Children

Nature and Movement for Kids: A Repost

REPOST ON A TOPIC I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT

About the Author

Angela Hanscom is a pediatric occupational therapist and the founder of TimberNook, which focuses on nature-centered developmental programming in New England. Angela holds a master’s degree in occupational therapy and an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology (the study of movement) with a concentration in health fitness. She specializes in vestibular (balance) treatment and sensory integration. She is also the author of the upcoming nonfiction book, Balanced & Barefoot, which discusses the effects of restricted movement and lack of outdoor playtime on overall sensory development in children.

 

NATURE IS THE ULTIMATE SENSORY EXPERIENCE: A Pediatric Occupational Therapist Makes the Case for Nature Therapy

When I tell people I’m a pediatric occupational therapist and that I run nature programming, a look of confusion often crosses their face. “Huh?” they say. Or, “You’re a special needs camp?” Or, “I don’t get it. You’re going to do occupational therapy with our children?

From the beginning, I quickly realized that the concept of TimberNook is “out-of-the-box” thinking for many people. Some don’t get it at first. The concept is totally foreign to them. Typically, when people think of occupational therapy, they automatically think of children with special needs. I’ve used my skills as an occupational therapist in an unconventional manner. I view nature as the ultimate sensory experience for all children and a necessary form of prevention for sensory dysfunction.

TimberNook-TimberNook-0049What most people don’t realize is that pediatric occupational therapists are in a unique position to do something about a very real problem.

More and more children are presenting with sensory issues these days. They are not moving like they did in years past. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, spinning in circles just for fun, or climbing trees at great heights. In fact, our society often discourages this type of play due to liability issues and fear of falls.

The more we restrict children’s movement and separate children from nature, the more sensory disorganization we see. In fact, according to many teachers, children are frequently falling out of their seats in school, running into walls, tripping over their own feet, and unable to pay attention. School administrators are complaining that kids are getting more aggressive on the playgrounds and “can’t seem to keep their hands off each other” during recess. Teachers are looking for answers.

Pediatric occupational therapists can help. We have the neurological background to explain why restricted movement causes behavior problems in children; why fidgeting is becoming more prevalent than ever before; and the underlying reasons why kids are hitting with more force during a game of tag.

Pediatric occupational therapists can also use their unique understanding of child development to educate others on the therapeutic qualities of nature. For instance, they can explain how listening to bird sounds in nature helps to improve children’s spatial awareness, why spinning in circles establishes a strong balance system, and walking barefoot integrates reflexes that prevent further complications such as toe-walking.

Traditionally, pediatric occupational therapists are found inside schools or indoor clinics. We’ve ventured out to start using animals and gardening for therapy in more recent years. However, I have to wonder…what if more occupational therapists started venturing out even further? What if they used giant mud puddles to get children to explore their senses more fully? What if they went deep into the woods to inspire children to think openly and creatively, while building forts and dens of their own design? What would occupational therapy look like then?

I believe occupational therapists have great potential to use the sensory benefits of play outdoors to help children integrate their senses in the most natural of ways.

Using the Outdoors for Occupational Therapy

Here are some wonderful ways therapists and others can step back and start to see play outdoors as therapeutic in design:

  1. Climbing trees. In a clinic setting, we traditionally have kids use a plastic climbing wall to work on full-body strengthening and coordination. What if we started letting kids climb trees outside for therapy? This is a little more challenging since trees are not color-coded. Children will need to use their problem-solving skills in order to scale the tree, testing branches as they go to make sure they are safe and sturdy. They would learn safety skills and the tree offers a nice tactile and natural touch experience as they hold onto the tree limbs during the climb.
  2. Playing in a mud puddle. Occupational therapists often let children play in sensory bins that are filled with colorful rice, beans, and sand. In order to fully maximize a child’s sensory experience and to make it even TimberNook-TimberNook-0055more meaningful, what if we allowed children to play in mud puddles during treatment sessions? Our mud puddles here at TimberNook headquarters are so huge that they also have real frogs and frog eggs in them. The kids have to maneuver through the mud, using their balance, visual scanning skills, and engaging their tactile (touch) senses as they search for a frog.
  3. Walking barefoot on a log. In the clinic, we often have children go barefoot on plastic balance beams, which have been engineered to be “sensory” with little plastic bumps. If we take children outside, we could let them go barefoot on fallen trees, enhancing their sensory experience on a multitude of different levels. Not only would they be experiencing different textures, but they would feel the sensations of moist versus dry, crunchy versus soft, noisy versus quiet, and changes in temperature.
  4. Hooking up therapy swings outdoors.Therapists are SO lucky when it comes to swings! We have just about every type of swing imaginable–all for a different purpose. If we brought them outdoors, we would only add to the sensory experience for children. Now they are exposed to bird sounds, the wind on their face, and  the shadows playing across the ground as they are swinging. By taking swings outside, we engage all of their senses — not just the vestibular (balance) sense.
  5. Building forts. In clinics, it is very common and fun to have children design their own obstacle courses. This helps them with problem solving, creativity, and planning. If we took this outside, what might it look like? Children love creating forts of their own design, using everything from sticks and bricks to fabric and Plexiglas. They are still working on the same skills – only they are exposed to more sensory input, while igniting their imaginations at the same time.

