Saturday, 30 June 2012

InsideToronto Article: Students learn ABCs of gardening - literally

The full article can be read from the link above

Students at Clinton Street Public School will get an education on a wide variety of plant life - from aster to zebragrass - with the official opening of the school's ABC Learning Garden.

The garden consists of 26 plants, one for each letter of the alphabet, and will give youngsters a chance to reconnect with nature and learn about flora.

The plants were selected by students from Grades 4 to 6, who researched a variety of native plant species and chose the ones they wanted to see in the garden.

With help from Ryerson University nursing students, students from OISE and community garden volunteer Marjorie Shu, they have spent this year planting and tending to the garden, marking its official opening with the planting of the garlic bulbs - the last of the 26 plants to take root - on Tuesday, May 22.

Clinton Street vice-principal Danielle Hyles-Rainford said the garden was made possible through a $500 Evergreen Foundation grant, donations from the parent council through Clinton's School Council Wish List Fund and help from others in the community.

"It's part of Clinton being an eco school and part of the vibrant community initiative," she said. "What we want is an enrichment in kids' knowledge of how to garden and we have one class that's keen on vermiculture and how worms help as a natural composter."

While the school's Grade 4 gifted class helped lead the planting, Clinton Street student Sabbrina Husn Ortiz said the planting of the garden was a total school effort. "All the classes pitched in to clean outside of the garden and it was hard work," she said.

The school's enthusiasm for the garden has not waned over the course of the school year. Students remain excited about maintenance and upkeep, due in part to the fact they were given a chance to take ownership of the site from the very beginning. The school has even appointed eco-monitors, volunteers who will monitor the garden and plant new plants when necessary.

"They got to vote on (the plants) after learning about a bunch of different ones, so they know more about plants than what's in the garden," said OISE student Jennifer Thomas, who offered support throughout the process. "They're excited to see the plants they picked."

Shu said the garden will help the students overcome 'nature deficit disorder' by getting them to connect with the outdoors instead of spending all their time in front of computer screens. "We want to teach them there's a living energy in nature and they need to honour it, work with it and connect with it," she said.

The garden, located in the front of the school, promises to serve as a valuable teaching tool for years to come.
"The kids have been working on this since the start of the year and they're still really enjoying it," Hyles-Rainford said.

Natural playground inspires kids to be more active |

Natural playground inspires kids to be more active |

The full article can be read from the link above

You may remember playgrounds from your younger days with monkey bars and tornado slides. A new wave of playgrounds feature natural elements to make play more active and more fun. "We were needing to replace our traditional playground. It had been kind of worn out," Sean Durham, Ph.D., said.

He is the Executive Director of the Early Learning Center who discovered a national trend toward natural playgrounds. "You can use just very common things like a fallen tree, branches, some recycled equipment that gives children opportunities to really interact in interesting ways and learn to respect and form a relationship with nature," Durham said. This new natural playground replaced the traditional one. Durham said it's low cost and safe.

"To go down a slide you don't have to crawl up a big ladder and risk falling off. Our slides here are the embankment slides so you just really are sliding down a hill but on a regular slide and the children love it," he said. The children enjoy themselves while researchers from the University of Tennessee study them.

"Last year we came in when the traditional playground was in place and we observed their activity," Dawn Coe, Ph.D., said. Back then UT Assistant Professor Coe said researchers used accelerometer belts . They measured the intensity of the kids' physical activity. Now they're comparing that data with the kids' activity on the natural playground.

"It looks like they're doing some more climbing, swinging from one of the branches on the tree, so they're using their upper body. Also some of the other elements like the tree stumps and the logs, they're using more balance," she said. The natural setting seems to have sparked their imagination.

"We have a small little grove of trees down on the far end of the playground and the children were going in and out on the very first day we put them in pretending that they were wolves," Durham said. They're moving more and that's a critical component in reducing childhood obesity. "A lot more active play, a lot more pretend play. But then we noticed children going around and picking a flower or looking at a flower and the children love to water all the plants," he said.

