Kids instinctively understand the ancient art of weaving and they love doing it. When you present them with the opportunity to weave outdoors with freely available local plant material, working collaboratively in small groups, you have a winning combination and a landscape element that can easily be integrated into most nature play spaces.
EarthLoom was developed by Maine artists Susan and Richard Merrill as an artistic expression of community building. Embedded within the practical act of weaving are elements of cooperation, collaboration, and peacemaking. Their EarthLoom Foundation helps support projects around the world.
As a landscape architect and CPSI (Certified Playground Safety Inspector) involved in nature play space design in the Mid-Atlantic region, I encourage institutions to include nature play elements in their spaces. As a longtime weaver, however, I was deeply moved following the groundbreaking of a nature play space at the Tremont Elementary School on Mount Desert Island, Maine, last June. Designer Kreg McCune created an EarthLoom, the physical and symbolic centerpiece of this new space. Within only a few hours, kids of all ages had created a work of art on it.
Last fall, when a work group within the Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature planned its inaugural Nature Play Space workshop, they decided to create an EarthLoom as a participatory event, and later donate it to the host, Brookside Gardens, in Wheaton, Maryland, for their children’s garden. The event was attended by 150 teachers and park staff, and the adults took to weaving just as the kids in Maine had. The EarthLoom itself was built by young adult volunteers from the Maryland Conservation Corps, using wood from downed trees in local parks. They lovingly stripped and smoothed the bark, and even incised plant patterns on its surface.
This April, another EarthLoom will take shape, at the NoVA Outside annual conference, “Early Childhood Outside: The Arts in Nature.” Again, an EarthLoom will be built and donated to the event’s host school, Westlawn Elementary School, in Falls Church, Virginia. An easily accessible webinar on using EarthLoom in a nature play space is planned for this summer to assist school and park staff in the siting, appropriate sizing, and programming of EarthLoom curriculum activities. Hopefully, this simple yet profound project can be shared with people everywhere.