Nature truly is the ultimate sensory experience and the perfect medium for occupational therapists to utilize, both for prevention and treatment methods. It is time we step beyond the confining walls of buildings, take our therapy swings outdoors for fresh air, and use the occupation of play outdoors to enrich children’s lives.

Additional Reading & Resources

WHY I PRESCRIBE NATURE – by Robert Zarr, M.D.

TIME FOR YOUR VITAMIN “N”: Ten Great Ways Pediatricians and Other Health Professionals Can Promote Health and Wellness

VITAMIN “N” and the American Academy of Pediatrics – by Mary Brown, MD

THE WHOLE CHILD: A Pediatrician Recommends the Nature Prescription – by Larry Rosen, MD

THE “VITAMIN N” PRESCRIPTION – Some Health Professionals Now Recommending Nature Time for Children and Adults

“SITTING IS THE NEW SMOKING” — What We Can Do About Killer Couches, Sedentary Schools, and the Pandemic of Inactivity

GROW OUTSIDE! – Richard Louv’s Keynote Address to the American Academy of Pediatrics

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New Research on The Importance of a Consistent Bedtime

Click here for other posts on sleep and children.
REPOST FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
July 30, 2013, 4:44 a.m. ET

New Study Shows Why You Should Get the Kids to Bed on Time

Going to bed at a regular time every night could give your child’s brain a boost, recent research shows.

By Samantha Reddy

A large study published in June found that young children with an irregular bed time fared worse on cognitive tests several years later. Sumathi Reddy explains on Lunch Break. Photo: Getty Images.

Going to bed at the same time every night could give your child’s brain a boost, a recent study found.

Researchers at University College London found that when 3-year-olds have a regular bedtime they perform better on cognitive tests administered at age 7 than children whose bedtimes weren’t consistent. The findings represent a new twist on an expanding body of research showing that inadequate sleep in children and adolescents hurts academic performance and overall health.

The latest study considered other factors that can influence bedtime and cognitive development, such as kids skipping breakfast or having a television in their bedroom. After accounting for these, the study found that going to bed very early or very late didn’t affect cognitive performance, so long as the bedtime was consistent.

“The surprising thing was the later bedtimes weren’t significantly affecting children’s test scores once we took other factors into account,” said Amanda Sacker, director of the International Center for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at University College London and a co-author of the study. “I think the message for parents is…maybe a regular bedtime even slightly later is advisable.”

The researchers suggested that having inconsistent bedtimes may hurt a child’s cognitive development by disrupting circadian rhythms. It also might result in sleep deprivation and therefore affect brain plasticity—changes in the synapses and neural pathways—at critical ages of brain development.

Sleep experts often focus largely on how much sleep children get. While that is important, “we tend to not pay as much attention to this issue of circadian disruption,” said Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who wasn’t involved with the study.

Insufficient sleep and irregular bedtimes may each affect cognitive development through different mechanisms, Dr. Owens said. “The kid who has both [problems] may beat even higher risk for these cognitive impairments,” she said.

The study, published online in July in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, examined data on bedtimes and cognitive scores for 11,178 children.

The children were participants in the U.K.’s Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative longterm study of infants born between 2000 and 2002.

Mothers were asked about their children’s bedtimes at 3, 5 and 7 years of age. Nearly 20% of the 3-year-olds didn’t have a regular bedtime. That figure dropped to 9.1% at age 5 and 8.2% at age 7. Mothers were also asked about socioeconomic and demographic characteristics and family routines.