The research at the Early Learning Center could have an impact on other playgrounds and it could convince schools to integrate more outdoor time. "Most of our kids spend the majority of their day in school in a classroom seated. Here I like a lot of these elements because they get to engage in play and use their imagination and just be kids and have fun," Coe said.

Nature: Now Showing on TV -

The full article can be read from the link above

ONE morning some birder pals and I spend an hour at Sapsucker Woods in Ithaca, N.Y., watching two great blue herons feed their five rowdy chicks. It’s a perfect setting for nesting herons, with an oak-snag overhanging a plush green pond, shallows to hunt in and a living larder of small fish and frogs. Only weeks old, the chicks are mainly fluff and appetite.

As mom and dad run relays, the chicks clack wildly like wooden castanets, beaks flying, pecking like speed typists. Sibling rivalry is rarely so explicit. Laughing and cooing, we could watch their antics all day.

I’m new to this circle of blue heron aficionados, some of whom have been visiting the nest daily since late April and comparing notes. “I have let a lot of things go,” one says. “On purpose, though. This has been such a rare and wonderful opportunity.” “Work?” another replies. “Who has time to work?”

So true. The bird sanctuary offers a tapestry of trees, mallards, songbirds, red-tailed hawks, huge pileated woodpeckers and, of course, yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Canada geese have been known to stop traffic (literally) — with adults serving as crossing guards. It’s a green mansion, and always captivating.

However, we’re not really there. We’re all — more than 1.5 million of us thus far — watching on two live webcams affixed near the nest and “chatting” in a swiftly scrolling Twitter-like conversation that rolls alongside the bird’s-eye view.

We’re virtually at the pond. And without mud, sweat or mosquitoes. No need to dress, share snacks, make conversation. Some of us may be taking a coffee break, or going mentally AWOL during class or work.

This is not an unusual way to pass time nowadays, and it’s swiftly becoming the preferred way to view nature. I could have chosen a tarantula-cam, a meerkat-cam or a naked mole rat-cam from a profusion of equally appealing sites, some visited by tens of millions of people.

This is how we mainly experience nature now — it comes to us, not the other way around — on a small, flat, glowing screen. You don’t exercise as you meander, uncertain what delight or danger may greet you, while feeling dwarfed by forces older and larger than yourself. It’s a radically different way of being — with nature, but not in nature — and it’s bound to change us.

Gradually, we may grow used to shallower and shallower experiences of nature. For example, on YouTube I just glimpsed several icebergs rolling in Antarctica — minus the grandeur of size, sounds, colors, waves and panorama. Oddest of all, the icebergs look a bit grainy. Lucky enough to visit Antarctica years ago, I was startled to find the air so clear that glare functioned almost as another color. An eye-sweep of busy seals, whales, penguins and other birds, as well as ice floes and calving glaciers, offers so much drama it’s like entering a pop-up storybook. Watching icebergs online (or even at an Imax theater, or in sumptuous nature films) is fascinating fun and can be stirring and thought-provoking, but the experience is wildly different.

Still, few people will travel to such remote landscapes — or Sapsucker Woods, for that matter — and technology supplies a shortcut. It also helps to satisfy a longing so essential to our well-being that we feel compelled to tune in, and we find it hypnotic.

The more we exile ourselves from nature, the more we crave its miracle waters. Just as our ancient ancestors drew animals on cave walls and carved animals from wood and bone, we decorate our homes with animal prints and motifs, give our children stuffed animals to clutch, cartoon animals to watch, animal stories to read. We call one another by “pet” names, wear animal-print clothes. We ogle plants and animals up close on television, the Internet and in the movies. We may not worship the animals we see, but we still regard them as necessary physical and spiritual companions. Technological nature can’t completely satisfy that yearning.

