Jesus spoke often of the natural world: lilies of the field, fig trees, fish, seeds, sheep, sparrows, wheat fields, wolves, wind, and water. The psalms call us to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness," and that's not just about stained glass windows and exquisite liturgy but about seeing God's hand in all the complex beauty of the universe, down to the flowers in our neighborhoods, the birds tending their nests, and, as I said a week ago, the soil itself. Genesis tells us that when God looked at all of creation, God saw that it was "very good." We need to be out there in the midst of it with our children.
So today I'm going to go back to my suggestion of last week that we build fairy houses with our children: it gets them playing in the dirt, hunting for natural objects to help build and beautify the houses they make; it introduces them to the different textures and weights of such things as stones and sticks, leaves and flowers, bark and shells -- and it satisfies their need to "make something." (Theologians write about how human beings are "co-creators" with God; all you have to do is watch children draw or build to know the truth of their inherent creativity.)
For those of you with access to sand beaches, you've probably already built sand castles with your children. Fairy houses are an inland version. The only "rule" is that you are supposed to use only natural objects in the creation of these houses (although my very favorite book about a fairy house is one from my own childhood: Twig, by Elizabeth Orton Jones, about a little girl who makes a fairy house in her small back yard using an empty tomato can that she sets under a dandelion, so I would say use whatever you find in your own environment....).
The fairy house pictured above is one that my sister-in-law built in her garden -- children aren't the only creators, after all -- and you can see her exquisite attention to aesthetic detail. When I took my grandson, at about nine years old, to the pine grove on Mackworth Island to build a fairy house, he was interested in the solidity of his architecture, in his sturdy stone floor and square windows and solid walls. He didn't care about the shells and flowers the island offered; he built to last. Clearly, everyone's vision and implementation will be different.
Doing this kind of creative play in the natural world may be one of the best prayers we can offer, among the best gifts we can give to the children in our care. So go play in the dirt again!
(And, if your children do make fairy houses, send photos so we can all see them!)