When the children were 7 years old, they received cognitive assessments in reading, math and spatial abilities. The poorest test scores were recorded by children who went to bed very early or very late, and by those who had inconsistent bedtimes, said Dr. Sacker. But once other factors in the home were taken into account only the inconsistent bedtime was associated with lower scores, she said.

A consistent pattern of sleep behavior mattered. “Those who had irregular bedtimes at all three ages had significantly poorer scores than those who had regular bedtimes,” Dr. Sacker said. This was especially true for girls who didn’t establish consistent bedtimes between 3 and 7 years old.

Yvonne Kelly, a co-author of the study and a professor in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said the researchers aren’t sure why girls seemed to be more affected. She noted that the difference in scores between these groups of girls and boys wasn’t statistically significant for the reading and spatial tests, but it was for the math test.

“I don’t think for one moment that boys are immune to these things and girls are more affected,” Dr. Kelly said.

The researchers didn’t have data on the total number of hours children slept overnight because mothers weren’t asked about what time the children woke up.

In general school-age kids—kindergarten through eighth-grade—should be getting about 10 hours of sleep, while 3- and 4-year-olds might need 11 to 13 hours, including day-time naps, said Shalini Paruthi, director of the pediatric sleep and research center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center at Saint Louis University.

Dr. Paruthi said the good news from the study is that the majority of the children went to bed at a consistent time, reinforcing advice from sleep specialists. “The younger the child is, the better it is to get into the habit of a regular bedtime,” said Dr. Paruthi, who wasn’t affiliated with the study. She recommends a 15-minute, pre-bedtime routine to help the brain transition from a more alert to a quiet state.

And in order to keep the body’s internal clock in sync with the brain, bedtimes on weekends and in the summer should only stray from the normal time by an hour or less, Dr. Paruthi said. “The internal clock in the brain and the body like to have consistency every day,” she said.

Write to Sumathi Reddy at sumathi.reddy@wsj.com

Smallest Theater In Minneapolis? Maybe…But Also One of the Best!

open eye theater 2

www.openeyetheatre.org

I love taking my child to the theatre and I’m pretty sure she likes it to. However, the major children’s theater in Minneapolis/St. Paul, despite its amazing performances, can be pretty pricey. Tonight I discovered a new, community-based theatre that I fell in love with. The theater is the Open Eye Figure Theater and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

The show we saw was Milly and Tillie, and it truly was silly.

I paid full price for our tickets and I believe the total was around $15.00 for both of us. So, given the price and the extras you’ll soon find out about, I was awestruck at the quality of the performance and how the whole experience was truly tailored to children, while keeping adults engaged as well.

 

THE THEATRE
The whole theatre seats 90 people. It is so cute and warm and inviting! Notice the benches in the front. They are about six feet from the stage so the little ones can really get in on the action.

open eye theater 3

TICKETS
Tickets are available on-line or in person on the night of the show.  They also had a “pay what you can” option that you could select on-line. Furthermore, they have a “no one will be turned away due to an inability to pay” so just show up for the show you want to see and pay what you can. They are bound to have empty seats.

LOCATION
The theatre is just east of 35W between Franklin and Lake Streets. It looks like a renovated warehouse. From the outside you wouldn’t even know there was a theatre if it weren’t for the chalk drawings on the sidewalk outside. The inside is so warm and cozy and quaint…Just a great feel to it.

PERFORMANCE
This particular performance used both stage actresses, puppets and silhouettes or shadow puppets. The pace was good and the energy amazing. Child and adults alike were entertained for the duration.

The theater was only about a two-thirds full and there was plenty of seating available upfront on the low couch-like pews that are meant for the younger set. If you’re interested in showing up for a performance at the last minute, I would say go for it! Otherwise you can pre-order your tickets on line and just give them your name when you arrive. They have a printed out list of names. Nothing fancy. No frills.

