Monday, 30 April 2012

Getting out of the box

Getting out of the box

If you can't contact me in the next hour I'm on my way down to Silverton Primary with some insulated bolt cutters to cut of the power feed to the school. It seems its the only way. An XBOX in the cosmopolitan.... maybe they can hook the kids up with some games that emulate playing in a playground, running, jumping, socialising, interacting with each other and their environment, or they could stop staring at the screen and turn round....ahhh... there's the real thing. 

Just in case your wondering, the last time  I checked there were suggestions that  twelve different forms of intelligence had been identified and you'd really be pushing the definition to suggest "interacting" with computers was the logical-mathematical aspect.  I do recognise that we live in a world that increasingly requires computer literacy as a basic vehicle for material success.....however, the ability to interact with a computer is a skill, not a life, and is definitely NOT creative.  Focussing solely on computer interaction as a measure of success does the children a serious disservice, although starting to train the potential worker at an early age is great for our corporate world...

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above   

"XBOX is the new hopscotch at Silverton Primary School. Set into the outside wall of the toilet block, along with a Wii, it signals a new approach not just to lunchtimes, but to learning. Uproarious laughter, I just fell off my chair.

There are two rules. Number one: Pass the remote to the next person after your turn and go to the end of the line. Number two: Don't fight. Both are upheld without fuss. After all, these children are digital natives who adapt faster to emerging technologies - and their rules - than their parents and teachers.

Nor is Xbox the only lunchtime play option for Generation Z  (Generation What???, You're making that  up!, or regurgitating someone else's limited creativity. Also I think the authors trying a bit to hard to sell data masquerading as a story). Silverton Primary also has a television studio and radio station and students are welcome to do some music editing or recording when the suites are free.

Radio station 87.5FM broadcasts within a two-kilometre radius of the school and attracts a fiercely loyal following. Its listeners, aka proud parents, tune in their car radios at the school pick-up. They might end up the talent; interviewed by their children in a ''live cross'' at 3pm. The students have carte blanche to broadcast whatever and whenever they like, although they are taught safety guidelines, such as not to use surnames on air. They chat about life and the future.

Principal Tony Bryant can recall only one hiccup, years ago, when a student jumped into the studio fired up after a defeat on the soccer pitch and went crook about a teacher from the opposing school he reckoned had cheated. ''We trust our kids a lot,'' Bryant says.

If Silverton Primary has a mantra, it's that the curriculum needs to be authentic. ''That's why there is a TV studio, sound recording studios, a big instrumental music program,'' he says. ''Our main aim is to have an actual environment, rather than kids sitting at a desk.''

In 2009, Silverton Primary was one of only 12 schools in the world to be named a ''mentor school'' by Microsoft (that explains A LOT). The computer giant's Innovative Schools program selects schools that are ground-breaking in their use of technology to mentor other schools around the globe. Former British minister of state for schools and learners Jim Knight has described Silverton Primary as ''unbelievably inspirational''. (I would have stuck with unbelievable)''I only hope that we can replicate what you are doing here back in the UK.''

In many ways, Silverton Primary School is an improbable global role model. For one, it is in Noble Park North, a low-socio-economic suburb in Melbourne's outer suburbs. The government school has children from 38 cultures, 68 per cent from a non-English-speaking background. It used to struggle to get kids to show up at school, and when they did they were disengaged and performed poorly academically. But today, Silverton Primary is being used as an international template (why did the word honeypot spring to mind?) of how schools can provide the sort of 21st century skills employers are demanding. A paraphrasing of grist for the mill........

...sorry I can't be bothered presenting any further excerpts. This garbage makes my eyes bleed, my brain how about I once again let Sir Ken say it all for me....


Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Introducing the newest interactive resource from the Tessa Roses' EYLF and Outdoor Environment Information Series - "A comprehensive guide to growing vegetables" 

To purchase a book simply contact the Publications Officer for payment and download details.

Each book in the Early Years Learning Framework and Outdoor Environment Information Series is specifically written for educators and parents who wish to help develop high quality early childhood environments that address how naturalistic play and playspaces can be used to meet each of the five EYLF learning outcomes. The primary aim of the books is to enable educators and parents to 'foster children’s capacity to understand and respect the natural environment and the interdependence between people, plants, animals and the land.'

