Friday, 21 September 2012

Free Range Kids » Because Logs, Leaves and Branches are SO HARD TO FIND???

Free Range Kids » Because Logs, Leaves and Branches are SO HARD TO FIND???

I would have to a disagree with Lenore on this one. It is a life or death issue. A style of life, and a death of nature issue. If we don't allow our children to discover nature (which underpins everything including us) and assume a more benevolent stewardship than their predecessors then future children better get use to plastic logs and leaves as they will be the only ones they'll ever see.

Full article can be read from the link above.   

" Hey Readers! Here’s what every school needs: A $249 set of fake logs to make a fake nature trail with fake leaves to remind kids of the great wide world of plastic!

I know this is hardly a life-or-death Free-Range issue, but come on. The company insists that its “balance beam…looks like a real nature trail! Our rugged plastic set features everything from logs and leaves to branches and stumps—each with a nonskid surface on bottom to keep children safe as they play.”

Because they’re so unsafe on tree stumps that don’t have non-skid surfacing? Does the very idea of playing beyond the reading rug send safety shivers down school administrators’ spines? And by the way, the notion that this set bears any resemblance to “nature” rings about as true as Barney teaching kids the basics of paleontology. So here’s a radical alternative: Send kids OUTSIDE.There are plenty of logs out there. Act now and we’ll throw the bugs, free! - L

Monday, 17 September 2012

Kindercamp creates opportunities for success in, outside classroom

Kindercamp creates opportunities for success in, outside classroom - Holland, MI - The Holland Sentinel

The full article can be read from the link above.
What a great programme and how intelligent to use the the transitional period as a non-confronting segue from an early education environment to a formal education system/ Less stress on the children, the teachers and the parents.  A smart, thoughtful and sensitive programme; of course we won't adopt its use.

"Armed with colorful hula-hoops and small plastic magnifying glasses, a group of soon-to-be kindergartners spent part of Monday morning outside discovering plants and insects before moving inside to learn how to line up for the bathroom and sit quietly in the hall.

It was all part of Kindercamp, a three-day program for area incoming kindergartners from Hamilton, Holland, West Ottawa and Zeeland put on by staff from the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway and Ready For School.

During camp, children spend time in the classroom with their teachers, which allows them to adjust to their new surroundings before the formal school year begins. Pat VerDuin, executive director of Ready for School, said research shows that achieving a comfort level in the classroom very early in a child's educational career has a profound positive impact on students' long-term learning abilities.

The time also gives teachers a chance to individually assess students and determine where they stand academically and socially prior to the start of school.

In addition to the in-school portion of the camp, staff from the Outdoor Discovery Center lead the children in activities outside to pique their interest in nature and their sense of discovery and curiosity. Getting the kids outside and playing in the outdoors for a few hours a day is extremely important, Outdoor Discovery Center Executive Director Travis Williams said.

According to the Children in Nature Network, play in nature during childhood is an important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving and emotional and intellectual development.

"When they're learning about colors and shapes, why not go outside?" he said. "They don't need a field trip. They don't need to spend money. They can just come right out here," Williams said, pointing to a green space outside West Ottawa's Great Lakes Elementary.

On Monday, the students lay down hula-hoops and inspected the area within the circle to see what kind they could find. "What did you find?" a teacher asked the group. One girl responded, "A stick and an ant!" Another chimed in, "I found all kinds of stuff. I found some beetles. They look like bugs!"

Children who spend three-quarters of their time in sedentary behavior have up to nine times poorer motor coordination than active peers

Children who spend three-quarters of their time in sedentary behavior have up to nine times poorer motor coordination than active peers

Link to the original article by clicking on the hyper-link above
Children who spend more than three-quarters of their time engaging in sedentary behaviour, such as watching TV and sitting at computers, have up to nine times poorer motor coordination than their more active peers, reveals a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology.

The study, involving Portuguese children, found that physical activity alone was not enough to overcome the negative effect of sedentary behaviour on basic motor coordination skills such as walking, throwing or catching, which are considered the building blocks of more complex movements.

"Childhood is a critical time for the development of motor coordination skills which are essential for health and well-being," said lead author Dr Luis Lopes, from the University of Minho. "We know that sedentary lifestyles have a negative effect on these skills and are associated with decreased fitness, lower self-esteem, decreased academic achievement and increased obesity."

Dr Lopes' team studied 110 girls and 103 boys aged nine to ten from 13 urban elementary schools. The children's sedentary behaviour and physical activity were objectively measured with accelerometers (a small device that children attach to their waist that quantifies movement counts and intensities) over five consecutive days. Motor coordination was evaluated with the KTK test (Körperkoordination Test für Kinder), which includes balance, jumping laterally, hopping on one leg over an obstacle and shifting platforms.

