My name is Michelle Lipp and I am an early childhood educator turned play-at-home mom of three kids and one renegade garden. In the classroom, I was infamously known as the teacher who went outside no matter what.
I’ve taught in 5 states with varying climates and firmly believe in the Scandanavian proverb that there is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.
When my eldest son was in his first year of preschool, his principal (and my former supervisor) remarked that my kids must always get to play outside. I realized that I had become an indoor parent--that even though I had no issue dressing and undressing a dozen children belonging to other people to get them out into the fresh air, I had become complacent at doing so with my own.
Outdoor play and nature experiences are so integral to healthy bodies and minds and so vital to early development.
Children learn to sit still by moving around and the great outdoors is an ideal location for this. I needed to get my family (and myself) back outside and I needed a way to be accountable for that goal so just over a year ago at the end of winter, 2018, I founded a local nature based meetup group for families and professionals working with children to gather at local parks, playgrounds and nature spaces.
I call my group Park n’Play.
I live in the Richmond, VA area and our climate is fairly temperate. My group runs from the end of winter through the fall, although it is my goal to eventually have it be a year-round endeavor. I firmly believe that nature play and experience should be accessible to all regardless of age, ability, geographic location and socioeconomic status.
For that reason, I run my meetups free of charge and I am incredibly fortunate to live in an area with amazing public parks and nature spaces. I arrive with a nature-based or outdoor-friendly activity geared toward children of mixed ages and adults, a small, traveling nature-based library with relevant books for children and adults and more than anything else, it’s an opportunity to be outdoors together as a community and reap the benefits of fresh air and vitamin D.
2. Tell me about your first gardening experience?
I grew up when it was still OK to toss your kids out in the fenced in suburban backyard to play all day.
My mother, also an early childhood educator, gardened in our backyard. She had a vegetable garden, a flower bed and my sister and I had our own small plot to tend to. I was a notoriously picky eater who would munch raw chives straight from the whiskey barrel they were growing in and I am pretty sure I was covered in mud and smelled like onions at least until the age of 8.
The garden was a space for imaginative play, mud pies, digging up worms, picking cucumbers that were taller than I was and it was also a place where it was OK to fail, to fall and skin your knee and to learn the hard way that you can’t bring your pet goldfish back inside three days after his funeral.
3. How did you learn how to garden organically?
Adulthood and Parenthood are full of choices and many times we live in a society with option overload.In an ideal world, I would choose only organic produce and buy completely local and garden in a space that is fully free of chemical pesticides. My family currently lives in a rented property and our yard is semi-public and shared. Our property management uses lawn treatments I am not a fan of, so I choose to container garden and grow our produce in a raised bed table. Organic gardening is something I learned mainly by default. My mother gardened this way and I never really was exposed to other methods.