EXTRAS!
The best two things about the Open Eye Figure Theatre (besides the price and the quality) are the sidewalk chalk that children can use before and after the performances and the free ice cream cones that they handed out in the lobby following the show. The show was only 45 minutes long so no intermission was needed. We had a choice of butter brickle or strawberry ice cream in a cake cone. Many patrons hung outside after the show, chatting and socializing.

open eye theater 1

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
While we were waiting for the performance to start a little six year old Latina girl came in and plopped herself down in the front row. One of the three staff came over and checked in with her to see if she was by herself. When she said yes, the staff person said, “That’s okay. That’s cool. Just checking.” I introduced my daughter to her and they became fast friends, getting water together, sitting next to each other on the bench, holding hands while getting ice cream. The little girl said she lived in the neighborhood, which is economically and socially challenged. It was so nice to see that she had a place to go on a Saturday night that was safe and free. During the course of the show I learned that she had seen the performance before. She consoled my four year old during the thunderstorm scene and when Tillie was dressed like a shark she told my daughter that the shark wasn’t real, that is was actually one of the sisters.

I would say this is truly an under-explored community gem…a great place for families, kids and friends, and a community service. Bringing art and drama to low income families. If you have a chance, take your family to see a performance at the Open Eye Theatre. You won’t regret it and your wallet and your spirit won’t either.

Are kids getting too much screen time? Parents aren’t sweating it

Kids on screens

This article illustrates a major problem in today’s society of child-rearing: Parents don’t see screen time as an issue with their children. According to this research article, content is a concern to parents, but QUANTITY? Not so much.

http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-study-parents-use-20130604,0,7254966.story

Are kids getting too much screen time? Parents aren’t sweating it

By Deborah NetburnJune 4, 2013, 6:35 p.m.

Among the zillions of decisions that moms and dads make about how to parent,  it might seem that determining the appropriate amount of time young children can spend watching TV and playing on tablets and smart phones might be big one.

But it turns out that’s not the case. Most parents of children younger than 8 don’t give the matter much thought, researchers from Northwestern University found in a recent study.

Just 31% of the 2,300 parents surveyed expressed concern about their children’s media and technology use, while more than 55% of parents said they are not worrying about the amount of time their children spend staring at screens much at all.

And while 38% of parents said they were fearful their children could get addicted to hand held devices like tablets and smart phones, 55% said they aren’t sweating it.

(If you are anything like me, and have had the experience of trying to pry an iPhone out of the clutches of a screaming 2-year-old, you are now feeling very out of sync with your fellow American parents).

“It was completely surprising to me,” said Ellen Wartella, director of Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development and the lead researcher on the study in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a generational shift. What we are seeing is a generation of parents who recognize that what kind of content you are exposing your kids to matters more than how much.”

The study, titled Parenting in the Age of Digital Media, held other surprises as well. For example, although 71% of parents had a smartphone in the home, nearly the same percentage said they did not think that having a smartphone or tablet device made parenting easier.

The study also revealed that most parents do not rely heavily on digital devices to distract their children. When Mom or Dad needs a moment to cook dinner or clean up the house, parents said, they are more likely to set their kid up with a toy or an activity (88%), a book (79%) or TV (78%) rather than handing over a smartphone or tablet (37%).

“Parents have a lot of tools they can use and media and technology are just one of those tools,” said Wartella.

Finally, the researchers found children’s media use is largely determined by the media environment that the parents have established in the home, rather than the result of a media obsessed kid clamoring for just one more show, or just one more app.

Of the families interviewed for the study, 38% fell into a category the researchers dubbed  “media-centric.” These are families where the parents enjoy watching TV and using the computer and smartphone at home, spending an average of 11 hours a day looking at various screens. The children of these parents, on average, spend four hours and 40 minutes a day looking at screens, the researchers found.

Some 45% of families fell into a “media-moderate” category where the parents spend a little less than 5 hours a day looking at screens. Their children, in turn, look at screens just under three hours a day.

And children in “media-light” families, where parents spend less than 2 hours a day looking at screen media, look at screen media themselves for an hour and 35 minutes on average.

“Instead of a battle with children on one side and parents on the other, media and technology has become a family affair,” the researchers conclude.

Meditation goes mainstream

Meditation goes mainstream

http://m.startribune.com/?id=209378341

With doctors prescribing it and scientists swearing by it, you clearly don’t need to be a monk to meditate. Enthusiasts have even given it a new name:”mindfulness.”

Article by: Jeff Strickler , Star Tribune

Updated: May 29, 2013 – 6:08 PM

When the Rev. Ron Moor began meditating 30 years ago, he did so in secret.

“When I started, meditation was a dirty word,” said Moor, pastor of Spirit United Church in Minneapolis. “[Evangelist] Jimmy Swaggart called it ‘the work of the devil.’ Because of its basis in Eastern religions, fundamentalists considered it satanic. Now those same fundamentalists are embracing it. And every class I teach includes at least a brief meditation.”