But what if, through novelty and convenience, digital nature replaces biological nature? Studies show that we’ll suffer. Richard Louv writes of widespread “nature-deficit disorder” among children who mainly play indoors — something new in the history of humankind. He sees it leading to attention problems, obesity, depression and lack of creativity. Adults suffer equally. Patients with a view of trees heal faster than those forced to stare at city buildings. In studies conducted by Peter H. Kahn and his colleagues at the University of Washington, workers in windowless offices were given flat screen views of nature. They reaped the benefits of greater health, happiness and efficiency than those without virtual windows. But, importantly, they weren’t as happy, healthy or creative as people given real windows with real views of nature.

Ideally, we won’t sacrifice one for the other. We’ll play outside and visit parks and wilds on foot, and also enjoy technological nature, as a mental seasoning, turning to it for what it does best: illuminate all the hidden and mysterious facets of nature we can’t experience or fathom on our own.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Schools struggling to make it over the fitness bar

I don't know what makes me sadder for the coming generation the story or the photo. I remember school at that age, we couldn't stop moving; massive games of Red Rover including 40+ children, Chasing's, climbing, Piggy-back rides. It seems "exercise" these days has to be drip-fed to the children, as if they're little battery hens. Activity has to be officially sanctioned and pasteurised of any liability risk to the Department of Ed. Apparently it's not useful activity unless it is presented to them in 20 minute fitness sessions, by an officially trained and certified Department of Ed. teacher.

The full article can be read from the link above

"Rain, hail or shine, fitness and sport go ahead at Lansvale Public School. An array of covered play areas and the school hall come into their own in bad weather, so the children can burn off energy and maintain the school's busy program.

With three 20-minute fitness sessions a week, one class a week of physical education and one session of sport, Lansvale is meeting the Department of Education's weekly target of at least two hours of physical exercise.

But almost a third of government schools in the state have failed to meet that target, the NSW Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, has found.

In a report released yesterday, Mr Achterstraat found fewer than 40 per cent of year four students have mastered fundamental movement skills, girls are less active than boys and activity drops dramatically in winter.

With rapidly rising obesity, diabetes and heart disease, it is critical to keep children active for their health and to ward off the cost to communities and the economy, Mr Achterstraat said.

A group of stage three children - years five and six - at Lansvale were happy to demonstrate some games they play at school, and run off a list of other favourites.

''We need more people to play more games like bull rush,'' Justin Nguyen said. During recess and lunch he plays table tennis with friends.

A year ago, Justin was a shy, introverted pupil. His teacher, Pia Maturana, took a small group of boys last year and worked on developing their social skills through sport and physical activity.

''For the majority, they were then able to sustain and develop outside the academic world. It teaches them to share and to work together and those skills can be transferred back into the classroom.'' With all her students, she finds that after a stint of activity they are calmer and more willing to learn......."

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Jonah Lehrer on the Perils of Staying Inside | Head Case -

Jonah Lehrer on the Perils of Staying Inside | Head Case -

The full article can be read from the link above  

"Humans are quickly becoming an indoor species.

In part, this is a byproduct of urbanization, as most people now live in big cities. Our increasing reliance on technology is also driving the trend, with a recent study concluding that American children between the ages of 8 and 18 currently spend more than four hours a day interacting with technology.

As a result, there's no longer time for nature: From 2006 to 2010, the percentage of young children regularly engaging in outdoor recreation fell by roughly 15 percentage points.

This shift is occurring even as scientists outline the mental benefits of spending time in natural settings. According to the latest research, untamed landscapes have a restorative effect, calming our frazzled nerves and refreshing the tired cortex. After a brief exposure to the outdoors, people are more creative, happier and better able to focus. If there were a pill that delivered these same results, we'd all be popping it.

Consider a forthcoming paper by psychologist Ruth Ann Atchley and her colleagues at the University of Kansas. To collect their data, the researchers partnered with the nonprofit Outward Bound, which takes people on extended expeditions into nature. To measure the mental benefits of hiking in the middle of nowhere, Dr. Atchley gave 60 backpackers a standard test of creativity before they hit the trail. She gave the same test to a different group of hikers four days into their journey.