This guide provides specific information for educators and parents who wish to introduce the concepts of the growth and care of edible vegetables to children. The book specifically addresses  vegetation growth, taste, smell and texture, universal access, children's tools and participation, climatic planting zones, positioning plants within your playspace, a global perspective on different types of gardens, construction of the garden, propagation methods, preparation for planting, specific information on appropriate vegetables to plant, organic methods to feed and protect your vegetables, harvesting, preserving  and information about plant and seed suppliers worldwide.

View a preview here. Note: This will take you to another page, you cannot download the document from that page. To purchase the document see above.   

The medium we have chosen for all our publications is as eBooks (.pdf). This is because compared to mass hard cover printings they are eco-friendly, accessible globally via the internet, easily updateable and available to all cultures because of their pricing. The format allows room for greater interactivity, permitting us to provide links to videos, free presentations and forms in addition to websites and organisations that provide expert information and knowledge. We view all our books as living documents and anyone, anywhere who uses them is invited to provide additional information (specific to their geographic location, problems, successes, challenges and solutions etc.) which we’re happy to include in subsequent versions along with their attribution details.

To purchase a book simply follow the link on the preview document.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Outdoor classroom projects compete for $20K prize - Technology & Science - CBC News

Play Video

I'm in a mixed mind about this piece. I'm certain the intent is beyond reproach but the language comes over as tokenistic.
  • "The idea of the outdoor classroom is to have a place that kids can get outside … and a place that teachers feel comfortable teaching outside,"
  • It is "also just an excuse, if you will, to get kids to being outside."  Totally missing the point
  • Kids are always connected to nature. They just automatically are. It's just ingrained in them ? What? ...No.
  • It's landscapes like these that contribute to what he calls a "nature deficit disorder"   No 
  • "Transfixed with technology and computers [they] are having many virtual experiences but really not having the real experiences," he says. An outdoor classroom will help overcome that problem. If only
  • The learning is so beneficial when they don't even know they are learning. And that often happens in the outdoors. That would be learning by osmosis?

An enterprising Canadian elementary school will receive $20,000 to build an outdoor classroom, courtesy of a contest sponsored by bathroom tissue maker Majesta and Tree Canada.

Their contest called "Trees of Knowledge" will select a winner in a process that begins Wednesday, with 10 finalists from across the country competing to get the most online votes for their outdoor classroom proposals before the May 11 deadline.

The classroom will be used to teach ecology and natural sciences, but can also serve as a venue for other non-science classes."The idea of the outdoor classroom is to have a place that kids can get outside … and a place that teachers feel comfortable teaching outside," explains Mike Rosen, president of Tree Canada.

Rosen says those aren't the only reasons for an outdoor classroom. It is "also just an excuse, if you will, to get kids to being outside."

Hilson Avenue Public School in Ottawa is one of the 10 finalists in the Trees of Knowledge contest. Ted Ferguson, a father of two boys at the school, is the volunteer leader of the project. "Kids are always connected to nature. They just automatically are. It's just ingrained in them," says

Ferguson, an environmental consultant, teamed up with the school's two Grade 6 teachers and classes to come up with a plan after he looked around the yard and decided a huge improvement could be made. His initial idea was to create a tree barrier between Hilson's soccer field and Ottawa's busy Richmond Road.

"So I went and spoke with the principal and she was a huge supporter. In fact, she challenged me to do even more," and that's when he came up with the more elaborate $60,000 plan that includes an outdoor classroom.

Ferguson cited British and American studies that suggest outdoor learning is good for both students and teachers. The problem for Ginette Thibeault, Hilson's principal, is that there isn't any money in her operating budget this kind of project.

"Any project like this relies on the fundraising we do and how much help we can get from our community partners. So winning a contest like this [Trees of Knowledge] could just totally springboard this project and help in a tremendous way," says Thibeault.

Too many of Canada's schoolyards are concrete and asphalt hemmed in by fences. "Right away, I'm thinking prison yard," asserts Rosen. It's landscapes like these that contribute to what he calls a "nature deficit disorder" in Canadian children.