The tests were supplemented with a questionnaire for parents to assess health variables, before the authors compiled the results into three models to calculate odd ratios for predicting motor coordination. These were adjusted for physical activity, accelerometer wear time, waist to height ratio and home variables.

On average the children spent 75.6% of their time being sedentary, but the impact on motor coordination was found to be greater on boys than girls.

Girls who spent 77.3% or more of their time being sedentary were 4 to 5 times less likely to have normal motor coordination than more active girls. However, boys who were sedentary for more than 76% of their time were between 5 to 9 times less likely to have good or normal motor coordination than their active peers.

"It is very clear from our study that a high level of sedentary behaviour is an independent predictor of low motor coordination, regardless of physical activity levels and other key factors" said Lopes. "High sedentary behaviour had a significant impact on the children's motor coordination, with boys being more adversely affected than girls."

Until now there has been little research into the links between sedentary behaviour and motor coordination, but these findings reveal that physical activity did not counteract the negative effects that high levels of sedentary behaviour had on motor coordination.

"The results demonstrate the importance of setting a maximum time for sedentary behaviour, while encouraging children to increase their amount of physical activity," concluded Lopes. "We hope that our findings will make a valuable contribution to the debate on child health and encourage future investigations on this subject."

Friday, 14 September 2012

Growing Greenies: One Wild! Summer...

Growing Greenies: One Wild! Summer...

Just finished reading this blog by RebbeccaJ at "Growing Greenies". Fantastic! If you're an educator and looking for ideas on how to introduce or extend nature based concepts, there's buckets of great stuff here. Love the decorated "observation tubes".

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Dr. Rebecca Palacios: Science for the Summer! Part Three: Explorations


If you've missed Dr Palacios ' previous two articles you can find them here and here.
In this article she deals with concepts of physics and nature.  
If your looking at additional ways to get into gardening or for interesting nature experiences you and the children in your care, or your children, can share get a free .pdf copy of

The full article can be read from the link above   

In my most recent blog, you found information regarding summer explorations based on science activities. Those included insects, shadows and light and sound and vibration.

This blog will offer suggestions on wheels, balls and motion and also on seeds and plants.

Wheels, Balls and Motion
Motion is fascinating for young children. They love to throw, roll, catch and watch things move. You can either create an indoor space for this exploration or an outdoor space.

Gather all of the wheeled toys you can find around the house and place them in a basket or plastic tub. Then set up ramps so that your child has an opportunity to roll the small cars down the ramps, changing the angle of the ramp as an exploration. Once your child has had a week or two to experiment with the cars, you can place balls, like golf balls or ping pong balls, in the bin to roll. Try including small square blocks for comparison.

You and your child can also gather various things that will roll: a curler, a rolling pin, or different kinds of balls or hoops. You can also create an outdoor exploration area where your child can try rolling, throwing, kicking and moving things in different ways.

• Where can you find wheels in the house or outside?
• How can you make something move faster?
• How much faster can you make something go?
• How can you slow something down?
• What things roll the best?

Seeds and Plants
Seeds and plants are a favorite exploration of mine because they are everywhere and are easy to obtain. Young children can learn that plants come from seeds, that seeds come in various sizes, shapes and colors, and that plants need water, soil, air and light to live.

Create an exploration area in your kitchen where you and your child can look at dry seeds such as pinto beans, lima beans or navy beans. Your child can sort them by color or size. When you are cooking, save the seeds inside vegetables or fruits for your child to observe with a hand lens. Compare the size of a strawberry seed (which is one of the few seeds that grows on the OUTSIDE of a fruit) to the size of a watermelon seed.
Help your child plant the seeds in small cups, planters or other containers that have a small hole in the bottom.

One of my favorite school activities is to place a moistened paper towel in a plastic lunch bag and place four bean seeds in it. Place the baggie in a sunny area and the seeds should germinate in 2-3 days! Experiment with other dry seeds or with those that you found in the fruits and vegetables. Talk about what is happening with the seeds. If you have space outside, your child can plant seeds in a small area or planter to create an outdoor garden. Explain why it's important to water the plants and the need that plants have for air and light.

• What is a seed?
• How are seeds similar to and different from each other?
• What seeds do you want to plant? Why?
• What are some parts of a plant?
• What do plants need to live?
• What do leaves do?
• What do roots do?
• What do stems do?

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Developing High Quality Role Play: Learning for Life

I just finished reading a really enjoyable post on Developing High Quality Role Play by Kierna Corr at Learning for Life. It related to a workshop she recently attended with Margaret Edgington, and describes how she facilitates high quality role play at her centre. I love the Blog and would recommend the post as a great information source to anyone involved in Early Education. Thank you Kierna.

