Thursday, 31 May 2012

The screens that are stealing childhood

The screens that are stealing childhood
I'm not a Luddite, I utilise a blog for goodness sake. However I'm not three years old either. I can make a choice about when to use tech to fulfil my work or leisure purposes. I didn't have tech introduced to me as a recreational pastime nor is my adoption and use of it tacitally encouraged by a peer group. As I've said before, I do recognise that we live in a world that increasingly requires computer literacy as a basic vehicle for material success, however as I have repeatedly blogged* before, the unregulated introduction of tech to children from an early age is creating a false reality and rather than joining them with their communities is further isolating them from the peers that they (with their parents facilitation) are striving to be like.  The article is interesting, but I was also intrigued by the comments below the actual article. They are definitely worth a look.
*Getting out of the box
Jury is still out, but iPads may put the pen to the sword
Is iPad an educational tool or a lifestyle addiction?
The Interweb: Font of all knowledge.
Selling U crap you just don't need
iPadding toddlers: When is it too soon?
 Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above

Parents need to be vigilant about the effects of constant stimulation, writes Andrew Stevenson

Take a look around you and, in cars, shopping centres and restaurants, chances are you'll find young children engrossed, not in the world around them, but in their new digital reality.

Australians have smartphones and tablet computers gripped in their sweaty embrace, adopting the new internet-enabled technology as the standard operating platform for their lives, at work, home and play.

But it is not only adults who are on the iWay to permanent connection. As parents readily testify, many children don't just use the devices, they are consumed by them.

''These devices have an almost obsessive pull towards them,'' says Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University and author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us.

''How can you expect the world to compete with something like an iPad3 with a high-definition screen, clear video and lots of interactivity? How can anything compete with that? There's certainly no toy that can.

''Even old people like me can't stop themselves from tapping their pocket to make sure their iPhone is there. Imagine a teenager, even a pre-teen, who's grown up with these devices attached at the hip 24/7 and you end up with what I think is a problem.''

The technology has been absorbed so comprehensively that the jury on the potential impact on young people is not just out, it's yet to be empanelled.

''The million-dollar question is whether there are risks in the transfer of real time to online time and the answer is that we just don't know,'' says Andrew Campbell, a child and adolescent psychologist.

.....Parents used to worry only about TV use. Now school students' screen use may begin at home with TV in the morning, continue with interactive whiteboards, laptops and computers in class, smartphones at lunch and on the bus, and continue at home with TV, computer, phone and tablet. Wayne Warburton, a psychologist at Macquarie University, says US studies show that beyond the school gates, teenagers are using screens or listening to music for more than 7½ hours a day. In Australia it is more than five hours and rising.

Authoritative standards on appropriate levels of use are limited. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends parents discourage TV for children under two and limit screen time for older children to less than two hours a day.

The guidelines, says Professor Rosen, are ''ludicrous'' but the need for them and constant communication with young people about technology and how they use it, remains. ''It's no longer OK to start talking to your kids about technology when they're in their teens. You have to start talking to them about it as soon as you hand them your iPhone or let them watch television or Skype with grandma,'' he says.

He suggests a ratio of screen time to other activities of 1:5 for very young children, 1:1 for pre-teens and 5:1 for teenagers. Parents should have weekly talks with their children from the start, looking for signs of obsession, addiction and lack of attention.

.....''Parents say to me they would love to put some limits on their kids' media use but that it is so much a part of their identity - playing the same games as their friends, being involved with the same media - that they feel they would be losing friends, losing identity and having problems if they didn't have access,'' he says.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

15 Hilariously Inappropriate Playgrounds -

15 Hilariously Inappropriate Playgrounds -

I do so love it when playground equipment manufacturers attempt to imitate nature....and get it ssssoooo wrong.

Warning - do not follow the link if you are easily offended by language, awkward photos or thoughtless equipment design. I have a sneaking suspicion that the "grater slide" is Photoshop'ed

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

BBC News - Lack of contact with nature 'increasing allergies'

BBC News - Lack of contact with nature 'increasing allergies'

Isn't it amazing, you start to post on a theme and all of a sudden there are studies flooding every media source, confirming what you (and most of the population) already know. Studies are great. What else is great, rocks, rocks are great... but that can be another post. Read on McDuff.

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

"A lack of exposure to a "natural environment" could be resulting in more urban dwellers developing allergies and asthma, research has suggested. Finnish scientists say certain bacteria, shown to be beneficial for human health, are found in greater abundance in non-urban surroundings. The microbiota play an important role in the development and maintenance of the immune system, they add.
The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"There are microbes everywhere, including in the built environment, but the composition is different between natural environments and human-built areas," explained co-author Ilkka Hanski from the University of Helsinki. "The microbiota in natural environments is more beneficial for us," he told BBC News.

The team collected samples from 118 teenagers in eastern Finland, and found that those living on farms or near forests had more diverse bacteria on their skin, and also displayed lower allergen sensitivity. "They are important for us because they promote microbiota… that are important for the normal development and maintenance of the immune system," Dr Hanski observed.

We know that if you live more near green spaces, and you are from a deprived urban population, you are more likely to be healthier” Urbanisation can be seen as a lost opportunity for many people to interact with the natural environment and its biodiversity, including the microbial communities.While it was not possible to reverse the global trend of urbanisation, he said that there were a number of options.

"Apart from reserving natural areas outside of urban areas, I think it is important to develop city planning that includes green spaces, green belts and green infrastructure," Dr Hanski suggested.

..................Another recent study also illustrated a link between the lack of green spaces and higher stress levels among people living in urban areas described as deprived. The study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning measured levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, found in residents' saliva. "The stress patterns revealed by these cortisol samples were related to the amount of green space around people's homes," explained co-author Catharine Ward Thompson....."We were actually surprised by the strong relationship between the two," she told BBC News. ...."We know that if you live near more green spaces, and you are from a deprived urban population, you are more likely to be healthier," she observed......"If you lived within 10 minutes of a park, then you were twice as likely to achieve the recommended minimum amount of physical activity."

Saturday, 19 May 2012

'Symphony Of The Soil': New Documentary Connects Soil Health To Human Health

'Symphony Of The Soil': New Documentary Connects Soil Health To Human Health:

Hot on the heels of yesterdays post, I came across this great piece by Lynne Peeples. Somewhere in the near past we traded away our relationship with nature (and all the health benefits that it entails) for convenience.

The joke being that neither interacting with nature, playing in the earth, growing your own food, cooking your own food (not that processed muck) was ever inconvenient. The concept that something is "convenient for you" is (another) one of those gigantic lies that agri-corporations use to get you to buy and consume things that any animal with functioning senses would beat a hasty retreat from.