The results were surprising: The hikers in the midst of nature showed a nearly 50% increase in performance on the test of creativity, and the effect held across all age groups.

"There's a growing advantage over time to being in nature," says Dr. Atchley. "We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cellphone. 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."

This latest study builds on a growing body of evidence demonstrating the cognitive benefits of nature. Although many of us find the outdoors alienating and uncomfortable—the bugs, the bigger critters, the lack of climate control—the brain reacts to natural settings by, essentially, sighing in relief.

In 2009, a team of psychologists led by Marc Berman at the University of Michigan outfitted undergraduates with GPS receivers. Some of the students took a stroll in an arboretum, while others walked around the busy streets of downtown Ann Arbor.

The subjects were then run through a battery of psychological tests. People who had walked through the natural setting were in a better mood and scored significantly higher on tests of attention and short-term memory, which involved repeating a series of numbers backward. In fact, just glancing at a photograph of nature led to measurable improvements, at least when compared with pictures of cities.

This also helps to explain an effect on children with attention-deficit disorder. Several studies show that, when surrounded by trees and animals, these children are less likely to have behavioral problems and are better able to focus on a particular task.

Scientists have found that even a relatively paltry patch of nature can confer cognitive benefits. In the late 1990s, Frances Kuo, director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, began interviewing female residents in the Robert Taylor Homes, a massive housing project on the South Side of Chicago.

Dr. Kuo and her colleagues compared women who were randomly assigned to various apartments. Some had a view of nothing but concrete sprawl, the blacktop of parking lots and basketball courts. Others looked out on grassy courtyards filled with trees and flower beds. Dr. Kuo then measured the two groups on a variety of tasks, from basic tests of attention to surveys that looked at how the women were handling major life challenges. She found that living in an apartment with a view of greenery led to significant improvements in every category.

Cities are here to stay; so are smartphones. What this research suggests, however, is that we need to make time to escape from everyone else, to explore those parts of the world that weren't designed for us. It's when we are lost in the wild that the mind is finally at home.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Preschool numbers drop as parents struggle to pay fees

Preschool numbers drop as parents struggle to pay fees

Hot on the heals of my previous post comes this article from the Sydney Morning Herald. Public preschools were conceived as a way of providing an avenue for children from low income families, whose parents are not able to afford to send their children to private institutions, to prepare themselves for entry to the formal school system. I paticularly love the quote from the education department spokesperson who states               "enrolment numbers were similar to those from last year", when it's obvious from what their Public schools are reporting that this is not the case. Adrian Piccolis' party line about ''We want to ensure that this remains the case.'' is obviously just the mindless bureaucratic rhetoric we've come to expect.

This is what happens when you run a state government into the ground, allowing your cronies to plunder it along the way, you lose your Health, Education and Transport systems. It all happens so slowly that the general public is not aware until the systems crumble. Adrian wake up the frog is boiled!

In fairness the current government has inherited a huge debt from the previous incumbents, however reducing the opportunities of already marginalised groups, just to save on a money, is not the solution.

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

HEATHER CLEMENT has calculated it will cost up to $4200 more to send her son, Ben, to the preschool at Darlington Public School than to keep him at the day-care centre next door.

She wanted to move him to the preschool next year to prepare him for kindergarten but has been forced to reconsider since the state government introduced fees this year of up to $40 a day for public preschools.

''You don't get the 50 per cent rebate that you do on day care,'' Ms Clement said, adding it was ''crazy'' that public preschool cost more than private childcare.