The faith community isn’t alone in changing its attitude. Businesses, schools and hospitals not only have become more accepting of meditation, but many offer classes on it. Meditating has gone mainstream.

Why? “Because it works,” Moor said.

Adherents have been saying that for centuries, of course, but now there’s a difference: Scientists can prove it.

Propelled by technological breakthroughs in neuroscience enabling researchers to monitor brain activity, the medical community is awash in studies showing that meditating has beneficial physical effects on the brain. Those studies are being joined by others demonstrating that advantages include everything from raising the effectiveness of flu vaccines to lowering rejection rates for organ transplants.

“Meditation has become a huge topic” in medical circles, said Dr. Selma Sroka, medical director of the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) Alternative Medicine Clinic. “The health benefits are so strong that if nothing else, people should learn the relaxation techniques.”

The practice is being embraced by an audience that isn’t interested in its religious contexts, typically Buddhist or Hindu, but is fascinated by its mechanics and techniques. Sroka compared the West’s co-opting of meditation to what happened to yoga, which came to this country as a spiritual discipline and has morphed into a form of physical fitness.

Some would-be meditators opt simply to ignore the religious element, said Mark Nunberg, co-founder of Common Ground Meditation Center in Minneapolis. Although his center is a Buddhist organization, at least half the people who enroll in classes are there just for instruction in meditation, he said.

“It’s the same practice” whether it involves religion or not, he said. “It’s training the mind to be in the present moment in a relaxed way. It’s the most practical thing in the world; some might even say it’s just common sense.”

What’s in a name?

You don’t have to call it meditation. In fact, Sroka said, a lot of people would prefer that you don’t.

Terms such as “mindfulness stress reduction” and “relaxation response” are less threatening to some folks. They also make it easier to introduce the practice in offices and schools, where even a tangential reference to religion can raise red flags.

Since 2001, doctors doing their residencies in HCMC’s family medicine program have been required to take a class in meditation, not necessarily to pass on the information to their patients — although they are encouraged to do so, Sroka said — so much as to help them deal with the stress of their jobs. At first, the program ran into resistance. Then the hospital quit calling it meditation.

“I think a lot of it is in the language,” she said. Because of meditation’s association with Eastern religions, “members of other religions often are uncomfortable with the term. People want to know that I’m not selling them a religion.”

The scientific community’s interest in meditation springs from tests in which electrodes attached to subjects’ heads show their brains calming down during meditation, lowering stress levels and increasing the ability to focus.

The tests are generating so much interest that leading experts have almost become rock stars. In October, 1,200 people turned out for a lecture by Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. Davidson is a professor at the University of Wisconsin who has been on the cutting edge of using neuroscience to monitor meditation-induced changes in the brain.

He is convinced that the brain can be trained to deal with stress the same way a muscle can be conditioned to lift a heavy weight.

“Training the mind can lead to changes in the brain,” he said.

Flexing your mind muscle

On the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota, the Mindfulness for Students club meets every Friday for a 90-minute meditation. Attendance tends to surge right before finals.

“It’s a great way to deal with stress,” said Stefan Brancel, a junior who is president of the club. Meditation “makes you capable of stepping back and taking a bigger perspective instead of getting lost in the stress. Once you step back and see the situation for what it is, you can react to it.”

The surge in scientific research focuses on brain imaging. The best known device is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which produces color-coded cross-section diagrams showing how the neurons in the brain are firing.

Davidson has used this imaging with Tibetan monks. While his findings have been stunning, questions arise over their applicability to the general public. Studying the brain waves of people who meditate for several hours a day is comparable to measuring physical fitness in Olympic athletes, critics say. The results might be impressive, but what do they mean for the average person?

That’s why Mary Jo Kreitzer, founder and director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing, is excited about studies of meditation newcomers. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have documented changes in the brains of novice practitioners who took an introductory eight-week class and meditated as little as 15 minutes a day.

Sroka said that the techniques can become second nature. In times of stress, “you slow down and breathe slowly,” she said. “You get to the point where you do it routinely without even being aware of it.”

Kreitzer agrees. “Mindfulness is an attitude that you carry with you,” she said. “I think mindfulness really helps us move through life with ease.”

She also challenges the notion that meditating requires a special room filled with incense, soothing music and floor mats on which practitioners twist themselves into the lotus position.