Friday, 7 September 2012

White Hutchinson

I've always been a great fan of White Hutchinson. In my mind as well as being foremost in the provision of high quality, developmentally based playspaces globally, they have a great understanding of and dedication to the construction of nature based playspaces.

I get their eNewsletter and thought I might supply you web links to a few of the articles in their most recent that I enjoyed.

Finding Terroir - A Sense of Place in Outdoor Environments
Describes the sense of place or a space that W.H. attempt to imbibe into each of the playspaces they design and construct. Naturalistic playspaces, unlike KFC playgrounds, are about creating a natural environment, unique to each locale, centre and philosophy.

Ways To Do It Naturally
Discusses the frequently neglected topic of playspace maintenance. Its great to have a marvellous new natural playspace, however, like any space used in childcare, it needs to be maintained so that it's hazard free. When we design and construct a new playspace we provide a free copy of Garden Maintenance for Playspaces so the carers have the information to provide the maintenance.

Prevention of Disabilities in Children: The Environment
Discusses research that indicates toxic environmental risk factors many be responsible for a number of   childhood disabilities and how to avoid them. 

Discusses an often unconsidered factor in outdoor play, air quality. I found this interesting given that I live right next to Sydney's major airport and industrial hub. A number of the centres in the area that I'm in contact with frequently report having to keep their children indoors due to aircraft fuel dumps or refinery breaches. A neighbour who had once lived closer to the industrial area told me of pulling her clothes off the washing line only to find holes burned through the sheets because of airborne acids, "accidently" released by the refinery. The effect on developing lungs would be devastating.

A topic that is covered in A Comprehensive Guide to Growing Vegetables  and something I frequently have to plan for given the limited space in some centres and the legislative requirements in respect to preserving unencumbered space in each design.

I hope you find their articles as enlightening as I did.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Disney Develops Plant-Controlled Touch Software That Makes Music | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

Wow ! Not really.  Why? I get sick of asking why.  Just because you can doesn't always mean you should. 
Plant...Computer, Plant ...Computer, Not Frankenplant! Not Plantputer! Not Complant! 

This may be very left base, very old-school, very out there, but can't you do the same thing with a...musical instrument. And you don't even need to plug it in.

"Singing flowers used to live only in the fanciful realm of cartoons, but like something out of Alice in Wonderland, Disney Research presents “Botanicus Interacticus”, an interactive music game that uses a houseplant as controller. Simply sink a single wire into the soil and the system turns any plant into an interface – users can touch any part of the plant, or be in proximity. Using the same technology found in smartphone and touch-screen monitors, the game can detect where and how the plant is being manipulated, and change the frequency of the sounds it produces."

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Careful, they might scare you

A good but light article focussing on risk taking in play and peripherally, nature deficit. There are some great points made by David Eager, the chairman of the playground committee of Standards Australia and I've been  consistently expressing the points made by Ian Lillico, " the rules in our schools, the curriculum and the stupid NAPLAN tests assume we all learn the same and we don't...........the people at the top need to be able to say that, within certain parameters, a bit of .........risk-taking behaviour is OK. But they are always frightened of something very bad happening and of them being sued". If you're really interested in the benefits of risk taking in play I would recommend Children’s Risky Play from an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences. Any article that highlights this  creeping parental phobia and the consequences is always welcome.

" Growing up in the bush I was eight years old when I was first handed the keys of a car to drive on my own. Two years later I was allowed to go shooting with a mate, both of us armed to the teeth with a rifle, knife and ammunition, roaming across a 1000-hectare property in the early morning mist.

I was neither Huck Finn nor Robinson Crusoe. That's just how life was in the '70s in a NSW country town. My parents hadn't read Dr Spock, nor were they radical libertarians. My father was a bank manager and, I imagine, one of the more risk-averse members of the community. Free-range parenting was at least another generation down the road.

My wife remembers playing alone in the hills near her home. Often, the children would be left at home alone for the day. Once, when her cousins were visiting, play degenerated into a war of the sexes and every window in the family home was broken by the time her mother returned.

And yet, like virtually every other parent in Australia, we hold our children tighter than we were held. We don't bind our daughters' feet but proscribe their movements and continually warn them of risks and consequences; we plan, organise and facilitate their activities rather than letting them roam free in either rural or urban jungles.

At home, at school and at every point between, children's lives are bound up in rules and control: mollycoddled and managed to a degree unimaginable only a couple of decades ago.Finally, it seems, more people are asking why. Why can't kids be trusted to use technology without a licence? Why can't they catch public transport on their own? Why can't they climb trees? Why, for heaven's sake, can't they do cartwheels at lunchtime?

''Children are as safe as they've ever been in recorded history yet we still think there's all these bad things that can happen to them and the more we hold them tight to our chest the less skills they develop in being able to defend themselves later in life,'' says David Eager, the chairman of the playground committee of Standards Australia.