"Transfixed with technology and computers [they] are having many virtual experiences but really not having the real experiences," he says. An outdoor classroom will help overcome that problem. 
Thibeault sees other benefits, too.

"We think of the excitement that it brings to children and their learning when it's not about paper and pencil and they can actually go out and do and manipulate. The learning is so beneficial when they don't even know they are learning. And that often happens in the outdoors.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Dr. Rebecca Palacios: Learning Through Water Play

Dr. Rebecca Palacios: Learning Through Water Play

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above   

Water fascinates young children. Whether the water is in small or large quantities, however, it is always important to think about safety when water is involved and to ensure that young children are properly supervised. With this in mind, let's talk about water play.

.......As with many science topics, there are some wonderful children's books about water; one of my favorites is Water's Way by Lisa Westberg Peters. Share this book with your child to help develop his or her understanding about evaporation, condensation, erosion, and how water flows -- through text and pictures that are designed for a young child's reading level.

Place a small amount of water in a plastic bowl. Give your child a thick paintbrush and have him "paint" with water on a sidewalk at a park or on the concrete slab in your backyard. Talk about the         
his or her disappearing pictures or letters, which is a great lesson 
about evaporation!

Buy an eggbeater or hand mixer at the dollar store. Have your child play with bubbles not just by blowing bubbles, but also by placing dish detergent in a large bin and using the beater to make lots and lots of bubbles, This will also promote hand coordination practice for your child!

Place ice cubes on a napkin and have your child watch the ice melt. Have him or her hold the cube for a minute or so and discuss how his or her warm hand makes the ice melt faster.

During bath time, talk about sponges and how they absorb water. Compare and contrast the sponge with the soap and how it does not absorb water. Compare whether they both can float. Try floating and sinking other objects. Ask questions about why they think this happens and how weight and shape make a difference.

Remember, you don't have to be a science teacher to teach concepts like these to young children. All you have to do, really, is create or put them in an environment with interesting things to explore and objects to explore with, and then be as curious and interested in what they see, hear, touch and do as they are. Meanwhile, you will be planting seeds of understanding about physical science concepts that children will formally encounter in school before too long.

Nathan Hegedus: In Praise of the Dude Teaching at My Son's Preschool

Nathan Hegedus: In Praise of the Dude Teaching at My Son's Preschool

A long overdue recognition of the role of male educators in early childhood. I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to acknowledge the great work done by people like Anthony Semann (a former colleague and tireless advocate), Craig and groups like MENtor in promoting and supporting males working in early childcare institutions.

I turned to close the preschool gate the other day and looked back to see what my three-year-old son was up to.

And this is what I saw: His teacher in a laughing jog, leading a pack of toddlers in a full sprint. A few weeks ago I saw this teacher sliding on the ice (safely) with the kids. And somewhere in there, I came to pick up my son to find the same teacher lost in a mountain of pillows, laughing kids all around piling on.

Good teacher, huh? Oh, yeah, one other thing. The teacher's name is Sven (not really, but he is a guy).

There have been three male teachers at the preschool in the past 18 months, and all three were great, even if not so energetic as Sven.

The last thing I want to do is say that my son needs Sven because he is a man, because only men would skate on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. That's ridiculous. It's probably a function of youth as much as anything else. However, most of the other teachers -- even the young ones -- do not slide on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. Sven does.

We live in Sweden, and before you think this is some paean to socialism and progressive Scandinavian values, it's not. Sweden is pretty bad at recruiting male preschool teachers, at least compared to neighbors Norway and Denmark.

And this isn't about male role models either. Well, it is, though not so much. See, I was home with my son on paternity leave for more than half of his life before he started preschool. He knows lots of dads. His grandpa babysits him when we are home in California. He doesn't need guys.But it's nice.

And it's good for society. I push paternity leave pretty hard because I think it's important for mom, dad and baby. But challenging gender roles should not stop at the preschool door, and it should not just be about getting my daughter to see princesses in a different way or letting my son wear pink mittens.

