As I listen to people debate the root causes of school violence, I feel like we have become expert finger pointers and lousy idea generators. Whatever causes contribute to these crises, there are positive things that we all can do to try and improve the mental health of our children. I strongly believe that creating little sanctuaries within and outside of our schools can help. Now, I have no children, but I was once one. Because I grew up in the middle of nowhere, interacting with peers on a daily basis at school was a real adjustment for me. Trying to process my feelings after various, failed interactions was extremely stressful. Most of the time, long walks with my dogs helped me get my head right. Everyone needs a place to escape to now and then. Why not create beautiful spots at our schools, where children can find themselves and the peace that lies within them?
As I contemplate which trees are the right trees for a playground setting, I keep looking backwards with my mind's eye. The trees I loved as a kid are widely viewed as "junk trees" now. Willows, Boxelders and Cottonwoods would all have made my crayon scrawled list of favorites. Why? Because they were climbable! They supported swings and tree houses. Their low branches were prime real estate for rookie tree climbers with short legs. Oaks would have also made the cut. Acorns make such wonderful pawns in childhood games. Certainly, they can be weaponized as well; but taunting assailants must have excellent aim in order to use them effectively. Even as an adult, I have been known to engage in a campground game of "Stick-Nut" with my husband. Sure, we could just bring a proper bat and ball, but that wouldn't be as fun. Crabapples (with fruit) would also have been on my kid list. What other ingredient could possibly fill their void in a tasty pot of mud soup? I'm no psychologist, but I firmly believe that a healthy imagination is critical to mental health; especially for children.
My dream playground includes several, "upside down" crabapples. Personally, I think weeping trees are beautiful. However, it seems like many folks have a hard time visualizing them on their properties. Younger eyes might be able to see pink waterfalls or Barbie hair or cotton candy. One or two willows will have to be included. What kid doesn't want to feel like Tarzan for a few moments out of the day? Pendulous branches make perfect camouflage during games of Hide-and-Seek. They also serve admirably as temporary "hair-dos" and "beards". An Oak or two must also be utilized. Their longevity and strength can transcend generations. Trees should be legendary and Oaks have that potential. A few, American Elms would also be nice. Long gone are the times when our streets were encompassed by the arching canopies of elms on either side. Now that Dutch Elm Disease resistant trees exist, we need to show future generations the amazing ambiance they can create.
While I am just scratching the surface with these ideas, I know that trees made a difference for me. They were objective listeners to my silent, childhood plights. Their branches embraced me whenever I dwelt beneath them. As I learned to "pump" my swing to new altitudes, I was rocked into a hypnotic state. No Earthly cares could invade my brain. Sharing my peace with future generations through trees is a dream come true. I can hardly wait to get started!