The state government operates 100 preschools within NSW public schools. Indigenous and disadvantaged families pay lower fees, or have them waived altogether, but many middle-income families are struggling with the rise in fees - especially as the preschool fees are not offset by government childcare benefits and rebates.
Preschools that once had waiting lists are now reporting vacancies. At inner-city Darlington, numbers have fallen by a third since last year.......The NSW Teachers Federation is surveying principals and public preschool teachers on the impact of the fees. Early feedback indicated ''some parents may not even be seeking places in preschools due to the fees'', said the federation's senior vice-president, Joan Lemaire.

''Prior to the introduction of fees, the majority of preschools had long waiting lists of students,'' she said. ''Many now report a significant drop in the numbers of families waiting for a place. Some schools that previously had waiting lists now have vacancies.''

While principals can grant fee relief or exemption, schools reported that some parents were unwilling to discuss their financial circumstances with them.

''There's a fear … that parents of children who may need the support of the preschool classes are not even applying,'' Ms Lemaire said. ''They just withdraw from the process.''

An Education Department spokesman said 2012 enrolment numbers were similar to those from last year. Each preschool's fees were in line with those charged by community preschools in the same area, he said. Nine preschools in the least disadvantaged communities charged $40 a day while 27 charged less than $5 a day.

''Preschools in our public schools were put in place to ensure that the most disadvantaged families are able to access preschool for their children,'' said the Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli. ''We want to ensure that this remains the case.''

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Preschool Access Improvement Crucial To Michigan Economic Development, Business Leaders Say

Preschool Access Improvement Crucial To Michigan Economic Development, Business Leaders Say

I've said it before, if you want to know what is going to happen next in Australian Early Education look to the US's failures. You're sure to see some autocratic government body attempting to implement them (then looking rather sheepish when they don't work - EYLF is an exception to this rule). What ever happened to learning from others mistakes.

Anyway, I normally have a problem with any corporate  association with Early Educational programmes. I believe their interactions cause government bodies to peel away any creative components of Early Childhood programmes throwing focus solely on items that are beneficial for them (the corporations) and them alone. HOWEVER, (big sigh) They are the only ones, at least in Australia, that are interested in investing any money into the educational system. 

This year the Australian government received a report from an expert panel (GONSKI) that it had commissioned to review the current education system and make recommendation for improvement. In a nutshell the key recommendation was, "Invest money!". The response was "Can't! What else you got. Preferably something that allows us to be seen to be doing something without spending any money"

Anyone who has been part of a parent committee or run a community based centre will tell you that when you are desperately attempting to raise funds for the centre, refusing money from an organisation because you may personally disagree with what they represent (Mickey D's for example), becomes an instance where you have to compromise for the greater good(the centre and the children and families that attend).

SO if corporations are the only ones that are prepared to pay the bills then I suppose we should (cautiously) accept what they have to offer and attempt to salvage what we can between minimalist government funding and the cookie cutter demand of big business. I acknowledge too that in some countries, (see the video below) that just having a pathway to a job is the most important thing.

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

" Inadequate preschooling is causing Michigan students to fall behind early, making it harder to develop the talented workforce needed for the state to be competitive, business leaders said Wednesday.

A coalition of companies and organizations urged government policymakers to erase a shortage of preschooling for underprivileged children, saying about one-third of the state's pupils leave kindergarten ill-prepared to begin first grade.

Roughly 70 percent of Michigan's fourth-grade students are not proficient readers, meaning those deprived of early education are not catching up............... Michigan has room for only about half of 4-year-olds eligible for publicly funded preschool. About 38,000 are left out each year...............

More than 100 business leaders from around the state have endorsed the council's plan to improve early childhood education................It calls for pumping $130 million into preschool for at-risk 4-year-olds on top of the $100 already being spent, an increase that would accommodate all eligible children.

........The council said a second urgent priority should be stepping up services to ensure healthy growth during children's first three years, a period critical to brain development.

In addition to providing a more talented pool of workers, spending more on early education could save taxpayer money in the long run by reducing the need for remedial instruction and other social spending............................Early strategic investment in childhood education bears fruit all the way down the line,"