This is from a Gloria Steinham interview in 1995:
The way we get divided into our false notions of masculine and feminine is what we see as children. And, if, as children, whether we're boys or girls, we're raised mainly by women, then we deeply believe that only women can be loving, nurturing, flexible, patient, compassionate, all those things one needs to be to raise little children, and that men cannot do that, which is a libel on men. Of course men can do that. On the other end of it, they mainly see men in the world outside the home, or being assertive, aggressive, so they come to believe that women can't be assertive, achieving, aggressive, intellectual. And that's how we get our humanity? We're deprived of our full humanity.

This won't change easily, I know, but it should change (and here is an excellent report for deep reading on how to make it change. The report includes the best ever description I've read of why boys and girls and not driven by their sex, but by their gender roles: Gender and sex are closely linked, in so far as one's biological sex will determine which gender role (male or female) society will expect one to play (Dejonckheere, 2001).

Oh, and about the whole sexual predator thing, that overarching fear seems to be missing here in Sweden when it comes to guy teachers. I couldn't tell you if the crime rates are lower here, or whether Swedes have more or less missed the crazy, anxious panic that American parents have been whipped into the past couple decades.

Nope, here men don't become preschool teachers just because men don't become preschool teachers. But I'm sure glad the dude running my son's class chose differently.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Study: Parents Are Not Taking Kids Outside To Play, Especially Girls | Healthland |

They're sort of getting there. I just hope this study doesn't lead  to centres implementing a rigid, structured product oriented outdoor play model that ALL children, now HAVE to adhere to. Some great examples of outdoor all weather, unstructured, creative play can be found at 

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above    

Everyone knows the sex stereotypes: boys like to play sports; girls like to play house. These beliefs are so entrenched that even parents have bought in: new research shows that preschool girls are 16% less likely than boys their age to be taken outside by their parents to play.

Nearly half of preschoolers don’t venture outside with their parents to play every day, and girls are most likely to suffer, according to a new study of 8,950 U.S. kids in their final year before entering grade school.

Is the discrepancy a result of societal norms? Do boys demand to be taken outside more? Are girls just assumed to be less athletic and less inclined to run around outdoors? It’s likely a combination of all three, says lead author Pooja Tandon, a pediatrician and researcher at Seattle Children’s Hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Washington. “Children need outdoor time every day, and they need more outdoor play opportunities than they’re getting,” says Tandon.

...Previous research has shown there is a sex disparity in physical activity levels, with boys being more active than girls from a young age and substantial declines in girls’ physical activity as they get older.

One philosopher argued that “gendered standards of cleanliness” and play leave girls less exposed to microorganisms commonly found in outdoor environments and may be an explanation for the higher rates of atopic and autoimmune diseases in females.

...Minorities were far less likely to spend time on the playground with their parents than kids with white parents: Asian mothers were 49% less likely, black mothers 41% less likely and Hispanic mothers 20% less likely to venture outside with their kids. It’s probably not coincidence that minority children have a greater tendency to be overweight.

Children who are cared for at home also appear to be bigger couch potatoes. Although preschoolers should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, 42% of those who don’t regularly attend child care don’t go outside daily. Eighty percent of the kids in the study attended some sort of child care, averaging 28 hours a week there.

.... “There are high-quality child care centers where kids go out regardless of weather, but in a lot of settings, they do more indoor recesses,” says Tandon. “Research suggests that kids are sedentary 80% of the time when they are in preschool.”

The situation only worsens once they enter elementary school. In December, a study found that only six states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Illinois and Iowa — adhere to standards from the National Association of Sports and Physical Education that schoolchildren participate in 150 minutes a week of physical education. And just three states — Delaware, Virginia and Nebraska — have 20 minutes of mandatory elementary-school recess a day.

Being active inside is great but it’s not a substitute for the great outdoors. “If you get outdoors, you’re more likely to be active,” says Tandon. Other research suggests that being outdoors is important for motor development, while contact with nature is beneficial for mental health and cognitive development. “One thing that is lost in all this is the opportunity for free play,” says Tandon. “For young children, exercise and play is interrelated. Being outdoors is more conducive to both.”

Moms were more likely than dads to take their kids outside, and gym-rat moms even more so: mothers who worked out more than four times per week were 50% more likely to take their child outside at least once a day than mothers who didn’t exercise.

