As a preschool educator, mothers day and fathers day have always caused me a degree of mental anguish each year as they inevitably draw closer on the calendar. The reason for my anguish is twofold. Firstly, I adopt an emergent curriculum approach when planning the preschool program for the children within my care.  Such an approach is far from conducive with the concept of demanding that children sit down and churn out ‘craft’ style gifts that have little or perhaps no meaning to them.  Clearly, I am in no way suggesting that the children do not love and cherish their fathers and that they wouldn’t be delighted to present them with a gift, but I do feel that the subtle meaning behind honouring there father on a designated day probably eludes a child of four or five years of age. Secondly, and from a personal perspective, I grew up in a family whereby my parents didn’t really rate these days very highly, particularly in light of their growing commercialism, and this has no doubt resulted in me adopting similar views when I became a parent myself. Nevertheless, as an educator, I must acknowledge that these events are now firmly established cultural traditions within our society that are cherished by many of the families attending our preschool service. So to help myself reflect on the original motivation and history behind the decision to commemorate fathers (and mothers) day, I did some research. I was certainly hoping that I would find a little more substance to the decision beyond rampant commercialism.

Mothers day commenced in America with its origins being in the  peace-and-reconciliation campaigns of the post-Civil War era. The motivation behind what were called  “Mother’s Work Days”, was to bring together the mothers of Confederate and Union soldiers.

The campaign to celebrate a national fathers day ( History of Fathers Day) came about as follows:

On July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event explicitly in honour of fathers, a Sunday sermon in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah, but it was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday. The next year, a Spokane, Washington woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower (father), tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents. She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for her idea, and she was successful: Washington State celebrated the nation’s first state-wide Father’s Day on July 19, 1910.

From my reading, I got the distinct feeling that the message behind the establishment of these days was founded on commemorating the hardship and sacrifices parents endured for their children in what were times fraught with significantly more danger and adversity than those which face our current generation of parents. The impetus was clearly based upon building honourable and respectful relationships and promoting a reverence for the selflessness that characterised (and still does!) parenthood.

Then came the inevitable commercialisation. Opportunist retailers seized upon the chance to make a quick buck.

“In 1972, in the middle of a hard-fought presidential re-election campaign, Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday…  Today, economists estimate that Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father’s Day gifts.”

Can you believe that figure? $1 billion each year! Know how better could that money be spent.

So, I returned to the idea of relationship building. Surely that is what mothers day and fathers day should be all about in this day and age?

The idea that began to grow in my mind focused on giving a gift that was far removed from the repugnant commercialisation of our time and that in fact could not be deemed as having any monetary value at all. I settled on the idea of a gift from nature, which ended up being the humble stick, the very thing that a father would have greatly valued as a child.  The motivation was all about helping each father to make a connection with their child by recalling their own childhood experiences and to strengthen their relationship by spending time together. Hence the idea of a Magic Stick with an accompanying poem came into fruition.

The children at our preschool are constantly collecting and playing with sticks, as most children do, so to introduce the idea of making a magic stick for Dad was meet with great joy and enthusiasm. We all felt that every Dad really should have a magic stick and would be truly bereft without one!


And so here they are…


The photographs don’t do the sticks justice as they truly are very sparkly!


And not one is the same as another!


Accompanying each magic stick was the following poem:

For My Superhero

Today I have something for you,
A magical treasure to behold,
It is a stick, 
I grant you it,
Wielding stories to be told.

When you were just a small wee lad,
You loved a stick or two,
But now it is a state so sad,
That you’ve cast all sticks from view.

So take this stick into your palm,
And feel its familiar fit,
Close your eyes and sense the calm,
As you quietly sit a bit.

With this stick, please journey a while,
Wandering through your child-like mind,
Wrench open that fragrant memory file,
Abandoned sticks a strewn you’ll find.

Take hold of your stick, brandish it,
Then to the door we’ll flee,
For the magic of its impish wit,
In nature is set free.

Come with me to a place on high,
Up to the garden wall,
Here we’ll see the dragon’s fly,
And we’ll smite them one and all.

Your stick will sail the puddled seas, 
To save a bug a scurry,
That tumbled from the wind-blown leaves,
Swirling ‘round in a fearsome flurry.

Stick hastily points into the sky,
To silence that monster squall,
And as the time ticks slowly by,
The delicate leaves do fall.

Stick taps out a tune upon a rock,
A rhythmic sensory delight,
As a fairy in a rose petal frock,
Dances towards the night.

The day is done we must confess,
Time to relinquish our day in the wild,
But grasping tight to your stick no less,
You have memories anew to be filed.                    
(Karen Green)

Presented as appears below:

My Superhero

When I was in the process of formulating this idea, I mentioned it to two of my close blogging friends and challenged them to write a poem too.  So here are theirs as well, just brilliant!

Firstly, there is this clever one by Candy Lawrence from Aunt Annie’s Childcare.

