Maya’s Marvelous Walk in the Woods

In Last Child in the Woods, published in 2005, Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe the human cost of alienation from the natural world. At a time when the virtual is fast becoming our reality, the impact on young children’s development remains an open question. Today’s researchers, on torturously slow academic timelines, are scurrying to find the answers in real time, parents’ and teachers’ anxiety growing.


Meanwhile, in other developed countries, outdoor preschools and kindergartens have taken root in ancient forests and city parks.  Those who create the worlds that children inhabit in and away from home understand the connection between nature and their spirits, brains, and imagination.

This past summer, Jamaal Bowman’s young daughter was drawn to the woods in Tibbetts Brook Park near her home in Yonkers, New York, Westchester County’s most populous city.  The stream, which provided fresh water and food for the Lenape Native American inhabitants of the region, flows south into Van Cortland Park, and west to the Harlem River Ship Canal. Among the county’s first sites developed for recreation, the park was named for George Tippett (the name was altered along the way), a 17th-century settler whose descendants were driven off the land for their loyalist sympathies during the American Revolution.

Bowman, a passionate advocate for the whole child, began his career as an elementary school teacher at P.S. 90. The founding principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School, he was trained by New Leaders for New Schools, after serving as a guidance counselor, teacher, and dean of students at the High School of Art and Technology.  This post originally appeared on Bowman’s Facebook page.  I am publishing it here with his permission.


By Jamaal A. Bowman

I’m a city kid. Born and raised in Manhattan. I now live not far from Tibbets Brook Park, in Yonkers. The love of my life (except, of course, for my wife, Melissa Oppenheimer Bowman), my three-year-old daughter, Maya, decided that we should take a walk through the woods. On the way back, my baby’s legs were tired, so she received a shoulder ride that daddies like me love to give.

While walking back we both heard a ruffle in the woods. “Daddy, what was that?” Maya asked.  “Probably just a squirrel,” I said. “No, daddy it’s a deer,” she replied.  I turn to my left and “holy shit” (in my mind, of course), this beautiful deer is looking back at us! Again, I’m a city kid. We marveled at the deer for a moment before proceeding home.

As we continued walking, we got about twenty to thirty feet when Maya—not me and my old ass ears by the way—hears another sound. After walking a couple of steps she says “Daddy, look! Another one.” Lo and behold, another deer takes a break from his dinner to give us the head nod and say “What up?”

I’m just so blessed that Maya gets to experience all of this. Think of how many kids do not. The opportunity gap is #realtalk. Maya gets to experience so much, her brain constantly flying on all cylinders.

We need to make sure that every child receives the same opportunities as Maya and children like her.


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