..... Children’s lives, in general, are far more structured than they were a generation ago. Kids have after-school classes — some even attend before-school enrichment — and they’re tethered to the house, in contrast to years past when they’d wander the neighborhood with friends after school. And with more two-parent working families than in the past, an increasing number of parents are feeling squeezed for time. If the choice is between making dinner and taking your kids to the park, it’s likely that meal prep will win out. After all, kids have to eat. They don’t have to go outside. But they should.

Nearly half of pre-schoolers not playing outside – - Blogs

Nearly half of pre-schoolers not playing outside – - Blogs
Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above  

'The early childhood years are crucial for learning and development. That should involve a great deal of outdoor physical activity and playtime, but that's not always the case.

Nearly half of 3 to 5 year olds are not taken outdoors by a parent or caregiver every day, according to research presented in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine this week.

"There's a big room for improvement in how parents prioritize their time and what they're doing in the time they're spending with their pre-school children," said lead study author Dr. Pooja Tandon of Seattle Children's Research Institute.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children play outside as much as possible, for at least 60 minutes a day. Physical activity is not only good for weight control and preventing childhood obesity; previous research also suggests playing outside improves motor development, vision and vitamin D levels. ...."There is evidence that play - just sort of the act of playing - is important for children's development of their social skills and their peer interactions," Tandon said. "Being outdoors affords children an opportunity to play in ways that they may not get to when they're indoors."

....Mothers took their children out to play more often than fathers did. Working outside of the home was often a barrier for children to play outdoors, but some parents who worked from home also did not take their kids out....In addition, the researchers found that mothers who exercised often were more likely to take their kids outdoors, as opposed to those who did not report any exercise.

The study authors also noted that girls had fewer opportunities for outdoor recreation than boys did. A study released in January came to similar conclusions.

"As caregivers or parents of girls, [we should] rethink how we dress our girls, and what we encourage them to do as far as play so that they have the same opportunity for outdoor play as boys do," Tandon said.

First, check in with your child's care provider or child care center to ensure there is adequate outdoor time. Make sure that your child is getting it; if not, advocate for it. By pre-school age, 80% of the children in the study were in child care; in the U.S., pre-schoolers spend an average of 32 hours per week in child care.

Second, Tandon suggests coming up with new and creative ways to work around barriers, perhaps through social and community networks. "I think parents want to do what's best for their children and I hope that this study serves as a reminder that playing outside with your children is also an important part of what we do as parents," Tandon added.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Parents! Kids! Beware of…Palm Sunday? « FreeRangeKids

Parents! Kids! Beware of…Palm Sunday? « FreeRangeKids\

Always great to drop in at Free Range Kids to see what the patients (AKA the Insurance companies and their brain-addled familiars) are doing now that they've taken over the asylum. This week it appears they've devoted themselves to public health and safety. What if someone got poked in the eye? What if they got poked in the eye by a meteor?, What if they got poked in the eye by a dinosaur? What if they got poked in the eye by a dinosaur on a meteor with a palm frond? infinitum. Lenore is coming to OZ soon, welcome Lenore.

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above   

Dear Free-Range Kids: Yesterday was Palm Sunday and at my church there’s a tradition that goes all the way back to my own preschool days of the little Sunday School kids leading a processional into the church waving palm branches and singing. They had always used either artificial plastic palm fronds or real ones if someone had some to donate and seeing the little ones waving their branches was always a highlight. Well, this year I waited eagerly for my three-year-old daughter to come in with her class and in they came waving………green paper streamers?
When I picked her up later I asked the teachers what had happened to the palm branches. I’m sure you can guess the answer. Yep, didn’t want anyone to get poked in the eye. Feeling just a little naughty, I feigned shock and asked who had gotten poked in the eye last year. Anyone want to guess again? You’ve got it, no one got poked in the eye last year, no one has ever been poked in the eye in the last 35 or so years that the church has been doing it. Yep, someone MIGHT get poked in the eye. Sigh.
Lenore here: A sigh from this end, too. Because once again we are treating this generation as the most vulnerable, endangered, fragile and, I guess,  uncoordinated generation EVER.  – L. 