Remember back when dads were boys
and went outdoors for all their joys?
No iPods, iPads, laptop games
and friends shared more than Facebook memes.
Kids climbed up trees and built with rocks,
made houses from a cardboard box,
played chasings out of adults’ sight
and no-one asked if it was right.
Outdoors was great. You’d run and run.
You’d play with sticks- just like this one.
“Don’t poke your eye out!” called your mum,
but never stopped you having fun.

Now plastic fills a young child’s life;
outdoors it’s feared we’ll get in strife.
We’re watched like hawks and sticks are banned,
outdoors you’re saying “Hold my hand!”
Our freedom has been locked away;
childhood was different in your day.
We need to run, get wet, get cold
and laugh and yell before we’re old.
We’re asking, “Dads! Please let us play
the simple, fun, old-fashioned way.
Outdoors is best for girls and boys
and simple sticks can still be toys.”

And then this lovely one from Alec Duncan from Child’s Play Music.

Hold this for me, Dad – it’s not a stick.

Really it’s a wizard’s staff,
And we will fight dragons together,
Heroes, side by side.

But wait, Dad – it’s not a wizard’s staff.
Really it’s a fishing rod,
And we will catch fish together,
And dangle our toes in the water.

No, no, you see, Dad – it’s not a fishing rod.
Really it’s a shining horse,
And we will ride races together,
As the earth shakes beneath our hooves.

Oh, I know, Dad – it’s not a shining horse.
Really it’s a hammer,
And we will build a house together
To keep us warm when the cold wind blows.

And the best thing, Dad – do you know the best thing?
Outside there are more sticks,
So many stories waiting to be told:
Let’s find out what they are.

We’ll write them together.

Taking the time to reflect on practice and determine the true meaning behind the things that we do just because they have always been done, often brings about greater understanding and improved practice.


Recently at preschool, we made up a beautiful sensory batch of Goop (Obleck). We used a lavender fragranced body wash mixed with water, corn-flour and purple colouring (giving a pretty mauve appearance when mixed with the flour). It smelt gorgeous and was very appealing.

7 22 & 25 GOOP

We have been fortunate enough to have some glorious sunny weather over the last few days despite it being the middle of Winter here. The air is cool, but the sunshine on our bodies is delightful. So why restrict this activity to inside? Anything that is typically done in the inside environment can equally be achieved in the outside environment, and sometimes, with some exciting and unpredictable outcomes.

1 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

We are loving our new sensory table that manages to hold most of our messy play substances in the one place and allows multiple children to participate in the same activity together. Goop has an amazing capacity to elicit ‘language play’ and that really does require a social setting.

2 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

When children first come together to experience goop, it is wonderful to observe the stages of their engagement. For most children, the first touch is tentative. A step into the unknown. Cursory glances often pass between the children as they begin to touch its squishy squelch-iness. They are looking for queues from their peers, ‘Is this okay?’ ‘Should we be doing this?’ ‘Is it safe?’ ‘Will we make a mess?’ ‘Will we get in trouble?’ All possible questions that may spring to mind with their first encounters. Unfortunately, Messy play can often be seen as a taboo by some children based on their previous experiences!

3 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

Initial delicate finger pokes, to the dipping of fingers eventually give way to the immersion of hands. Faces change from tentative glances to twinkling eyes and broad smiles as they acknowledge their brave step into the unknown. Something new with some amazingly wicked potential!

4 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

Words are immediately forthcoming, some real and some nonsensical in nature, but all tending to rhyme in a flow of musical lyricism. This is the part that I personally love!

5 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

On this particular day, with the decision to set the goop activity up outdoors on our new hexagonal sensory table, we saw some wonderful social play emerge. The children began by experimenting with a variety of different ways to move, pummel, pound, squish, squelch and drip the goop. Once the children seemed to gauge its range of potential, they gradually started to work in unison. Then one child took on the leadership role, directing the flow of play.

6 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

7 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

C. and S. set the game in motion, C. taking the lead. Beat the goop in unison with open hands, then run around the table dragging one hand across the goop as you go, stop and push hands into the middle to meet, and then repeat.

8 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

This pattern of play was followed up by brief periods of individual, exploratory play whereby each child would become absorbed in their own experience. However, the slightest queue from one of their peers would set the play in motion again.

Lifting and dripping to create rain…

10 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

Rolling in hands to make balls…

11a Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

12 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

12a Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

Flattening the balls to make pancakes…

13 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

14 Everything that we can do can be done better, outside.

Adding music to this experience would be a great way to help the children extend this pattern of play through discovering different ways to move to the music with the goop. Musical statues would prove to be an exciting way to observe the properties of the goop. What happens to the goop when our bodies stop moving?  Ah messy play is soooo much fun!!!

You Can Find More Goopy Play Right Here:



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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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:


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


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.


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’.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


“… 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.


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  ( “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 


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! 🙂


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