch of different ingredients. This is the best one we have made: the paint doesn’t dry or crumble, and it washed off easily with soap and water.

  • 1Tbsp shortening
  • 2Tbsp corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp tempera paint powder

Mix and paint on skin with brushes or fingers

Wash off with soap and water

Here are some photos of us testing the different skin paints we made


Best Play-Dough Recipe

This is the best play dough recipe we have made. It does need to be cooked, but it is totally worth it. We kept this dough in little zip bags and it stayed usable for months. The recipe worked best when our food processor did all the kneading work.

Color, sparkles, glitter, etc. can be added at the end. Unless you need Frozen dough, then according to Jen you add blue and sparkles to EVERYTHING 😀


  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups salt
  • 6 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 3 cups cool water
  • 3 Tbsp oil
  • Food coloring



  1. Mix dry ingredients in a big cooking pot.
  2. Blend liquids together in a bowl.
  3. Combine with dry ingredients and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.
    • dough will start solidifying – KEEP STIRRING
  4. Remove from heat when dough pulls away from the sides of the pot and can be pinched without sticking (about 5 min.)
  5. Put into food mixer (KitchenAid) with dough hook and knead until smooth
    • alternatively turn onto board or counter and knead until smooth
  6. Store in an airtight container.

Arty Campers

In case you didn’t notice, the big plan I had last year of funding and publishing Recipes for Disaster was, well, as disaster: I was in hospital for a week instead of promoting the Kickstarter during it’s last few days. It didn’t get fully funded and since those projects are an all-or-nothing deal, bajillions of cute children didn’t get to mush around in home-made paint. Sigh 😉

I still got to go and show people what it was all about while we were camping at Searsport Shores Ocean Campground as an artist-in-residence in July 2014. And guess what! They said I could come back for 2015!!! Proof: Artist in Residence Schedule

I will be showing campers how to:

In case you can’t join me in Maine from June 28 to July 4, I’m going to post my best recipes from my Recipes for Disaster collection. I’m so sad I can’t use my slogan: Tested by Children, Perfected by Science