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

"Jack Algiere has no qualms about letting his kids eat their veggies straight out of the ground from the fields and greenhouses he manages in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

He knows the rich, organic soil will provide Sedge and Ojiah with delicious, nutrient-rich food. Not to mention a possible boost to their immune systems.

His sons have their favorites. "Carrots are up there and consumed after a brush with the shirt sleeve. But spinach in winter seems to be the prize," said Algiere, the farm manager at Stone Barns Center For Food and Agriculture. "With most greens, they prefer to graze -- no hands -- rather than pick."

Perhaps most importantly, Algiere knows that toxic fertilizers and pesticides will not have touched the carrots or spinach, and therefore can't pose any risks to his sons' health.

"Thanks to our improved understanding of the dynamics of soil, the luster of chemical agriculture has worn off," Algiere said. He once worked farmland the conventional way, but said he has since learned that nature really does know best when it comes to warding off unwanted weeds and insects, and feeding a plant what it needs to thrive.

Nature's secret: healthy soil, composed of billions of tiny creatures that essentially become a plant's immune and digestive systems.

But despite the way Algiere manages Stone Barns, many people are acting as soil spoilers, according to a new documentary called "Symphony of the Soil." Our chemical dependencies are stripping soil of its life-giving duties and turning it into lifeless dirt, the film says. We've destroyed half the world's topsoil in the last 50 years, and a quarter of what's left is degraded. Experts in the film suggest that this loss is contributing to a range of today's ills: flooding, droughts, toxic algae blooms, contaminated drinking water, cancer, developmental problems, antibiotic-resistant infections, obesity and more.

"The connection between healthy soil and healthy people is so obvious," said Deborah Koons Garcia, director and producer of the film, which screened last weekend at Stone Barns.

So, when and how did we lose sight of such a vital relationship? And can we find it again?
.....More than 10,000 chemicals are currently registered for agricultural use in the U.S., Paul Hepperly, who was research director of the nonprofit Rodale Institute during filming, says in the documentary. ......In most cases, the health effects of these chemicals or mixtures of chemicals remain unknown. But science is slowly starting to catch up, ...and prenatal or early childhood exposures appear capable of causing everything from birth defects to cancer to infertility. New research suggests that even tiny amounts of a toxic chemical can prove harmful to a developing child.

More information about Symphony Of The Soil can be found at along with some extremely moving vignettes or grace notes from the film. I have embedded one below I find particularly pertinent.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Sticks and dirt

I was visiting a centre yesterday and was approached by a child who was eager to tell me his newest joke. "What's long, brown and sticky?" he asked with a huge grin. "I don't know, what is long, brown and sticky?" I replied......"A stick", he said and returned to the digging patch where he'd been industriously building. It's an old joke, I know (you're suppose to think, oh no, not poo!)  but it seemed to be his first and I didn't have the heart to rob him of the punchline.

The exchange and his play/work in the digging patch got me thinking about words and how we use them, stick and sticky, dirt and dirty. Sticks aren't necessarily sticky and dirt isn't usually dirty, not in the sense we use the word. However words, especially generalised terms like dirty, can have a profound effect on how children learn to regard things. For instance we commonly use the term dirt to describe what is in fact soil.

Soil (that has not been contaminated), is 45% minerals (sand, silt, clay), 25% water, 25% air, and 5% organic material, both live (bacterium, worms, ants etc.) and dead (leaves, grass, bacterium, worms, ants etc.).  Ah ha.... I hear you say, bacteria are bad, everyone knows that. Not necessarily. There are about two thousand species of bacteria identified, however the ones generally found in (uncontaminated) soil primarily assit in the decomposition process helping release carbon dioxide and essential nutrients into the air and soil. Bacteria found in soil can actually have an antidepressant effect and early exposure is thought to be beneficial in helping build resistance to allergies and immune related diseases.

When children are allowed to interact with their natural environment (or in generalised parlance "get dirty") they're learning, discovering and experiencing more than could ever be contained in a structured lesson. 
Outdoor play       

And yes, soil that is or has become contaminated can contain pathogenic or " harmful" bacteria. These can be dealt with by:

  1. Ensuring that the play area is free of  contaminants.  In centres where I design a playground and a digging patch or sandpit are included, my specifications for construction and fill are respectively, free draining and clean. Maintenance of either should be regular, and is quick and easy, details about the current urban fears (and their remedies) can be found here, ToxoplasmosisMeliodosis and Silicosis
  2. Ensuring that the children follow a routine for cleaning themselves (simple hand washing) before they eat,
  3. Ensuring that if a child is sick, wherein their immune system is compromised, they refrain from playing in any potentially hazardous environments (see point one) until they are healthy again and then ensuring that you and they follow a clean routine (see point two) after play.   
  4. In respect to children actually getting dirt on them, don't dress them in designer togs that you're going to worry may get stained or provide a change of clothes and a plastic bag for the used items,
  5. Babies can, do and will place items in their mouths, they're exploring the taste, smell and tactile sensations. If you're worried about them doing this in a natural environment - supervise them.
All in all, if you provide a safe natural environment for children to play in and explore, adequate unobtrusive supervision of their play and remedial hygiene routines you can be assured that the benefits of their play will always outweigh any perceived risks. 

“People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.”

Plato, 428 BC-348 BC


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Storytime comes at a cost

Storytime comes at a cost

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above
This just makes me sad....and angry, no one is that busy. And bugger NAPLAN !

"Parents once considered reading their children a bedtime story and attending free storytime at the local library sufficient for developing early literacy skills.

But there is a burgeoning industry charging for reading classes for preschoolers, tapping into parents' desire to give their child a head start in life.

Berkelouw Books opened the doors to its purpose-built The Reading Studio above its Leichhardt store last week. Developed in consultation with the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University, the one-hour weekly classes are run by a university-qualified early childhood teacher and cost $25 a session.

The ABC has been running its online Reading Eggs program for more than three years, charging $79.95 for an annual subscription and promising to educate children to a year one standard of reading. One million children have registered.

''Reading is the most common area parents are willing to spend money in before their children start school, because they want them to be school-ready,'' Blake eLearning educational publisher Katy Pike, responsible for ABC Reading Eggs, said.

The Reading Studio co-founder David Berkelouw said he had observed how children who had attended storytime at his bookstores in the past 15 years grew up to become independent readers. ''I thought there has to be more in this than what we're doing,'' he said.

As schoolchildren prepare to sit the NAPLAN tests, an associate professor at the Macquarie Institute, Jane Torr, said children learnt ''an enormous amount'' by reading and talking about books from a very young age.

''Studies show children's pre-school vocabularies relate to their literacy achievement [later in life],'' Professor Torr said. She advised on the development of The Reading Studio program.