Monday, 2 April 2012

BBC News - Nature deficit disorder 'damaging Britain's children'

BBC News - Nature deficit disorder 'damaging Britain's children'

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above  

'UK children are losing contact with nature at a "dramatic" rate, and their health and education are suffering, a National Trust report says. Traffic, the lure of video screens and parental anxieties are conspiring to keep children indoors, it says.

Evidence suggests the problem is worse in the UK than other parts of Europe, and may help explain poor UK rankings in childhood satisfaction surveys.

"This is about changing the way children grow up and see the world," said Stephen Moss, the author, naturalist and former BBC Springwatch producer who wrote the Natural Childhood report for the National Trust.

"The natural world doesn't come with an instruction leaflet, so it teaches you to use your creative imagination.

"When you build a den with your mates when you're nine years old, you learn teamwork - you disagree with each other, you have arguments, you resolve them, you work together again - it's like a team-building course, only you did it when you were nine."

The trust argues, as have other bodies in previous years, that the growing dissociation of children from the natural world and internment in the "cotton wool culture" of indoor parental guidance impairs their capacity to learn through experience.

It cites evidence showing that:
  • Children learn more and behave better when lessons are conducted outdoors
  • Symptoms of children diagnosed with ADHD improve when they are exposed to nature
  • Children say their happiness depends more on having things to do outdoors more than owning technology.
......In the UK as in many other countries, rates of obesity, self-harm and mental health disorders diagnosed in children have climbed significantly since the 1970s. But nature deficit disorder is not generally regarded as a medical condition.

"There's undoubtedly a phenomenon that's not good for health, which is about not giving access to outdoors or green space, safe risk-taking and so on," said David Pencheon, a medical doctor who now heads the National Health Service's sustainable development unit. "But I wouldn't say we've identified a medical condition.

"In fact we don't want to 'medicalise' it, we should see it as part of everyday life - if you medicalise it, people say 'you'd better go to your doctor and take a pill'.     WHAT ???? What happens if your the  head of the National Health Service's sustainable development unit and you make up words? Are you saying a doctor would never prescribe exercise? 
But despite growing recognition of nature deficit disorder, policies aiming to tackle it appear thin on the ground....... cites statistics showing that the area where children are allowed to range unsupervised around their homes has shrunk by 90% since the 1970s. Whereas some reasons behind the parental "cotton wool culture" are not based in logic - most sexual molestation occurs in the home, for example, not in parks - the one "genuine massive danger" is traffic.

"I think the first step for any child is playing outdoors in the street; and in the 40 years since I grew up, traffic has increased hugely, and that's the main reason why none of us let our kids out on their own," Mr Moss told BBC News.  I'n beginning to think he's making it up as he goes along!

"The only solution would be to have pedestrian priority on every residential street in Britain; when you are driving along the street, if there are children playing, they have priority."

The report advocates having teachers take children for lessons outdoors when possible, with urban schools using parks. You wouldn't want to create natural areas in schools though would you?

It also says that authorities who cite "health and safety" as a reason for stopping children playing conkers or climbing trees should be aware that successive Health and Safety Executive heads have advocated a measure of risk-taking in children's lives.

The changes in childhood in previous decades are now filtering through into adulthood, where levels of obesity are also rising. Dr Pencheon observed that although doctors are beginning to prescribe exercise instead of drugs where it is indicated, much more could be done from a policy perspective.
"One of the problems here is that the NHS is not incentivised financially to do public health," he said.
Seriously who chose this guy for interview? 

The National Trust is now beginning a two-month consultation aimed at gathering views and examples of good and bad practice from the public and specialists. These will eventually be turned into a set of policy recommendations. "As a nation, we need to do everything we can to make it easy and safe for our children to get outdoors," said National Trust director-general Fiona Reynolds.

"We want to move the debate on and encourage people and organisations to think about how we take practical steps to reconnect children with the natural world and inspire them to get outdoors."

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Vitals - Baby brains...the secret to a smarter computer?

Vitals - Baby brains...the secret to a smarter computer?

The irony to this piece is that whilst they recognise the magnificent thing which is a child's mind and their capacity to learn, they want to make computers more like babies and children more like computers (i.e. to only function within parameters that they define as important and useful). It's sort of like telling Salvador Dali that he could paint anything that he wants.... as long as its a stick figure.

