My husband and I recently had the opportunity to visit a place I had read about in the newspaper and heard about on NPR: High Line Park in Manhattan. Years ago, an elevated railroad ran parallel to the Hudson River to serve the meat packing district of New York City. It was eventually abandoned and was left to rust and decay. Nature, however, had another idea. Areas of wild flowers self-seeded, and while the tracks were still littered with railroad ties and debris of every description, the flowers continued to bloom. Very long story short, a preservation group was formed, grants were obtained, and years of work went into transforming this useless and forgotten relic into an absolutely lush, gorgeous, paradise. Blooming, berry-laden trees are filled with birds; ornamental grasses are interspersed with bushes, flowers, and sculptures. Cut-outs and overlooks branching off the path that follows the tracks provide shady places to sit and watch the river on one side, the busy city life on the other. There are two terraced seating areas for concerts and other entertainment, a unique food court inside an old loading dock where we had the very best Mexican food EVER for only $13 TOTAL for the two of us, a delightful water feature for the kids to walk through, and SO much more. You can learn more about this magical place at www.thehighline.org. You can read a fictional account in the CURIOUS GARDEN, a children’s book by Peter Brown that was inspired by this amazing park, which I use with my speech/language students for Earth Day.
As my husband and I strolled the length of High Line Park, we wondered how many of the other folks on the path were visitors like us, or residents of the city. That led to a discussion about how often people don’t take advantage of sites, events, and experiences “in their own backyard” but will travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to visit places in somebody else’s “backyard.” How many Philadelphians have actually gone to see the Liberty Bell? the new Constitution Center? Independence Hall? How many people in Bucks County (where I live in suburban Philly) have visited historic sites and natural wonders in “our backyard” or even know that they exist? Bringing this discussion even closer to home, I wondered how many of my students know who our school was named for. Do they know that the lake in Core Creek Park, a lovely county park surrounded by the developments the students live in, is man-made and is called Lake Luxembourg? Do they know why? It’s an interesting but little known story with roots in WWII. Do they know about the Moon Tree planted there, after the seed that started it traveled on one of the Apollo missions? Are they aware that soldiers from Washington’s army are buried in a small cemetery just around the corner from our school, and that the cemetery was only recently discovered when an old diary was found that documented it? That Ben Franklin flew his kite just 5 or 6 miles from school, and that he is rumored to have rested against a tree a few long blocks from the school on his way to Philadelphia, a tree that is still there? That, where the K-Mart stands, there was once a famous auto racing track on which raced all the big names of the 1950s and 60s, the grandfathers of famous race car drivers today? And that’s just a tiny bit of the rich history in our little neck of the woods. Our county is full of history, fun facts, and interesting places to visit, and I’m willing to bet that most are unknown to the parents as well. As our discussion continued, an idea came to me: why not use information about local people and places in speech/language therapy? Our local historical society, county parks office, and county visitors’ bureau have lots of informative brochures, as do various historical sites throughout the county. One of my goals for the summer: to collect these brochures and maps of the area to use for vocabulary, reading comprehension, note-taking, and articulation practice at reading and conversational levels. Won’t that be so much more meaningful and intriguing than just pulling generic materials off the shelf! Maybe this will even inspire some to visit the “treasures in our own backyard.”