But why would parents pay someone else to be their child's storyteller, when the bedtime story is such a childhood ritual? Professor Torr said working parents were often too tired or busy at the end of the day to provide an enriching bedtime story experience.

''They [parents] often don't have the time and the focus to sit down and say 'let's really talk about this book', especially if you've got more than one child.''

Noella Mackenzie, a lecturer in literacy studies at Charles Sturt University, argues that parents who outsource reading mistakenly believe pre-schoolers need formal instruction and discount their own abilities as teachers.
''They're undervaluing their own role,'' she said. ''Parents are amazing instinctive teachers of their own children: they teach their children how to speak, how to eat, how to do their buttons up, they do all of these instinctively.''
She argues parents should not be concerned with having children reading before they reach school. Rather they should lay the foundations for formal literacy education by exposing children to the patterns of speech and narrative. ''They need to learn what stories are all about, beginnings middles and ends the process of narrative; they learn that just from exposure,'' she says.

''[Having] an ear for the sounds within words, that comes from being read to, being sung to, having games like rhyming games, nursery rhymes, poems - that hones their development of memory.''

Another neglected aspect of preschool literacy, Dr Mackenzie says, is writing. ''[Reading and writing] go hand in hand and quite a lot of what children learn from print text they learn from exploring their own writing and scribbling.''
........ ''Research shows having a passive experience with the child listening and the adult reading is good, but it's better if the child is an active participant during the narrative.''

COLUMN ONE: At an urban L.A. school, nature grows — and test scores too -

COLUMN ONE: At an urban L.A. school, nature grows — and test scores too -

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above 
At an L.A. school, attracting naturally

"Biological diversity does not come easily near the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Hoover Street.
The neighborhood just west of downtown is one of the most crowded in Los Angeles County, with 25,352 people per square mile. It's chock-full of buildings and has lots of pavement, little landscaping and many economically disadvantaged families.

In that setting, Leo Politi Elementary School wanted only to make a dreary corner of campus more inviting to its 817 students. Workers ripped out 5,000 square feet of concrete and Bermuda grass three years ago and planted native flora. What happened next was unforeseen. It was remarkable.

The plants attracted insects, which attracted birds, which attracted students, who, fascinated by the nature unfolding before them, learned so much that their test scores in science rose sixfold. In the words of Leo Politi's delighted principal, Brad Rumble, "We've gone from the basement to the penthouse in science test scores."

....Three years ago, the school's standardized test scores in science for fifth-graders showed that 9% were proficient and none were advanced. Last spring, 53% of fifth-graders tested as proficient or advanced.

.....In partnership with Los Angeles Audubon, Leo Politi in 2008 became one of the first elementary schools in the city to apply for and win "schoolyard habitat" and partner's grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

With $18,000 from the agency, and volunteer assistance from environmental students at Dorsey High School, Leo Politi removed the concrete and grass from the forlorn corner of campus. Dorsey students wielded rakes and shovels and helped select and plant bushes, flowers and trees, including six live oaks that now shade a slope Rumble calls "our oak highlands."

Nature responded quickly to the clumps of rye grass, owl's clover and waist-high thickets of white sage and wildflowers: California poppies, California wild roses, tidytips and island snapdragons.

"First to arrive were insects — lady beetles, butterflies and dragonflies — almost as if they were lying in wait," Rumble said. "They were followed by birds that feed on them." At that point, students were hooked. "Questions about why some birds flocked to one plant and not another led to discussions about soil composition and water cycles, weather patterns and seasons, avian migration and the tilt of the Earth in its orbit around the sun," Rumble said.
......To education experts, the concept of project-based learning is nothing new. "If students are actively engaged in a real-world project — whether it be working on a car engine, designing a dress or cultivating a garden — it's going to turbo-charge classroom curriculum," said Guilbert Hentschke, a professor of education at USC's Rossier School of Education. "Most educators intuitively or professionally understand this," Hentschke added. "And most would love to do it, but they don't always have the time, money, staff or space."

.......The benefits are much greater than pure science, said Robert Jeffers, lead arts and humanities teacher at Dorsey and Los Angeles County teacher of the year in 2010.

At Leo Politi, the garden has "instilled a profound sense of responsibility and awareness of nature," Jeffers said. "Now these kids can tell the difference between a crow and a raven, which requires cognitive skills of understanding subtleties and nuances important throughout life."
.....The garden and Rhieman's class are springboards for older students who receive weekly after-school workshop lessons in science illustration taught by Stacey Vigallon, director of interpretation for L.A. Audubon.
That five-week class concluded with students learning to mix up to 10 shades of green with colored pencils. Among them was Jesus Olvera, 11, who labored over a rendering of a burrowing owl. No sooner did he complete a meticulous sketch of the bird's eyes than he erased it and started over.

........Since the garden was planted, students have documented and illustrated more than 25 species of birds, including the meadowlark that dropped in around Thanksgiving, an ash-throated flycatcher that visits each autumn and a white-crowned sparrow spotted last Sunday."

It takes a forest, a field and a stream to raise a child | The Japan Times Online

It takes a forest, a field and a stream to raise a child | The Japan Times Online

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

In 1996, back when the present U.S. Secretary of State was the first lady, Hillary Rodham-Clinton published a book titled "It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us," which popularized an old African proverb — "It takes a village to raise a child."...... But beyond politics, social scientists know, and most parents admit, that child-rearing is a mysterious combination of nature and nurture. Both influence a child's development to varying degrees, with the interplay of genes and environment determining who we become. Clearly the village plays a role.

Today, however, with over half of the world's population living in cities, more and more young people are missing out on a crucial dimension of childhood development. Not the village or the genes, but the forests: a combination of nature and nurture, call it self-nurturing in the natural environment.

The lack of forests, fields and streams for urban kids is one part of the problem, and the spread of seductive technologies is another. According to a recent survey in the United States by California-based nonprofit the Kaiser Family Foundation (which focuses on national healthcare issues and the U.S. role in global health policymaking), in a typical day "8- to 18-year-olds devote an average of 7 hours 38 minutes to using entertainment media (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time 'media multitasking,' they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours 45 minutes' worth of media content into those 7½ hours." (For full survey results,
......Whether we like it or not, such technologies and their offspring are here to stay. The problem is that each hour a child spends absorbed in entertainment media is one hour not spent in nature.
......Like various other similar outdoors programs for children — including ones my Nature page colleague C.W. Nicol organizes with his Afan Woodland Trust in Nagano Prefecture — these camps give children an opportunity for self-nurturing in a supportive environment set in natural surroundings. Unlike Nic's projects for mainly disadvantaged Japanese children and young Tohoku survivors, though, these are conducted in English.