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above  

...Cognitive scientists hope to bottle up a baby's brain — and the imagination and air of possibility that comes with it — and use the result to make computers smarter.

"Children are the greatest learning machines in the universe," .... "Imagine if computers could learn as much and as quickly as they do," 

Scientists such as Gopnik have known a healthy newborn brain contains a lifetime's supply of some 100 billion neurons; as a baby matures, these brain cells grow a vast network of synapses or connections (about 15,000 by the age of 2 or 3), which allow tots to learn languages and social skills, all the while figuring out how to survive and thrive in their environment.

Adults, meanwhile, tend to focus more on the goal at hand rather than letting their powers of imagination run wild. It's this combination — goal-minded adults and open-minded children — that may be ideal for teaching computers new tricks, the researchers suspect... This childlike exploratory and "probabilistic" reasoning could make computers not just smarter, but more adaptable and more human, the team says.

"Young children are capable of solving problems that still pose a challenge for computers, such as learning languages and figuring out causal relationships,.... We are hoping to make computers smarter by making them a little more like children."

Nature Deficit Disorder The Santa Barbara Independent

Nature Deficit Disorder The Santa Barbara Independent

So much in this eloquent, so sad.  

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above  

During the past several months, one primary theme of this column has been the importance of a sense of place. This article builds on the theme by describing an important problem — ecological illiteracy.

Wild salmon can navigate through oceans .... In reproduction, this sense is passed on from one generation to another. 

.....Our human capacity to make connections between mountains, rivers, and the sea is also an important factor that contributes to our capacity to sustain our community. The problem today is that we rarely understand these connections, nor are we willing to nurture and protect these ecological and cultural relationships that sustain our economies. We enter our machines (car or bus) and quickly become passengers through a world we no longer care to understand.

We view the world through the lens of a mechanical and electronic eye (e.g., the computer, television, and camera lens).... The mass media first convinced us that the imaginary was real, and now they are convincing us that the real is imaginary. ...The more reality the TV screen shows us, the more cinematic our everyday world becomes. The reliance on technology can change our relationship to nature and society. Real “nature” is becoming imaginary — even as natural entities depicted on the TV screen go extinct......We continue to turn to the mass media to represent nature rather than interacting and participating in a natural world.

As we go further into an electronic and digital era, the separation of humanity from place seems inevitable. Children are more familiar with a cell phone or iPhone that depicts images of an imaginary nature than they are with a species of oak and chaparral that are part of their landscapes. 

Each generation is brought up to a different environmental context. With each generation, the diminishment of the natural world around us diminishes our shared ability to learn from other animals and our natural surroundings, and to adapt. We become more digitally connected but lose our capacity to relate to community.

Ultimately, the denaturing of nature coincides with a dehumanized society, people disconnected from the natural world and from one another. The loss of what it means to be a human being unfolds along with the death of nature.

The cultural and social aspects of this denaturing effect are dramatic. Society faces a crisis in education, poverty, and homelessness. Our political and economic elite fail to recognize the connection between ecological decay and cultural impoverishment. This scenario is being played out worldwide as material poverty accompanies what we often celebrate as technological progress.

Hospital hero? This frog has the makings of a lifesaver

Hospital hero? This frog has the makings of a lifesaver

Nature to the rescue of humanity yet again. It seem however that unless we can put a price tag on it or unless it can directly save us (usually from predicaments we've created) it's regarded as worthless.

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above  

NUCLEAR scientists are using native frogs to thwart hospital superbugs in work that sounds more like the plot of a sci-fi thriller than legitimate research.

Sydney and Melbourne scientists are studying several species of Australian frogs.... whose skin secretions are toxic to a range of bacteria, including multi-drug-resistant golden staph know as MRSA.

The research leader, Frances Separovic, a biophysical biologist, said most antimicrobial peptides killed bacteria by puncturing or lysing (causing them to disintegrate) their membranes. This made it hard for bacteria to develop resistance to them..'On the other hand, most antibiotics inhibit protein synthesis in a bacteria and, over time, mutations in the bacteria lead to resistance to the antibiotics,'' 

Kids' playground goes back to nature

"People of all ages can enjoy it. It's not just a structure for two-to five-year-olds."