“You can sit, you can stand, you can walk,” Kreitzer said. “I wouldn’t advise doing it while you’re driving, but other than that, meditation can be done anywhere.”

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

Children Can Meditate Too

ImageI LOVE this concept. Children meditating. Children engaging in stress-reducing activities at a young age. My daughter has learned “The Volcano Breath” at school.

They rub their hands together while calming and then blast them into the air with a big out breath! I use it when things are getting riled up in the household and the energy level is about to blow off the roof.

“Volcano breath, Honey! Quick, Volcano Breath!”

She stops whatever whirlwind she’s in the middle of and runs to me all smiles. She quick starts rubbing her hands together and then blast-off! 

She’s calm, if only for a minute.

This is from an article I cut out on the topic of health and mindfulness meditation:

http://ecologyhealthcenter.net/node/1064

“A few minutes of daily mindfulness meditation can help take attention away from tummy troubles of all kinds for school-age kids, too.

Here’s one way to get started:

Have your child hold a flower (or another small, pretty object) in her hands. Encourage her to pretend she’s never seen a flower before, and have her describe what it looks like, what it smells like, how the petals feel—even what it sounds like. Gaylord says that focusing on something other than symptoms brings a person’s attention into the present moment—helping her think less about stomach pain or anxiety.”

Let’s try it! Find ways to integrate “living in the moment” into our children’s live. Let’s work on those self-calming strategies if only for a few moments or perhaps before going to bed.

There’s more to explore on this topic and I’m looking forward to it. I’m guessing that nature has its own natural sedative properties…how can they be put to use in this process?!

More Support for the Out of Doors (Nature and Children)

IMG_6867

20 Reasons Why Playing Outdoors Makes Children Smarter

http://www.houstonfamilymagazine.com/exclusives/20-reasons-why-playing-outdoors-makes-children-smarter/

By Stacey Loscalzo

Author and clinical psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison, writes, “Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” It is through unstructured, open-ended creative play that children learn the ways of the world. While playing outside, children explore with all their senses, they witness new life, they create imaginary worlds and they negotiate with each other to create a playful environment.

1. Outdoor play is a multi-sensory activity. While outdoors, children will see, hear, smell and touch things unavailable to them when they play inside. They use their brains in unique ways as they come to understand these new stimuli.

2. Playing outside brings together informal play and formal learning. Children can incorporate concepts that have learned at school in a hands on way while outdoors. For example, seeing and touching the roots of a tree will bring to life the lesson their teacher had taught about how plants get their nutrients.

3. Playing outdoors stimulates creativity. Robin Moore, an expert in the design of play and learning environments, says, “Natural spaces and materials stimulate children’s limitless imagination and serve as the medium of inventiveness and creativity.” Rocks, stones and dirt present limitless opportunities for play that can be expressed differently every time a child steps outside.

4. Playing outdoors is open ended. There is no instruction manual for outdoor play. Children make the rules and in doing so use their imagination, creativity, intelligence and negotiation skills in a unique way.

5. Playing in nature reduces anxiety.Time spent outside physiologically reduces anxiety. Children bring an open mind and a more relaxed outlook back inside when they are in more traditional learning environments.

6. Outdoor play increases attention span. Time spent in unstructured play outdoors is a natural attention builder.Often children who have difficulty with pen and paper tasks or sitting still for longer periods of times are significantly more successful after time spent outside.

7. Outdoor play is imaginative. Because there are no labels, no pre-conceived ideas and no rules, children must create the world around them. In this type of play children use their imagination in ways they don’t when playing inside.

8. Being in nature develops respect for other living things. Children develop empathy, the ability to consider other people’s feeling, by interacting with creatures in nature. Watching a tiny bug, a blue bird or a squirrel scurrying up a tree gives children the ability to learn and grow from others.

9. Outdoor play promotes problem solving. As children navigate a world in which they make the rules, they must learn to understand what works and what doesn’t, what line of thinking brings success and failure, how to know when to keep trying and when to stop.

10. Playing outside promotes leadership skills. In an environment where children create the fun, natural leaders will arise. One child may excel at explaining how to play the game while another may enjoy setting up the physical challenge of an outdoor obstacle course. All types of leadership skills are needed and encouraged.

11. Outdoor play widens vocabulary. While playing outdoors, children may see an acorn, a chipmunk and cumulous clouds. As they encounter new things, their vocabulary will expand in ways it never could indoors.

