THE MAGIC OF CHILDREN'S PLAY!

I would have to say that upon reflecting on my own personal experiences growing up in the late 60′s, early 70′s (see CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF THE GREAT OUTDOORS) and also taking into account the plethora of research, books and journal articles that have been dedicated to this issue, I am convinced that we have definitely lost direction over the last few decades when it comes to children’s access to outdoor play.  With this in mind, I can not tell you how excited I was to stumble across this little reminder of how things were once upon a time when I was young.

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Friends who know me well, are aware of my habitual tendency to venture into at least one Opportunity Shop (Thrift Shop) each weekend to rummage around for useful resources. Actually, such shops are a common site to find fellow early childhood professionals, all on a similar mission really. One of my favorite pass times is to browse through the collections of second-hand books as a means of cheaply supplementing  our preschool library (see GREAT PLACES TO PURCHASE USEFUL RESOURCES ON A TIGHT BUDGET).  But when I stumbled across this little gem, I just had to claim it all for myself!

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This gorgeous book, Kites and Swings and Other Things: The Four Seasons in Poems and Pictures for Children’, by Barbara Kunz Loots and Rick Lyons, is like a heart-warming stroll down memory lane.  Lost within it pages, your imagination can almost detect the fragrant signatures of each seasons. Published in 1974, it is unfortunately no longer in print, although it is available on amazon for around $50 second-hand. Eeek! I paid a mere 50 cents for it!

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The photographic images in the book are absolutely delightful and I have chosen a selection to show you here. They visually speak of a time when the pace of life was slower and simpler and children had an abundance of unscheduled time to play and explore to their heart’s content, and significantly, out of reach of the prying eyes of hovering parents.  You see, Helicopter parents just didn’t exist in those days.

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Recently I was fortunate enough to hear the wonderful Tim Gill speak on the topic, EXPANDING CHILDREN’S HORIZONS. Tim, and many other amazing experts in the field of children’s play, have become outspoken , powerful advocates for turning back the clock and re-establishing the rights of all children to play outdoors independently. Tim is the author of ‘No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk-averse Society’ (also available on amazon) and is the co-author of Play England: Making Spaces for Play. Managing Risk in Play Provisions: Implementation Guide’ (PDF). You can also read more from Tim on his website RETHINKING CHILDHOOD. Well worth a visit and a browse.

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To commence Tim’s presentation, he encouraged the audience to explore their own childhood memory bank and halt at a play experience that resulted in feelings of joy and happiness. Not surprisingly, it was discovered that the bulk of the audience shared memories of experiences that took place in the outdoor environment. Tim went on to explain that the places and experiences that tend to resonate with most people when they reflect upon their childhood, predominately feature:

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  • The outdoors,
  • Out of direct adult supervision, and were
  • Paired with a sense of adventure.

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Furthermore, he noted that while society’s attitudes towards outdoor play have changed, the innate need for children to be connected to the natural environment has not changed.

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He suggested that the reason why these experiences appear to universally resonate is because they:

  • Feed children’s desire for autonomy and agency, and
  • Feed children’s desire ‘to know’.

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Tim warned that the current  Zero Risk approach that embraces the bubble wrapcotton wool mentality towards raising children, embodies a complete 180 degrees turn away from what is in the best interests of children. This risk-averse approach has become such a preoccupation in western societies that it totally overrides any reference towards the needs or interests of children.

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Tim pointed out that the most significant change in children’s lives today has been the reduction in their Right to Roam. Over the past few decades the boundaries limiting children’s freedom of movement away from their family home have been shrinking, and along with that, children have been losing their autonomy as they are increasingly placed under the burdened of greater adult control and supervision.

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But I would have to say that the most profound notion that I will take away from Tim’s presentation  was his suggestion that we need to re-connect with the lost art of  Benign Neglect. What a brilliant concept, and one I am certainly going to introduce to the parents of the children within my care.