......."Modern kids don't get enough time outdoors in contact with nature, and far less than previous generations, and this affects everything from intellectual and emotional development to obesity and physical fitness," Paddock continues. "As a kid, I only went to one overnight camp, but I was out in the woods around our neighborhood in the daytime, catching fireflies at night, sledding and making snow forts in winter. We weren't closely supervised, so we got to learn our own limits and invent our own play.

....."Another thread is that we are providing camps for a growing number of children from orphanages," he explains, including a special camp in Kurihara, Miyagi Prefecture, for Tohoku Prefecture orphans. "For these kids, all of the other camp benefits are true — along with what we believe to be great therapeutic potential to be found in nature."

Paddock cares deeply about kids and nature, and he hopes that nurturing campers who love nature will encourage those children to conserve Japan's environment when they get older. "We have to know something before we can love it, and we have to love it before we want to protect it," he says.
....."Our job at EA is first of all to help kids really know nature and the outdoors. Then, and only then, can they begin to love it. Once they've begun to experience the beauty, the fun and the mysteries for themselves, then love of the natural world has a hope of arising from within. And once that love, that personal relationship, arises, then the instinct to protect what they love will follow," he explains.

"If even a fraction of the kids we meet at camp develop a personal relationship with the outdoor world and have a respect for nature that comes from knowing it directly, maybe we'll have made a difference," Paddock says. "Turning kids on to how cool nature is, and how much enjoyment there is to be found in nature, we're laying the foundation for them to understand, care about — and act upon— the environmental issues they'll learn about as other educators contribute to their development."

Children’s Risky Play from an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences | Evolutionary Psychology

Children’s Risky Play from an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences | Evolutionary Psychology:

Excerpts below - the full research article in PDF form can be read from the link above

Great research that supports what most caregivers know already - that controlled risk associated play provides great overall developmental opportunities and that the lack of the same play can have serious and long lasting negative effects. 

This theoretical article views children’s risky play from an evolutionary perspective, addressing specific evolutionary functions and especially the anti-phobic effects of risky play. According to the non-associative theory, a contemporary approach to the etiology of anxiety, children develop fears of certain stimuli (e.g., heights and strangers) that protect them from situations they are not mature enough to cope with, naturally through infancy. Risky play is a set of motivated behaviors that both provide the child with an exhilarating positive emotion and expose the child to the stimuli they previously have feared. As the child’s coping skills improve, these situations and stimuli may be mastered and no longer be feared. Thus fear caused by maturational and age relevant natural inhibition is reduced as the child experiences a motivating thrilling activation, while learning to master age adequate challenges. It is concluded that risky play may have evolved due to this anti-phobic effect in normal child development, and it is suggested that we may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play.

David Sciarra: Time to Make High Quality Early Education a Legal Right

David Sciarra: Time to Make High Quality Early Education a Legal Right

David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of the Education Law Center (ELC) in Newark, New Jersey. Since 1996, he has litigated to enforce access for low income and minority children to an equal and adequate education under state and federal laws.Mr. Sciarra directs the work of ELC, one of the nation’s premier education advocacy organizations. ELC works to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for low- income students, students of color, and students with special needs, through policy initiatives, action research, public engagement, and when necessary, legal action.

"The Australian government has always, without exception, been one to follow the actions of its peers. First Britain, then the US. It will follow their actions even if those actions/programmes/ideas have been proven to be unworkable or even detrimental. I've always thought if you want to know what's next for Australia, read about the disasters unfolding in the US...therefore read on.  
Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above 

"For the second straight year, many states have reduced preschool funding, access and quality for the nation's 3-and 4-year-old children, according to data in the "2011 State of Preschool Yearbook," released today by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Even more states continue to deprive millions of young children of access to the reform that educators agree is essential to closing K-12 achievement gaps for low-income children and children of color: a well planned, high quality preschool program starting at age 3.

The disturbing trends documented in the 2011 Yearbook reflect the stark reality that lawmakers in many state capitals continue to resist making the investments necessary to build comprehensive systems of universal high quality early education, integrated with K-12 public education. More troubling is the evidence that, when faced with dips in the economy, state lawmakers will not hesitate to cut funding for pre-K, despite research demonstrating the gains made by children who have access to quality early education.

A few states are bucking the trend, thanks to court rulings that have prodded governors and legislators to make and sustain investments in quality preschool. Most notable is New Jersey, where the NJ Supreme Court over a decade ago in the landmark Abbott case directed the State to provide "well planned, high quality" preschool to all 3- and 4-year old children in poor communities. Over 45,000 children are now enrolled in Head Start, child care provider and public school classrooms, funded through the State K-12 school finance formula, staffed by certified teachers delivering a developmentally appropriate educational program. The NJ pre-K curriculum is aligned to the state's rigorous K-12 academic standards. While lawmakers have delayed an expansion of the program statewide, the Abbott rulings have ensured adequate and stable funding, making NJ's "Abbott Preschool Program" a national model.

State court rulings in Arkansas, Alaska and North Carolina have advanced access to preschool in those states as well. In Colorado, a recently concluded trial resulted in a court ruling that recounted the great benefits of high quality preschool and found serious shortcomings in the Colorado program. The court found that the state's program does not provide access to enough children and fail to meet quality standards. This court decision is currently on appeal.

We know low-income children start kindergarten far behind their more affluent peers, and that states cannot narrow, let alone close, achievement gaps unless all young children have access to high quality preschool.

The time is now for states to expand the legal right to education to include quality early education for all 3- and 4-year-old children, as well as full-day kindergarten. It's also time for an entirely new federal policy on early education, focused on encouraging states to build coordinated and comprehensive delivery systems, modeled on New Jersey's Abbott model.

Without a legal guarantee to early education, our most vulnerable children will continue to be deprived of the single most effective education reform, and the United States will continue to struggle to keep up with our global competitors."

Lack of sun harms children's eyesight

Lack of sun harms children's eyesight

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

"SNUBBING the outdoors for books, video games and TV is the reason up to nine in 10 school-leavers in big east Asian cities are near-sighted.

Neither genes nor the mere increase in activities such as reading and writing is to blame, new research suggests, but a simple lack of sunlight.

Exposure to the sun's rays is believed to stimulate production of the chemical dopamine, which stops the eyeball distorting the focus of light entering the eye.

''It's pretty clear that it is bright light stimulating dopamine release which prevents myopia,'' researcher Ian Morgan of the Australian National University said of the findings published in The Lancet medical journal.

Yet the average primary school pupil in Singapore, where up to nine in 10 young adults are myopic, spent only about 30 minutes outdoors each day - compared with three hours for children in Australia where the myopia prevalence among children of European origin is about 10 per cent.