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above 

Kory Baker-Henderson pushes her three-year-old daughter, Kaleena, at Donnan Park recently. The playground soon will be converted to become Edmonton's first "natural playground."

Children won't find new monkey bars and bright plastic play structures at the upgraded Donnan Park.

Instead, the aging playground at 9105 80th Ave. will become Edmonton's first "natural playground," part of a growing trend in playground design.

Children in the redesigned Donnan Park will entertain themselves with such timehonoured playthings as rocks, sticks, sand and dirt. The overhauled space will feature a slide built into a hill, a sideways-growing tree, a boulder spiral, a hand pump to pour water into a small stream and plenty of plants, trees and greenery.

"Studies have shown imaginative play is much more stimulated (in natural settings) and children actually will play longer and become much more involved than on a typical red, plastic slide structure. Their games will just get much more imaginative. There's that connection with nature. We have plans for a community garden, so it's a learning and teaching tool, too."

Community volunteers have already secured two grants and are collecting donations to fund the natural playground that should cost between $50,000 and $100,000.That's far cheaper than a traditional, prefabricated play structure which can cost $200,000 or more, says Baker-Henderson.

The natural playgrounds meet all the regular safety standards, says company founder and principal designer Adam Bienenstock."We're seeing injury rates drop at schools where we've made this change from asphalt, plastic and steel to mulch, grass, rolling hills and boulders and logs as climbers," Bienenstock says.

Studies have shown children are also less aggressive and less likely to bully each other when they are spread out in natural settings instead of being clumped together and vying for space at the top of prefabricated play structures, Bienenstock says. "The truth is, you put kids into the woods and they get better. It's not that complicated."

Efforts to better connect kids with nature have attracted attention as people recognize the benefits that spring from the outdoors, ...."It's just so simple. It just allows kids to collect bugs, to find earth-worms, to see things grow, to plant seeds and see vegetables grow, to have shade from a tree,.....People are sometimes looking for alternatives to the highly technical world kids are in more and more, realizing of course that connections to nature are important and perhaps slipping away."

Outside is back in

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above 

It's important to take the time to appreciate our open spaces, as a little fresh air could be better for you than you think.

From improving physical health to lifting mood, promoting relaxation, improving concentration, hastening healing and facilitating social connectedness, nature seems to have it all.

''The evidence is starting to accumulate from around the world that people need green space....
People like architects, urban planners and engineers and health experts have all been doing research in the last decade or so and found that, with more green spaces, people take more exercise, which is great in fighting things like obesity and heart disease and diabetes.

''There's also evidence that hospital patients who see or have access to green spaces need less painkillers than those who don't, and that green spaces help relaxation, which increases attention restoration.''

A 2003 Swedish study of almost 1000 people in nine cities found that the more time people spent in outdoor public green space, the less stressed they felt and the fewer stress-related illnesses they reported regardless of age, gender and socio-economic status.

The British mental health organisation Mind, in its Ecotherapy report, recommended that ''green exercise'' be considered as a clinically valid treatment for people experiencing mental distress. And scientists at the University of Essex found that just five minutes of green exercise a day resulted in improvements in mood and self-esteem.

In 2009, a team of Dutch researchers headed by health expert Jolanda Maas found that the general prevalence for 15 out of 24 diseases - including anxiety, depression, heart disease, diabetes, chronic neck and back pain, asthma and migraine - was lower in people living in environments with more green space in a one-kilometre radius. In 2001, University of Illinois professor Frances Kuo looked at the relationship between levels of vegetation and crime rates in a Chicago public housing development. She found that housing blocks with high levels of greenery had 48 per cent fewer property crimes and 56 per cent fewer violent crimes than housing blocks with little or no vegetation.

......''We have evolved from open spaces,'' he says. ''It's not surprising that we have developed to get something out of nature and green spaces, just like we get something out of food and sex and drink.''

......''For me, personally, being away from the noise of the city and computers makes a world of difference,'' she says. When I'm close to nature, I'm most at peace. ''I imagine it's a bit of a fundamental thing - if you think about how we were designed to live, sustaining ourselves from the land, it's probably innate to want to go back to those roots.''