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So much freedom is represented in these two simple words, Benign Neglect.  Two apparently contradictory words that have the potential to free parents from the often intense pressure placed on them by society to be perfect in their parenting role and to eliminate all possible risk from their children’s lives. Clearly an impossible expectation and one that leaves parents riddled with guilt when they fall short of the task. Parents need to know that by over protecting their children they may in fact be doing them harm.  Children need to be granted the autonomy to develop skills in managing risks and opportunities to improve their capacity for self-initiated risk assessment. These skills are fundamental life skills and have been since the dawn of time.

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With every circumstance that instills the fear of risk in the mind of parents there must be an equally balanced and rational assessment of the possible benefits to their child. A little neglect in this day and age, could very well prove to be a really good thing. We just need to get parents believing it.

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I don’t feel that I can end this post without acknowledging the work of the inspirational Richard Louv, author of the landmark book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder’ (also available on amazon) and the founder of THE CHILD AND NATURE NETWORK A must have book for all early childhood educators and a great website to investigate.

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Getting children outside to play can pose a real challenge to early childhood educators within Australia. International readers may be wide-eyed and stumbling over their words questioning, ‘What?! … Why?!’ at this early point in the discussion. Yes, it is true that we do have a magnificent climate all year ’round, but that in itself is the problem I believe. Climatic extremes are not the everyday experience of the average Australian, and this lack of experience has unfortunately led most Australians to determine that our incredibly mild Winters represent bad weather. In Australia, Winter temperatures rarely fall below zero degrees celsius and snow doesn’t even enter the equation for the cities dotting the coastlines where the bulk of our population resides. It really is a relative to scenario that is almost too ridiculous for words. By way of comparison, if educators in Scandinavian countries were restricted by the same weather prejudices that drive thinking here in Australia, Scandinavian children would never see the light of day!

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“… forest and nature-centered schools are not unheard of around the world, in Scandinavia they positively abound. According to the Danish Forest and Nature Agency, over ten percent of Danish preschools are nestled in forests or other natural settings. While these 500 or so schools differ in terms of surroundings, they all place the natural world squarely at the center of early childhood development.”

Early Nature Lessons in Denmark’s Forest Preschools.

As an advocate for the importance of outdoor play in the lives of children, I have had to arm myself for battle in order to secure what I know to be in the best interests of the children.  In the process, I have had to battle with fellow educators and parents alike.  It is all about changing an entrenched mindset fuelled by a misguided cultural construct regarding what represents bad weather. How have I armed myself to wage this battle? With facts! I have armed myself with research evidence and set myself on the path of re-educating the masses with a dogged determination and a don’t back down attitude! I am prepared to be unpopular (and it is usually only temporary) to do what I know to be right for the children within my care.

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The following is a brief excerpt from a flier that I provide to all parents at our service as we head into the cooler months.

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Winter Wet Weather Play

The weather is gradually changing as we move through Autumn and on into Winter.  We love to encourage the children to observe the changes that are happening in their environment as they play and engage with nature.  Our approach is reflected in this quote:

“There is no such thing as bad weather, just different types of weather”  ~ John Ruskin 

*(Or perhaps, There is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices!)

“There is something primal and deeply important about being outside.  It doesn’t make any difference to the child whether it is hot or cold, windy or rainy, the outdoors beckons too them.” ~ Bev Bos.

So just keep in mind that we will be venturing outside every-day and appropriate clothing is essential.  Preschool is certainly not the place to worry about being ‘fashionable’. Make sure your children have layers of clothing which will help them self-regulate according to changing conditions.  Warm waterproof jackets are ideal in winter to protect the children against the ‘wind-chill’.  A raincoat is not a great choice as they do tend to be stiff and awkward, thus restricting movement.  We have sets of waterproof pants and jackets at preschool which the children must wear during Winter if they wish to play with water.  We suggest that ‘gumboots’ are a great investment for outdoor play.

It is important to note that we are bound by the National Quality Framework, and it is regard as a hallmark of quality, to provide children with access to the outdoor environment at all times.