The figure in Britain was about 30 to 40 per cent and in Africa ''virtually none'', Professor Morgan said. The most myopic school-leavers in the world are to be found in cities in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and South Korea."

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Darell Hammond: Dangerous Playgrounds Are Good for Your Kids

Darell Hammond: Dangerous Playgrounds Are Good for Your Kids

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

Darell Hammond is an American philanthropist, founder and chief executive officer of the non-profit organization KaBOOM! that helps communities buildplaygrounds for children. 

" It's National Playground Safety Week, but I'm not celebrating. In fact, I'd like to propose a National Playground Danger Week instead.

Don't get me wrong: I appreciate playground safety...... there are certain precautions I'm glad we take. For instance, I'm glad we surface our playgrounds with engineered wood fiber instead of, say, cement. I'm glad that we follow guidelines for swing set placement so that a kid doesn't jump off a swing and sail smack into the side of a building.

That said, we as a country have taken playground safety too far. We have crossed the line from common sense (don't place a swing set next to a building) to that murky "What if?" territory in which we imagine every conceivable accident that could ever take place on a playground (what if a finger gets caught in a see-saw?) and try to guard against it.

The result? Boring, uninspired playgrounds that lack whimsy, risk, and -- yes -- see-saws.

We all have a natural instinct to protect children from harm. It's never fun to see a child hurt, even if it's just a scraped knee. But on the other hand, children need to take on physical challenges to learn and grow, and scraped knees and other bumps and bruises teach them valuable lessons about their own limits.

When given age-appropriate challenges, children tend to take them very seriously; in fact, the more obvious the risk is, the more cautiously a child will proceed. Adventure Playgrounds are a perfect case in point. While our paranoid and litigious society boasts only a handful, Europe has hundreds, offering kids the opportunity to play with fire, use handsaws and sail across 50-foot zip lines.

.....What we like to say is that there are no hidden risks in the playground. Even a young child walking through the playground gates can look around and tell that it's a different type of playground, and there are sticks and boards and nails and rocks and things that they need to watch out for.

....We don't give our kids enough credit. No child wants to fall off a jungle gym or slide. Accidents are an unfortunate fact of life, but to lower every last slide and jungle gym to a height that would only interest a toddler is doing our children a grave disservice. Our instincts to protect and our instincts to immediately point fingers when accidents do happen by filing a lawsuit, are actually hurting our children by denying them the opportunity to take on vital challenges.

During National Playground Safety Week, I'll celebrate common-sense safety. I'll also celebrate skinned knees and bruised elbows. I'll celebrate so-called "dangerous" playgrounds --playgrounds with see-saws, zip lines and towering slides. But I won't laud so-called injury-proof and lawsuit-proof play equipment -- because a boring playground is nothing to celebrate.

Maria Rodale: The Importance of Trees

Maria Rodale: The Importance of Trees

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

"Trees are dirty and they take my open space." Those were the complaints of a homeowner who forced a community and conservation organization to remove 400 of the 1,300 trees they had just planted.

How do you respond to a complaint that trees are dirty? Perhaps trees are dirty, perhaps they do take up space in the landscape, but what would our world be without them?

...... As children we enjoy the adventure that trees bring--tree houses, tree-climbing, trees as imaginary castles or the home of a gnome taking us to magical places of play. And research has shown that exposure to trees and time in nature help diminish the harms of attention-deficit disorder in kids and adults alike.

...... By soaking up water, trees prevent unnatural flooding that can destroy homes and put lives at risk; whether we are talking about catastrophic floods or water in your basement, trees can help prevent the harm. As one expert once told me, "Trees are the best water pumps we have." Trees in just four Philadelphia-area watersheds saved a combined $6.5 billion in otherwise-needed stormwater infrastructure. Tree roots along a bank prevent the erosion of land and protect bridges, roads, and other infrastructure from being undermined.

Trees sequester carbon from the air, helping to slow global warming. Trees filter pollution that would otherwise contaminate our drinking water, pollute our air, and pollute the waters we swim in and eat fish from. Each tree we plant can provide oxygen for two people for the rest of their lives. By investing $1 to $1.5 billion in protecting the watershed that feeds New York City's drinking water source (the Upper Delaware River), the city avoided spending $10 billion for a water-filtration plant and has some of the best-tasting water in the country. Trees did that!

Need more numbers? Over a 50-year lifetime, a tree generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of air-pollution control, recycles $37,500 worth of water, and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion.
Trees have value beyond measure. Every aspect of our lives is touched and enhanced by trees.

Here are 5 things you can do to help the trees:

  • Plant a native tree, treat it with care, feed it fresh water and give it clean air, protect it from axes that hack and neighbors who gripe, and plant another tree the day after that.
  • Read The Lorax by Dr. Seuss to your kids. The original book is much nicer and more meaningful than the recent adaptation found in the movies. Where Once There Was a Wood, by Denise Fleming, is another lovely book that helps children understand the value of nature and trees, and what we lose when trees are gone.
  • Read Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, and learn how exposure to trees and nature enhances the learning capacity of children and helps address the challenges caused by attention-deficit disorder.
  • Encourage your municipality and school district to plant native trees on public lands and school properties.
  • Urge your municipal officials to pass an ordinance that requires at least a 100-foot vegetated buffer, filled with trees to the greatest degree possible, between streams and new development to prevent unnatural flooding, flood damages, and pollution, and to enhance the habitats of the fish, birds, bugs, and wildlife that also grace our Earth and lives."

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Well: At Playground, Child Plus Lap Can Equal Danger -

At Playground, Child Plus Lap Can Equal Danger -

First the article and then Lenore from Freerange kids provides her own unique take.

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

"Last spring, Katie Dickman of Dunkirk, Md., was at the playground with her 18-month-old toddler, Hannah, when the little girl asked to ride down a twisting slide. Ms. Dickman accompanied her daughter, carefully keeping the child on her lap as they coasted to the bottom.

But without warning, Hannah’s sneaker caught on the side of the slide. Although Ms. Dickman grabbed the leg and unstuck her daughter’s foot, by the time they reached the ground, the girl was whimpering and could not walk. A doctor’s visit later revealed a fractured tibia.....“My wife was just trying to keep Hannah extra safe and make sure she didn’t fall,” said Hannah’s father, Jed Dickman. “She felt very guilty about it.” As the Dickmans soon learned, such injuries are surprisingly common.