12. Playing outside improves listening skills. As children negotiate the rules of an invented game, they must listen closely to one another, ask questions for clarification and attend to the details of explanations in ways they don’t have to when playing familiar games.

13. Being in nature improves communication skills. Unclear about the rules in an invented game? Not sure how to climb the tree or create the fairy house? Children must learn to question and clarify for understanding while simultaneously making themselves understood.

14. Outdoor play encourages cooperative play. In a setting where there aren’t clear winners and losers, children work together to meet a goal. Perhaps they complete a self-made obstacle course or create a house for a chipmunk. Together they compromise and work together to meet a desired outcome.

15. Time in nature helps children to notice patterns. The natural world is full of patterns. The petals on flowers, the veins of a leaf, the bark on a tree are all patterns. Pattern building is a crucial early math skill.

16. Playing outdoors helps children to notice similarities and differences. The ability to sort items and notice the similarities and differences in them is yet another skill crucial to mathematical success. Time outdoors affords many opportunities for sorting.

17. Time spent outdoors improves children’s immune systems. Healthy children are stronger learners. As children spend more and more time outdoors, their immune systems improve decreasing time out of school for illness.

18. Outdoor play increases children’s physical activity level. Children who play outdoors are less likely to be obese and more likely to be active learners. Children who move and play when out of school are ready for the attention often needed for classroom learning.

19. Time spent outdoors increases persistence. Outdoor games often require persistence. Children must try and try again if their experiment fails. If the branch doesn’t reach all the way across the stream or the bark doesn’t cover their fairy house, they must keep trying until they are successful.

20. Outdoor play is fun. Children who are happy are successful learners. Children are naturally happy when they moving, playing and creating outside. This joy opens them up for experimenting, learning and growing.

 Bio: Stacey Loscalzo is a freelance writer and mother of two girls living in Ridgewood, NJ. She and her girls have been getting outside to play for nearly a decade.

Writing about Reading Apps: Goodnight Moon and Dr. David Walsh

http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/181275901.html?refer=y

READING AS RITUAL

An Article by: DAVID WALSH

Don’t let an app stop parents from reading books to their children.

“Goodnight kittens, and goodnight mittens”

“Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”

These are but a few of the melodic and soothing verses that stir warm childhood memories for millions around the world. “Goodnight Moon” isn’t a book. It’s a ritual.

My three children, all now parents themselves, swear they remember listening to me or my wife read this children’s classic before getting tucked in for the night. While these may not be literal memories, because their brains were too young, they are a testament to the emotional power the book has had for 65 years.

My four grandchildren all include “Goodnight Moon” as one of their “required” books at naptime. I’ve noticed that each snuggles a little closer as the red balloon hanging above the bed disappears from some pages only to reappear later.

Reading aloud is one of the most important — and enjoyable — parenting and grandparenting activities we can share with our children. Science tells us it’s the first building block for literacy. Babies love the soothing sounds of a familiar voice reading. Even when they prefer “eating” their books, they are beginning to make the mental connection we want. They’re associating reading with comfort, security and enjoyment. That link is a great foundation for raising readers. As a masterpiece like “Goodnight Moon” proves, it also creates emotional memories that last a lifetime.

That’s the reason I was appalled to read that there is now an app that downloads the story onto a smartphone or tablet computer (“Say goodnight to boredom of ‘Goodnight Moon,'” Nov. 27).

The purpose of the app is to rescue parents from the boredom of reading the book to their children. Boring? Let’s remember that the book is not written for parents. It’s for children, and there is a wealth of information to pique their interest. For example, there are more than 20 details that change from page to page. A 3-year-old can tell you that the socks disappear from the drying rack when the mittens are wished “goodnight,” but they reappear later.

What this app, should anyone actually pay $4.95 for it, really would do is to rob children of an invaluable experience. Children need to hear a human voice and sit in a human lap. It would be sad indeed if some bored parents let their children “snuggle up” with an iPad as they drift off to sleep.

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David Walsh is a Minneapolis psychologist and author of the books “Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids,” “Why do They Act That Way?, and “No: Why Kids–Of All Ages–Need to Hear It and Why Parents Can Say It.”

http://drdavewalsh.com/

 

Berries for the Birds: The Best Part of the Playground

It was a chilly day and we had a little time to kill before dinner and after daycare. I asked her if she wanted to go to the park and she said “Yes!” After a few minutes on the swing she noticed berries in the sand that surrounded the swingset. She asked about the berries —What are they for? What do they look like? Why are they berries? She asked me to peel the berries and I did so meticulously, as they were about the size of a very small pea. “Open it, mama. Open it!” A rough outer layer when peeled away revealed a lighter, nut-like inner.