Quote (page 86) Guide to the National Quality Standard  (www.acecqa.gov.au) “Wherever possible, children need opportunities to be outdoors as much as indoors. This can be achieved with well-designed integrated indoor and outdoor environments that are available at the same time”.

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Through discussions held with staff and parents who were reluctant to allow children access to the outdoors during Winter, these are some of the concerns that were raised:

  • The personal comfort of the staff, children and parents on duty
  • Perceived health concerns for the children
  • Possible challenges for staff in ensuring that the children are adequately dressed
  • Concerns about parent opinion if educators allow children outside in wet/cold weather conditions 

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And here are the responses I provided to staff through a Memorandum:

  • Staff, children and parents on duty should come to preschool prepared for time outdoors. For early childhood educators, working outdoors is, without question, a requirement of our job. Being prepared may include bringing adequate warm clothing: jackets, gloves, beanies, boots and a wet weather coat.

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  • Children become ill due to a virus or bacterial infection, not from weather conditions. Children are much more likely to become ill in warm, overcrowded indoor environments where viruses and bacteria are able to readily multiply and can freely circulate through the heating system.

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  • There are many aspects of an educators job that are challenging. In Summer, we have to ensure that children wear a hat and apply sunblock. In Winter we have to ensure that the children are appropriately attired for wet weather. There is no escaping the repetitive nature of reminding children of these requirements. That is our job. We now have 25 wet weather jackets and pants for this purpose.  Furthermore, it is important to note that we should never deny children their right to outdoor play because we find it challenging. It is our job to manage children’s access to outdoor play.

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  • There are many examples in the ECE field where it is our responsibility to educate the parents attending our service as well as the children. As ECE professionals, we are meant to advocate for the rights of children and ensure that we place what is in their best interests above what parents may desire for their children. Through no fault of their own, it is fair to say that parents are often misguided when it comes to knowing what is in the best interests of their children. Unfortunately, there is a plethora of false advice floating around in the parenting sphere. We all know that many of our parents would possibly love to see a more ‘academic’ curriculum in our preschool, and yet we do not teach the children within our care how to read and write. Why? Because as ECE professionals, we know that we are not mandated to under the NEYLF (or VEYLF) and that it is not in the children’s best interests to do so. Outdoor play should be viewed in the same light.  Current research is informing us that children now, more than at any other time in history, are disconnected from the natural environment. Furthermore, the research indicates that this is/will have far-reaching implications for children’s learning and development. I will ensure that I provide staff with some reading regarding these research findings.

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 I urge all educators in Australia to get on board and wage this battle.  I know that our workload is heavy already and some challenges seem insurmountable, but on so many levels, this battle is worthy of your energy, for the sake of our children.

15 examples of the great learning that can take place in the outdoor environment:

I hope you enjoy the journey! :)

 

 WELCOME TO OUR FORTNIGHTLY OUTDOOR PLAY LINK-UP

Discussing death with young children can be extremely difficult for many educators. The tendency to avoid touching on the concept probably stems from the fear most adults have internalized about death, and their own inability to come to terms with its inevitability.

I have personally witnessed many occasions in which educators and parents have taken action to avoid the possibility of ‘death’ entering into the daily experiences of children. I have had worried parents sidle up to me in the playground to quietly alert me to the presence of a dead body (bird or possum) in the hope that it will be removed before the children are exposed to the confronting image. I have even witnessed educators quickly whisk a body away with the slight-of-hand of a seasoned magician.

Are parents and educators doing children a disservice here? Is this yet another example of ‘bubble-wrapping-cotton-wooling’ our children? Experience tells me that children are very interested and curious about death. It is one of their first philosophical/intellectual encounters in the outdoors as they discover a squished snail or a motionless bug on a pathway.  A child’s personal experience with death is influenced by those around them and if we attempt to sweep the concept under the carpet, what are we teaching them? Preschool-aged children may begin to understand that death is something feared by adults and begin to internalize this fear in the same manner.