....This may be one of those counterintuitive cases when a child is safer by himself. If a foot gets caught while the child is sliding alone, he can just stop moving or twist around until it comes free. But when a child is sitting in an adult lap, the force of the adult’s weight behind him ends up breaking his leg.......Dr. Gaffney said he has treated three playground fractures in the last month for children sliding with a grandparent, a parent and a baby sitter....“As soon as the weather gets warm, this starts to happen,” he said. “It’s so common, but parents say: ‘How did I not know about this? I thought it was doing something good for my child by having them sit on my lap.’ ”

Andy Dworkin, a former journalist who is now a medical student in Portland, Ore., said his son Felix, then 18 months, was playing with a toddler friend at an elementary school where they were drawn to a blue slide. Felix rode down first, on the lap of his mother, but his rubber-soled shoe caught on the slide and he started to scream when he got off the slide.

Another mother, at the top of the slide with her own 17-month-old, quickly slid down with her son to try to help. But soon that little boy was crying as well. At the emergency room, both boys were found to have fractures, and they were fitted with orange and blue casts.

Both boys had full recoveries. Felix, now 3 ½, doesn’t remember the accident, but will now go down small slides only and remains cautious around large twisting slides, said Mr. Dworkin.

...To prevent the injury, the best solution is to allow a child to slide by himself, with supervision and instructions on how to play safely. Young children can be placed on the slide at the halfway point with a parent standing next to the slide. At the very least, parents should remove a child’s shoes before riding down the slide with the child on their laps, and make sure the child’s legs don’t touch the sides or sliding surface.

“I’m not saying we need to make the entire world out of rubber and insulate kids,” he said. “But this is something that is so totally predictable and preventable. That’s why I want to get the word out this one could go away.”
Wow, Who Knew? Kids Should Go Down Slides ON THEIR OWN! « FreeRangeKids
Hi Readers — and thank you for sending this story, “A Surprising Risk for Toddlers on Playground Slides,” that was in yesterday’s New York Times. And what exactly IS the surprising risk?

Parents! Extremely loving, extremely cautious parents who, rather than letting their kids navigate the slide on their own, put them on their lap and let gravity do its thing. The problem is: The thing gravity is doing is breaking their childrens’ legs.

Yes, “helping” the kids actually makes the slide experience less safe. Kids are getting their legs stuck and twisted and even broken, because (sez the story) “If a foot gets caught while the child is sliding alone, he can just stop moving or twist around until it comes free. But when a child is sitting in an adult lap, the force of the adult’s weight behind him ends up breaking his leg.”

Now, I am of at least two, possibly even three-point-five minds about this story. First off, of course, I am a little smug about the news that helicoptering doesn’t help kids. The fact that kids have been going down slides alone since Danny slid down his Dinosaur should have been evidence enough that modest inclines and moppets are a good mix. But we live in a culture that loves to demand ever more involvement on the part of parents, so a lot of folks got the idea that GOOD moms and dads are the ones who put down the Starbucks and go, “Wheeeee!” with perhaps more enthusiasm than they feel. Now they are off the hook.

ON THE OTHER HAND (we are now onto Mind #2), this article also makes it seem as if the parent/kid playground combo is the slippery slope to hell, and that slides are even MORE dangerous than anybody had ever imagined. And considering we have already imagined them as SO dangerous that regulations require them to be no taller than the average mound of laundry (or is that just at my house?), this is another blow to playground fun.

And here’s Mind #3: The fact that this issue merited an entire article in the hard copy of the New York Times — space that is disappearing faster than Happy Meal fries – is just another example of our obsession with every little thing that has to do with parenting. As if every hour of time with them is fraught with the potential for developmental leaps or horrifying danger. When really what we’re talking about is an afternoon at the playground.

And now for the .5: One point the article made is that, “The damage is not merely physical. ‘The parents are always crushed that they broke their kid’s leg and are baffled as to why nobody ever told them this could happen,’ Dr. Holt said. ‘Sometimes one parent is angry at the other parent because that parent caused the child’s fracture. It has some real consequences to families.’”

In a nutshell (and I do mean nut) here are my final thoughts:

1 – Parents are BAFFLED that NOBODY EVER TOLD THEM every single thing that could possibly go wrong in any situation? That’s one reason why we are so litigious: We expect every activity to be perfect every time, and if it’s not, we are so angry we want to blame someone (else). Not fate. Someone.

2 – While I can totally see being mad at the parent who broke my kid’s leg, I can also see moving on. Getting over it. Realizing it could have been ME. Lasting consequences seems a bit dramatic for an injury that, the article says, the children recover from in 4 to 6 weeks, without “lasting complications.” (Except, of course, for the divorce.)

3 – And, in defense of the article and the author, whose work I like, maybe the piece actually did perform a public service. Hoopla aside, now you know: Let your kid go solo down the slide.

I think I’m done. Feel free to take up where I left off. – L.

Researchers find time in wild boosts creativity, insight and problem solving - KU News

Researchers find time in wild boosts creativity, insight and problem solving - KU News

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

"There’s new evidence that our minds thrive away from it all....Research conducted at the University of Kansas concludes that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after living for a few days steeped in nature.

Ruth Ann Atchley, whose research is featured in this month’s Backpacker magazine, said the “soft fascination” of the natural world appears to refresh the human mind, offering refuge from the cacophony of modern life.

“We’ve got information coming at us from social media, electronics and cell phones,” said Atchley, associate professor and chair of psychology at KU. “We constantly shift attention from one source to another, getting all of this information that simulates alarms, warnings and emergencies. Those threats are bad for us. They sap our resources to do the fun thinking and cognition humans are capable of — things like creativity, or being kind and generous, along with our ability to feel good and be in a positive mood.”

The researcher said that nature could stimulate the human mind without the often-menacing distractions of workaday life in the 21st-century.

“Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses,” said Atchley. “Therefore, we have resources left over — to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve — that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.”

.....“There’s growing advantage over time to being in nature,” said Ruth Ann Atchley. “We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cell phone, not hauling the iPad and not looking for internet coverage. It’s when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works.”

How to reconnect children with nature | Life and style |

How to reconnect children with nature | Life and style |

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

" My children – now aged eight, seven and seven – take their rural surroundings for granted. And like all children their age, the rival attractions of CBBC and computer games do sometimes prevent them getting off the sofa and venturing outside. But when they do, they are transformed from couch potato kids into free-range children.

As I watch them racing off, nets in hand, to hunt down unsuspecting insects, I am filled with pride and joy. Pride that my children are rapidly turning into genuinely knowledgable naturalists, able to identify buzzards and bullfinches, catch gatekeepers and grasshoppers, and enjoy rare visitors such as the hummingbird hawkmoth that graced our buddleia bush last summer. Joy that they are, little by little, learning to love the natural world. For me, it was this passion that enabled me to turn my childhood hobby into my life's work as a naturalist.

