The story of the boy, the stump, and Superman

I’m often asked what inspired me to start Suited & Booted.

There are many different ways to respond to that question. For instance, I might talk about my background in early childhood education, my love of nature, my physical literacy epiphany, or the study tours I’ve taken in Iceland and Scotland. All of these pieces played a crucial role in starting Suited & Booted, and I’m sure I’ll get around to writing about each of these at some point.

However, for this first post, I thought that I would share a story. It’s a story about nature, about play, about risk assessment, and my small part in this story led to a much bigger role in the creation of Suited & Booted only a short while later.

The boy, the stump, and Superman

This past spring, I had the opportunity to visit several nature play spaces in and around Glasgow. During one of these visits, I met a young boy, who had noticed a small stump that was next to a rope labyrinth that had been set up in the woods where their program was taking place. He had kicked it while he and I were playing, and then he expressed his concern that someone might trip over the stump and fall into the ropes.

He started to make a plan to remove the stump. First he tried to kick it. Then he tried to pull it out of the ground and fell over. He adjusted his posture, and tried to pull it out of the ground again, this time without bending over, so that he wouldn’t fall. Still, no luck.

He decided that he needed a tool, so he looked around and found a stick. His first strategy was to use the stick like a lever, trying to pull or pry the stump from the ground. When that didn’t seem to work, he used the stick another way, trying to “smash” the stump. After several attempts, he decided that he needed a bigger stick to smash the stump, and the stick he decided on was a large branch that was being used as a boundary marker.

When he began to lift the large branch, he caught the attention of another adult. Not one of the early childhood educators, but rather, someone who worked for the Forestry Commission. While replacing the large boundary branch, the man listened to the boy talk about his concern about the stump. The man talked to him about stumps and roots and how it would take someone at least as strong as Iron Man or Superman to pull a stump out of the ground. As he listened to the boy and answered his questions, the man continued the work that he had been doing sawing down a few smaller stumps that were in the play area. The boy brought him over to his stump and asked him to do the same. So he did, and the boy declared that he was “Superman”.

My favourite part of the story comes next, though, because when the stump was removed, it wasn’t just discarded. Superman handed the stump to the boy and told him to find a good place to put the stump because now it would become a fairy house.

Lessons learned from this story

  • Children are capable of risk assessment (and they do it without being told!)

  • Stumps are not easily removed from the ground

  • You don’t have to have a degree in child development to listen to children

  • Fairies live in stumps

  • Superman lives in Scotland (and he works for the forestry commission!)