Child Born of the Woods

by | Jan 8, 2024 | Outdoor Play

Every year at our TimberNook conference, teachers and providers share stories of the amazing effects TimberNook has on children in their programs. This past year, we invited six teenagers and young adults who spent many years at TimberNook to share their own stories and memories as part of a “kid panel”.  The adults asked them questions about their fondest memories, their most difficult challenges, and how TimberNook prepared them for life. Their stories were raw, funny, and unexpected!

One of the participants on the panel, was my own daughter Joelle who is currently applying to college. Joelle has been a part of TimberNook since she was just five-years-old.  She gave me permission to share her college essay with you.  We hope you will enjoy reading about her time in the woods and its effect on her young life.     — .Angela Hanscom is the founder and director of TimberNook.

Child Born of the Woods by Joelle Hanscom

As a child, I grew up playing in the woods. It was my home. My mom ran summer camps she called TimberNook in the twelve acres of woods that we have in our backyard. She raised me to love the outdoors. “Don’t come in until dinner time unless you have to use the bathroom!” my mom would call as she tossed me outside, closing the door behind her. 

I was running through the woods. I was running away from something. Someone. I turned to look behind me to see if they were still in pursuit. I almost tripped over a root and fell on my face, dropping the valuable treasure I was carrying. Gasping for air, I willed my legs to move faster; to make enough power to take me away. My grungy bare feet hit the forest floor faster, but not fast enough. They failed me. 

One of the boys grabbed the rubber tire that I was trying to carry back to the safety of the girl’s fort. He yanked it as I called for backup. “I need some help over here!” I heaved it back just as hard, refusing to give up after a very elaborate tire escape plan was agreed upon by everyone. 

We had all huddled in the safe enclosure of our lean-to fortress, whispering about our plan. One of us would create a distraction. This would pull the boys away from their sad attempt at a fort. Then, while the others were busy, someone was going to sneak into their fort and steal our tire back. I was the leader, so I was elected to fetch it.  This game was called war. Boys versus girls. The strong would conquer all of the loose parts that were in the woods, and the weak? Well, let’s just say that, by the time that the week was over, they were that scraggly looking fort in the corner of the woods with not a single tire to its name.

The stealing and the secret societies started getting out of hand so the counselors called a democratic meeting during lunch time where problems were resolved by majority vote.

“You should only be able to steal things that aren’t attached to forts,” one of the boys said. 

“You’re just going to make the tires and everything a part of your fort so that no one can steal them!” I cried.

Then a thirty minute debate between sides broke out with lots of pouting and yelling. No solution was agreed upon, so we just went back to playing the TimberNook way. 

By the end of the week, everyone was completely worn out from the full week of playing in the woods. We were all covered in grime, dirt smeared on our faces. On the last day, everyone filed out of the woods leaving our stick swords and beaded necklaces behind. Taking one last look over our shoulders, we rounded the last wooded corner and went home. 

I still go out into the woods and remember all those times I was free to play like a kid. I remember the wars that we waged against each other; the battle cries and whooping that could be heard throughout the woods. Remembering the faces of pure joy that were blurs as I ran past them through the woods is my favorite. Bravery, resilience, leadership, and independence took root in me, thanks to my childhood. Because I grew up playing in the woods, constantly facing challenges I have become a stronger person. While most kids my age struggle with their identities, I know exactly who I am. TimberNook will always be there in the back of my mind, just waiting for me to revisit the comfort of the forest. I still climb to the very top of my favorite tree, in the heart of the forest, and just listen. Just be.