Yet I am also worried. ..... My concern is for other children up and down the country – in cities, suburbs, towns and villages – for whom the natural world is a closed book.

I've spent the past six months writing a report ....... It's made me realise that the issue is both a lot more complex, and a lot more important, than many people assume.

The world is now divided into two camps, separated by whether you were born before about 1970, or after. When I meet people in their seventies or eighties they often tell me about their childhood nature experiences, sometimes going back before the start of the second world war.

But when I meet younger people, even those who have embarked on a career at the BBC Natural History Unit, I am often amazed at the lack of freedom they had as children. .....Those who, like me, came from a family where we were the first to take an interest in nature, are few and far between.

Why this has come about is obvious to any parent. Whereas we, and previous generations, had the freedom to roam where we liked at weekends and during school holidays, today's children have their lives organised, planned and controlled to a military degree. Even if they do encounter wild animals or plants, this is usually as part of a 'nature experience': a guided walk, a school lesson, or via a TV or computer's children now know more about the wildlife of the Amazon rainforest than they do about their own backyard. My own children may be avid fans of Steve Backshall and his Deadly 60, but they also enjoy their own hands-on encounters with nature, even if they do suffer the occasional sting, prick or bite.

.... apart from the obvious benefits to their physical and mental health (there aren't many obese naturalists), there is also the sheer joy that these experiences – often unexpected, sometimes scary, but always fulfilling – bring..... There are other, less tangible benefits to getting outdoors. Being allowed to roam free with your friends is a fantastic way to learn about yourself and about risk.....It also teaches children about working together as a team, a valuable lesson for later life.

Getting our children back to nature has to start with us parents. There are lots of ways to help them explore the natural world without feeling tied to our apron strings.....  please don't stop your children touching, picking, catching and collecting what they find; whoever coined the conservationists' mantra "take only photographs, leave only footprints" had clearly forgotten what it is like to hold a frog, pick a bluebell or catch a butterfly.

Finally, as they reach the teenage years, allow them the freedom to explore wild places without adults following their every footstep. Scary, perhaps – for you and them – but incredibly rewarding too. By letting go a little, you will enable them to learn a lot."

“How to Spot a Predator” — Really? « FreeRangeKids

“How to Spot a Predator” — Really? « FreeRangeKids

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

Had to repost this piece from Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids.

It reminds me that in this global internet age there appears to be nothing more dangerous than someone with very little factual knowledge and computer access. It seems it's more than true these days that ‘a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on’. [1859 C. H. Spurgeon Gems from Spurgeon 74].

If you have time, read the comments below the article, it seems that in relation to fearful ignorance - one size fits all.

" Hi Readers — Still trying to figure out what part of this Circle of Moms post, “How to Spot a Child Predator” irks me the most. It’s by a lady who was at a cafe and heard a man asking two third grade boys questions like, “What’s your favorite subject?” and “Who do you want to marry when you grow up?” He also asked them some math problems, so the lady immediately “understood” what she was hearing:

…like a thunderbolt, it hits me! Those boys are being groomed.

How exactly did she know he was up to no good? She trusted her gut. And now she wants the rest of us to trust it, too:

I wrote this so you’d read about the types of questions a potential predator uses so you can prepare your kids.

Please don’t scare your kids, but do talk to them. Use these, or examples like the, so your kids know what bad strangers ask .

…Except that there is no evidence whatsoever that this was a “bad stranger,” or that these are the type of questions a bad stranger would ask! It’s like saying, “I would have been raped by the man in the grocery store today if I hadn’t realized what he was up to! So I’m alerting the rest of you: If a man ever asks, ‘Do you know what aisle the paper towels are in?’ RUN! He is a bad stranger. Don’t thank me — I’m just trying to help!”

Uh…thanks. But no thanks. – L.

How can you tell if a man is a predator? Easy! If he’s male and nice to kids — he is!"

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Overprotective Parents May Put Their Children at Risk of Injury at Playground - ABC News

Overprotective Parents May Put Their Children at Risk of Injury at Playground - ABC News:

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above
PHOTO: Overprotective parents anxious for their children not to be hurt on playgrounds, actually may be harming their social and emotional development.

"For parents who hover, a playground can look like a very dangerous place for their kids. But medical experts warn that parental efforts to keep their young children safe often backfire -- and end up harming them instead.

Nora Abularach of New York keeps her impulses in check. On Wednesday she watched as her 2-year-old son, Sam, scurried up the ladder to a big yellow slide at a Central Park playground. Abularach remained a few feet away near the foot of the slide. Sam paused at the top for a moment, looking to his mom for reassurance. A few encouraging words later, Sam was zipping down the slide, all by himself.

The mother of two says she likes this particular playground because it is specially designed for Sam's age group. She can let him explore and tackle each new apparatus on his own.

"I try not to hover," she said. "I think it's important for him to fall once or twice; he needs to figure out his own limits."

Meanwhile, it's becoming clear that playgrounds are not what they used to be. Towns and schools across the country have been bulldozing the old metal on concrete playgrounds in exchange for softer surfaces, lower platforms and fewer moving parts. The emphasis on safe play zones for children has never been greater. But some question whether these changes are making a difference when it comes to injured kids.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that 2008 saw just over 220,000 ER visits from kids injured on playgrounds. This actually reflects a small increase from their 1999 estimate of 205,000.

The most common playground injuries requiring medical attention were fractures, bruises, cuts and sprains, which made up 85 percent of all visits. Ninety five percent of children taken to the ER after a playground injury were treated and released.

And some parents may be surprised to learn that their efforts to keep their kids safer on the playground may actually be causing more injuries than they prevent.

A 2009 study out of Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., found that 14 percent of fractures to one of the lower leg bones, called the tibia, occurred on slides. Surprisingly, 100 percent of them happened in children who were riding down the slide on the lap of a parent. No children who slid alone sustained the injury.

The researcher, Dr. John T. Gaffney, chief of pediatric orthopedic surgery says he did this study after seeing children come into the ER one after another with a similar history and diagnosis.
"The parents were very frustrated and upset to learn that they had inadvertently contributed to their child's fracture when they thought they were helping," says Gaffney.

Some experts say cuts and scrapes, and even the broken bones will heal, but a playground's effect on a child's emotional development may be long-lasting. There are a number of critics of these new super-safe play areas.Ellen Sandseter and colleagues from Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education in Trondheim, Norway, wrote about the effects of "safe" playgrounds and overly cautious parents on child development in a 2011 article in Evolutionary Psychology.

According to the article, a young child naturally fears the highest bar of the jungle gym or that extra twisty slide. These fears are adaptive, meaning they have a purpose, preventing them from being injured.