A line always has to be drawn about acceptable and appropriate risks. I was never allowed to take a rifle to school. My daughters can't either. But, at times, their playground lives have been severely proscribed. In kindergarten one daughter, who suffers only from an over-abundance of enthusiasm and a delight of physical activity, was banned from running by a Kafka-esque knot. Kindy kids are not allowed to play on the grass; no one may run on the asphalt.

Where's the evidence that running on asphalt is dangerous, asks Eager. After all, hundreds of netball games are played every weekend on - you guessed it - asphalt. Eager believes kids can take plenty of rough and tumble. Why would you ban handstands, cartwheels and somersaults, as Drummoyne Public did this week? Australian standards permit a fall of half a metre from a piece of equipment onto concrete, says Eager. ''So doing handstands is perfectly legal in any playground, so I don't know where they came up with this rule,'' he says.

''It's just that somebody's got the notion that it's dangerous because they could fall over. Yes, they can, but they could do lots of other more dangerous things. I think people need to have a long, cool look at childhood development. People say they'll fall on their head and they'll break their spine but that's very unlikely. They'll fall on their head and they'll bruise their head but they won't kill themselves.

''They've got to learn peripheral vision and spatial awareness and how are they going to learn that skill if they never fail in life, they never learn. In an ideal world what we want is for them to build a bunch of smarts. They build skills through making a few mistakes.

''If you take it right back to when they start to walk, kids try and stand up and fall over a thousand times and eventually they learn to walk and then run. But what if we said, 'that's dangerous, they've fallen over, better not let them try and stand up'?''

Perhaps this should be called the risk premium. Not an extra slug for the right to take a risk, but a pay-off having allowed children to do so. And not just to take the risk but to be allowed to fail.

Failing a bit can be extremely productive and can protect children as they emerge into adulthood, says Ian Lillico, a former school principal and consultant in boys education.

''If we don't allow kids to do anything that's a bit dangerous, then, rather than keeping them safe and happy and with no skinned knees, the risks are delayed until they're 17, 18, 19 and they can be fatal. It's a terrible concern,'' he says.

Many schools live in fear of both a minority of over-zealous parents, the Education Department or their administrators. There are slippery dips in parks with so little slip you have to virtually push children down them. Things that spin, that make young children giddy with excitement, are gone. In some playgrounds all that remains is the ground after the play equipment has been junked. Insurance risk and duty of care are waved in the face of boisterous activity. Perhaps they need to be waived instead; perhaps we need a duty to care not too much.

Swings are banned in NSW public schools and in many schools agile young kids are not allowed to use monkey bars until instructed in the art - mostly by older women. More than 80 per cent of primary teachers are women and, unsurprisingly, most middle-aged women are less likely to engage in, or condone, risk-taking behaviour than are young boys.

Lillico concedes there may be a covert gender war being waged. ''There's no doubt the rules in our schools, the curriculum and the stupid NAPLAN tests assume we all learn the same and we don't. Many more girls than boys are more sedate, they're more passive learners, they're more pencil-and-paper based,'' he says.

''Our boys are very special and you don't want them thinking of masculinity as a negative; they've got to be moving, they've got to be on monkey bars.

''It comes down to leadership and the people at the top need to be able to say that, within certain parameters, a bit of rough-and-tumble and risk-taking behaviour is OK. But they are always frightened of something very bad happening and of them being sued.''

Mothers are often the worst at playing safe, says Lillico. To wit the queues of 4WDs shuttling children about morning and afternoon instead of letting them walk home with their mates. And, when they get home, play - especially in Sydney - is likely to be pre-arranged and pre-programmed more than ever before.

But not all of them, says Susanne North. Her street in Clovelly has become a ''play street''.

''In the afternoon the children go out and play and in every house the doors are open and children are playing up and down the street until sunset,'' she says. ''There's a lot of traffic and sometimes they drive fast but the children understand they can't cross the street without looking.''

There are trees with ropes hanging off, swings and, hopefully before the children grow up, the tree will be strong enough for a tree house.

North thinks our attitudes towards childhood are driven by our culture. ''Maybe Australia, being a 'nanny-state', has transferred this approach to parents: we become 'nanny-parents','' she says.

Schools buy in, too, worried about being made responsible and liable for anything that might happen to their students. ''The idea needs to be incorporated into the curriculum that recess and lunchtime is not just to eat but it is actually complementing what is happening in the classroom,'' North says.

''I was born and bred in Germany and I notice that children in Europe are given much more freedom from a very early age. Even my children - who have spent a lot of time there - have noticed that and love going to Germany because of this. Kindergarten children ride their bikes to school, often unaccompanied. Every town has climbing parks to explore. They have bonfires and children are allowed to carry real flares.''