Students run across the play field at Roxhill Elementary in Southwest Seattle during Wilderness Awareness School's after-school program.

Experiencing nature connection on South Seattle’s playfields

I was working at one of our Northwest Recess 360 After-school Programs at an inner-city South Seattle elementary school. During a primitive fire-making demonstration, I started bow- drilling, when the children told me that they hadn’t seen fire before. I assumed that they meant they hadn’t seen primitive fire-making before, as most would say. I continued working with the bow drill, and asking them questions, and it finally became clear that (except for a lighter) they’d never actually seen a real flame.

My heart leapt hearing that, as I thought about all the wonderful experiences I’ve had with fire in my life. When the kids started seeing smoke come from my bow drill, they were beside themselves. When I was able to create a coal, they crowded around, amazed. When I transferred that coal to a tinder bundle, blew on it, and  it finally burst into flame, they were screaming with excitement. They thought it was magic, that I was some kind of wizard. They expressed both their complete disbelief that it could be possible and their incredible joy that it actually was real.

Later that week, at another school, I had a similar experience. With both, I found myself deeply emotional. I hoped that their elation went beyond the cool “trick” I’d performed – that it would engage and expand their hearts, to allow space for a relationship with fire to begin to grow. Fire has played such a strong role in my life. I felt incredibly grateful, moved, honored, to be in a position to share that experience with them for the first time, and to be part of the start of their journey of future experiences with fire. It’s a powerful journey, one that we share in all of our work with youth, and now have the privilege to extend to public school campuses.

Though there in the city, in some ways it also felt like I was in the wild – an explorer able to share uncharted territory – a new experience on such a huge scale as that of our relationship with fire. Working with it so regularly, I sometimes take fire for granted. Yet if we think about our own experiences around a campfire, camping with friends or in our backyards, what incredibly charged and emotional events they can be. Seeing that from the ground up, I felt renewed motivation to continue our work with these kids. Hopefully, one day, we’ll have the opportunity to take them beyond our concrete playgrounds, where they can gather around a real campfire, cook food, tell stories, perhaps having helped start that fire themselves, and open their lives to a whole new journey.

Here are some photos of a recent after-school adventure at Roxhill Elementary in South Seattle.

Wilderness Awareness School Instructors Lindsey Smith and Matt De Jong circle up with students at the start of a recent after-school program at Roxhill Elementary.

Instructors and students joke around during the after-school program at Roxhill.

Students play with leaf piles at Roxhill.

Instructor Lindsey Smith leads students in a blindfold nature activity in the park near Roxhill.

Merilee Wilmore

About Merilee Wilmore

Merilee is Lead Instructor for our Community School program for teens and Coordinator of our Wild Within Teen Adventures program. She also instructs at our Northwest Recess 360: Recess and After-school Programs. See our Staff Biographies page to learn more about Merilee.


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