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Dam building, Kalena and Jeremy, Bullimah Beach, Bouddi NP, NSW

Dam building, Kalena and Jeremy, Bullimah Beach, Bouddi NP, NSW

The earliest dam in the historic record was built by King Menes, a little before 3000 B.C. at the start of the 1st Dynasty. Menes built a large dam around the city of Memphis to protect it from the occasionally catastrophic Nile floods. Earth dams were later built by the Babylonians to irrigate land. This dam was built purely for fun.

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I’m not sure why kids build dams, but I did as a child. Perhaps it’s that sense of achievement in capturing that mercurial, transparent, mysterious substance that slips through the fingers.  01 08_dam-building_Bullimah_Beach_Bouddi2

Kalena and Jeremy went to great efforts to construct one a little stream (with frogs calling and lizards under the rocks) trickling onto Bullimah Beach in Bouddi NP in NSW. They worked cooperatively and enthusiastically and had soon made a modest dam. 01 08_dam-building_Bullimah_Beach_Bouddi4

With bare hands one rock on top of another then another, packing a hut then adding language to build something the Romans did, like a house, fort or temple with all the weight of the world. The air we inhale is so light.

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I recall the sense of achievement for having made a pool. I sailed leaves or pinned sticks together, using another as a mast with a large leaf as a sail. Play is both wonderfully pleasurable and functional; the kitten chasing leaves is developing hunting skills. The child is developing her imagination, planning, cooperation and conceptual skills.

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Controlling and playing with and in water is elemental. Constructing a dam using sand, mud, rock – elemental materials – is a more dynamic version of building sand castles (until the tide comes in).

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Even though you know when you sleep that the water will build and build until it flows over the top, or, and this is more likely, finds the weakest part of the wall and sneaks in, its trickle becoming a flood.

Jeremy opened up the dam wall to watch the water sluice through under control. Water has an ancient tradition of finding the sea.


Children playing in natural environments with natural materials is very healthy

‘Children play at hunting, gathering, hut construction, tool making, meal preparations, defense against predators, birthing, infant care, healing, negotiation, and so on and so on; and gradually, as their play become increasingly skilled, the activities become productive. The play becomes work, but it does not cease being play. It may even become more fun than before, because the productive quality helps the whole band and is valued by all.’ Peter Gray.

Playing outdoors, away from computers, TV, walls is beneficial in many ways:

•          Children with views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. The greener, the better the scores (Wells 2000, Taylor et al. 2002).

  • Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often (Grahn, et al. 1997, Fjortoft & Sageie 2001).
  • When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse with imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills (Moore & Wong 1997, Taylor, et al. 1998, Fjortoft 2000).
  • Exposure to natural environments improves children’s cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills (Pyle 2002).
  • Nature buffers the impact of life’s stresses on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits (Wells & Evans 2003).
  • Play in a diverse natural environment reduces or eliminates bullying (Malone & Tranter 2003).
  • Nature helps children develop powers of observation and creativity and instills a sense of peace and being at one with the world (Crain 2001).
  • Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder (Cobb 1977, Louv 1991). Wonder is an important motivator for life long learning (Wilson 1997).
  • Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other (Moore 1996).
  • Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children (Moore 1986, Bixler et al. 2002).
  • Outdoor environments are important to children’s development of independence and autonomy (Bartlett 1996).
  • Play in outdoor environments stimulates all aspects of children development more readily than indoor environments (Moore & Wong 1997).
  • An affinity to and love of nature, along with a positive environmental ethic, grow out of regular contact with and play in the natural world during early childhood. Children’s loss of regular contact with the natural world can result in a biophobic future generation not interested in preserving nature and its diversity (Bunting & Cousins 1985; Chawla 1988; Wilson 1993; Pyle 1993; Chipeniuk 1994; Sobel 1996, 2002 & 2004; Hart 1997; Wilson 1997, Kals et al. 1999; Moore & Cosco 2000; Fisman 2001; Kellert 2002; Bixler et al. 2002; Kals & Ittner 2003; Schultz et al. 2004).

From Randy White, ‘Benefits for Children of Play in Nature’,

However, dams are very problematic. India and China are building and planning huge dams – see Sudha Ramachandran’s Water Wars: China, India and the Great Dam Rush: The construction of dams on major rivers has serious implications for millions living downstream.


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