Very young children can understand the basics of the concept of death.  Death can be discussed openly and honestly in a language that is conducive to their stage of development. A child’s concept of death varies with age, and this must be taken into consideration. Just as many aspects of a child’s development occur in identifiable stages, so does their ability to comprehend death. A mature understanding of death involves the acceptance of three components; universality (that it impacts upon all living creatures, including ‘self’), inevitability (that all living creature will die), and functionality (all living functions and activities will cease).

Research tells us that 3 to 5 year olds regard death as a temporary state of being that is reversible or alternating. In addition, they tend to assume that ‘they’ will not die. They believe that death is the result of an accident rather than possibly being an inevitable event. Between the ages of 5 and 7, children begin to understand that death is final, inevitable, universal, and personal.

I would like to share a story with you about J. and his encounter with death in our preschool playground. J. is a little boy who is passionate about animals. We learnt this about J. very early on in his time with us as he held lengthy discussions with staff about his beloved pet dog, brought photographs along to preschool depicting his encounters with animals at a variety of animal sanctuaries and shared animal posters with us.

On arrival at preschool one morning, J. stumble upon the lifeless body of a bird within one of our garden beds. He quickly alerted staff to his discovery with a reverence that brought tears to my eyes.

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Staff tuned in to J’s ‘self-talk’ as he attempted to resolve the circumstances around the precious birds demise in a manner that sat comfortably with his own understandings.

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J.’s observations lead him to the conclusion that the bird had succumbed to some sort of accident.  He noted, ‘Look at his head, I think something has happened to his neck. Maybe he fell from the tree, or he got hurt by another animal’.

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J. went on to rally any interested child to the scene.  He was quick to hold out a protective arm as he said, ‘Don’t kill him, he is dead’. 

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Eventually J. determined that the bird needed to be buried to protect it from further harm.

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He sourced some pebbles from the dry creek bed and created a circle around the burial plot.

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 I later reflected upon his choice of a circle and wished I had the presence of mind to question him about his choice while in the moment. I was humbled by the reverence and respect this little boy showed for a fallen creature and couldn’t help but think of his circle as a reference to ‘the circle of life‘, but I am sure that was just my adult mind at work…..?

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Several little girls closely observed J. and responded with compassion to his emotional investment in the experience.  With his acceptance, they laid little posies within the circle of pebbles.

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There is no doubt in my mind that this was a positive learning experience for all children involved.  What would we have taught J. if we had whisked the little birds body away and not allowed J. to direct proceedings? I shudder to think.

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A precious life lost has been given its due respect and several children have gained a better understanding of the nature of death.

My favorite post from last fortnight’s link-up was from:

 My lovely friend Jennifer Kable over at ‘Let the Children Play’.

Click on the image below to witness the visual feast of Reggio inspired outdoor play environments. Simply beautiful!

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How did your kids play outdoors this week?

Any kind of children’s outdoor play-related posts are welcome!

We’d appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we’ll gladly further share your post on Facebook/ Twitter/ Pinterest. Please feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back.

Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured. (If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the ‘featured’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us very other week!



  WELCOME TO OUR FORTNIGHTLY OUTDOOR PLAY LINK-UP

We love loose parts in our playground. They offer such versatility for children to imagine and create their own adventures and stories. Nothing is predetermined or fixed, and nondescript objects are enamored with mysterious potential.

You just never know what will emerge within a day.

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A cowboy building a ‘roaring rocket’ with oversized gloves makes perfect sense to these boys!

 Most of our loose parts come to us from that wonderful treasure trove, Resource Rescue Inc (Melbourne, Aust).

My favorite post from last fortnight’s link-up was from:

Growing Green Fingered Kids

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Click on the photo above to read more!

How did your kids play outdoors this week?

Any kind of children’s outdoor play-related posts are welcome!

We’d appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we’ll gladly further share your post on Facebook/ Twitter/ Pinterest. Please feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back.

Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured. (If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the ‘featured’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us very other week!



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