Risky play is the process by which children slowly confront these fears as their maturity and physical skill level advances. Upon conquering the new feat, the child is left with an exciting, positive feeling which replaces their former fears. When a child's playground consists of only supersafe play areas or if their parent is overprotective, they do not get to experience these small victories -- and that may ultimately leave them with anxiety that is inappropriate for their age and physical skill level.

"Playgrounds are, in many ways, a microcosm of a child's world," says Mark A. Reinecke, chair of psychology and child development at Northwestern University in Illinois. "The lessons learned there reverberate through their lives........"

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Nature and the classroom

Nature and the classroom. The two are not necessarily separate places. I believe that you can commence a programme introducing children to nature before you leave the indoor classroom.

In my work I come across a lot of people who believe that naturalistic play and environments are created by simply adding a few natural elements to an existing outdoor KFC environment - the outdoor equivalent of adding wood effect wall paper. Beyond the highly contentious issues of, "Rocks, plants, woodchips, bees, trees....are dangerous, dirty and expensive", they believe that adding (and then generally ignoring) a bit of green matter to their playgrounds fulfils the current requirement for EYLF, i.e. "Outdoor learning spaces are a feature of Australian learning environments. They offer a vast array of possibilities not available indoors. Playspaces in natural environments include plants, trees, edible gardens, sand, rocks, mud, water and other elements from nature. These spaces invite open-ended interactions, spontaneity, risk-taking, exploration, discovery and connection with nature. They foster an appreciation of the natural environment, develop environmental awareness and provide a platform for ongoing environmental education" and the NQF and new National Standards.

Every centre is different. Some are in areas that are climatically inhospitable (e.g. it rains, is cold, is hot), some are situated in built-up metropolitan areas, others simply lack knowledge, consideration and ultimately a philosophy, in respect to introducing these natural concepts and experiences. NO BLAME is attached to the last statement. The current ideology being touted is that this current generation is the first to be affected by alienation to nature, when in truth the process began, depending on when and where you grew up, generations ago. Therefore it is a tad difficult to understand, teach or be enthusiastic about something you've never really fully experienced.  

Some really good examples of centres and services who have attempted to address their situations and introduced nature concepts are listed below. I find their efforts, energy and problem solving inspirational in our otherwise "you do it for me" world. In no particular order they are -

Learning for Life (aka. No such thing as bad weather)
The Nature Teacher
Tiny Treks - Unplug with the Outdoors

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Miracle of Childhood

In my travels, both geographically and online, I'm lucky to meet a number of people who share their experience, ideas and passion for nature with me. Dorinda Wolfe Murray is such a person and impressed me so much that I asked her whether she would consider providing a guest post on her ideas. You can read more about Dorinda's fascinating work with healing and therapeutic gardens here.

The Miracle of Childhood  -  Dorinda Wolfe Murray

"Looking back on my childhood I realise how incredibly lucky I was. Not in a romantic, perfect kind of way. No rose tinted glasses I promise you. We were after all not very well off and winters are bitterly cold when there is no central heating and you live in the middle of the UK countryside. We did not have holidays anywhere except at home; we had one television and a radio. If we were hungry after mealtimes, it was bread and dripping (with salt of course!).

As a child, food and love are probably the two most important things in life. Our food came from the countryside and although our parents loved us, they were often busy, so we were allowed to roam over the local farm land (having asked permission of course!). As I said we were not well off so we relied on what my father grew in the vegetable patch, what he shot, and what we got from our local village. I remember in the autumn picking apples and going out into the fields to ‘make’ houses from the straw that the combine harvesters had yet to bale. We went out and about for hours, coming home when our stomachs were hungry. We paddled in ponds; built dams; got soaking wet; fell into nettle patches (I well remember that one); played endlessly in sandpits and ate worms (apparently) and certainly had more than our fair share of earth attached to what we consumed. We stamped on green walnuts to get to the nuts, turning ourselves brown in the process; mulberries with their telltale purple juice (much worse than blackberries) meant we could never escape detection from eating the stolen fruit. And of course we got cold, wet, miserable and filthy dirty. But somehow we got through it all and the countryside entered and has subsequently sustained my consciousness all my life. The way clouds chase each other across the sky; the way water flattens the grass when a stream is in ‘spate’; the feel of mud oozing between your toes. I watched birds strip the berries off the trees in winter; saw how the wrens died in the cold; watched as sparrow hawks took their food from the bird tables, leaving a puff of feathers behind; learned to listen to the call of the wild geese as they flew at high altitudes heralding the start of the winter storms. The cycle of life and death in my childhood was what life was about. Stubbed toes, sore feet, falling over, cuts, bruises and scrapes were what taught us our boundaries. We fell out of trees (not something I did more than once); got stung by wasps – and bees; bitten by red ants and endless mozzies.

As I said I was and am lucky. My father and grandfather were naturalists of the best sort. They understood that nature was red in tooth and claw; gloriously beautiful and wonderfully cruel. They respected it. Just as I have learned too to respect it and to respect my children’s ‘take’ on life. Children are far more accepting of death than adults. It is us that make them afraid. Children have a ‘knowing’ about life, an instinctive understanding that as adults we often forget. And in our forgetfulness we become frightened and teach our children to be afraid. Yes, of course we have to set boundaries; we do that because we love and care for our children. But we do not need to stifle them so much that they forget their instinctive ‘knowing’. Life to a child is simply wonderful – take any toddler for a ‘short’ walk down a street or lane, and if you let them, they will take an hour as everything is looked at and examined. Life is a miracle when you take the time to notice it. Nature teaches us so much, and we ignore our connection to it at our peril. It replenishes us, gives us ease and rest and is never above teaching us a lesson or two should we get too ‘up ourselves’. We do our children a huge disservice by stifling them with too much care and attention; by not letting them get dirty in sandpits, ponds and streams. By sanitising their lives so much that the only life they see is on an X-box or on television.

I feel like weeping when I see playgrounds for children made up of astro turf with plastic swings. Not a sandpit or water slide in sight; no grass to play on; no dirt to make into mud pies or chestnut trees to provide conkers to fight with. That is why when I see Tess’ playgrounds (and she won’t mind me saying this) I feel that at last things are moving back in the right direction. They look wonderfully creative with colour and texture; areas in which to crawl, sit and run. Places to explore, get dirty and get (to use a much hackneyed phrase) up close and personal with nature.

Of course we want to protect our children from harm and give them the best start in life. But being a parent is about teaching our children boundaries and teaching them to observe and experience. Nature has a huge place in this – as do the cuts, falls, and hurts of learning to walk and run."

No other animal has divorced itself from its food supplies and its environment and survived, and neither will we. From a talk by Pat Mooney, Executive Director of  ETC Group.