We found a few berries still attached to tiny branches.

Searching for the berries became the focus of the playground visit.

I explained that birds eat the berries but that humans do not. She proceeded to collect and lay out the berries for the birds to come and eat. This was similar to the activity we had started at home when the oak tree dropped its nuts in the front yard. In that case, however, the nuts were for the squirrels.

She has learned that she is giving a gift to the animals and that they will thank her in return. “The birdies say tank you. Tank you, WuaCwaire….Tank you for de berrieessss….”‘

I love it.

Searching for berries in the playground sand.

Delicately placing the berries on the railroad tie for the birds to come and get.

The berries all laid out for the birds.

Teaching Toddlers Values: The Creation of a Person

I’ve recently come to realize that parenting a toddler is a full time job, and not just in the tedious, labor intensive way that building a house or plowing snow is.

It’s about something much more critical to the long-term well being of our children. It’s about the oh-so-important job of creating a person.

CREATING A PERSON?

Yes, creating a person—a person that we as parents can be proud of. A person that is steal, lie or cheat in order to get their basic needs met. It’s about creating a person who can move through the world with ease and with dignity. It’s about creating a person who knows right from wrong and acts according and about creating a person who gives and receives love and charity easily and with grace.

And it takes every second of every single minute that you’re with this little being-in-the-making.

There is no time for a break, no time to relax. If you stop to breathe for a moment you will miss a teachable moment.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like to relax and I don’t think I go toooverboard on the whole parenting business. It’s just that these little free-spirited toddlers that know no impulse control and are running around like little savages don’t give you the opportunity to take a moment to rest and to breathe.

When they smack the dog in the head you are forced to take the opportunity to teach the value of kindness and gentleness towards others. When they march into the Director’s office of the daycare and say “I have sticker?” you have to teach them the value of good manners. “Say ‘por favor’! Say ‘gracias’! Say ‘adios’!” (My daughter actually goes to an amazing daycare where the staff are all native Spanish speakers and they speak Spanish all day to the children.)

Here’s a short list of some of the values I’ve identified as ones that I subconsciously and consciously have been trying to teach my toddler:

1. Expressing and Exuding Kindness of Spirit

I want my child to be a warm and good person. I want her to show her friends that she loves them and appreciates them. I want her to be kind and friendly to people she knows and to strangers she meets in the street. I encourage her to approach people and when she spontaneously smiles and engages in conversation with strangers, I facilitate the conversation whether the person on the receiving end is interested or not. I don’t want to squelch the natural social behaviors that I see coming from her on a daily basis.

2. Sharing

Every toddler needs to learn how to share and aren’t we given the daily opportunity to encourage that? I feel very fortunate that my child loves to share with her peers even when she is not asked to. Mostly this comes in the form of food. I have to ask myself if she is imitating me (given that 99% of what she does is mimicking my behavior), and if I think about it, she may certainly be doing so. I love to cook and I always offer some of what I have made to everyone around me.

3. Generosity

Similar to sharing. I want her to be generous to others and to share her belongings or her food or her toys. Generosity is a value that was instilled in me and I want to instill that in her as well. I want her to give and give freely. I want her to enjoy the warm feelings one gets from sharing and giving to others.

4. Expressing Love

I want my child to be warm, to give hugs, to show her friends and family that she likes and loves them.

5. Connecting with Others in a Meaningful Way

I want my daughter to develop meaningful relationships. I want her to greet others when she sees them after they’ve been gone and to say hello and good-bye and good-night to show that she cares about the presence they play in her life. It would be easy enough for her to not greet her peers and to just start playing but I make a point of having her go up to her friends and to say hello, to have her hold hands with them, to have her appreciate their friendship.

6. Engaging in Good Manners and Appropriate Social Behavior

Of course she needs to engage in the standard social niceties: Please, thank you, you’re welcome, hello, good-bye. No hitting, shoving, biting, etc.

7. Patience

This is a hard one to teach a toddler as they like to push the limits and to act as if nothing short of immediate gratification is acceptable. I deliberately use the word “patience” with her while she is waiting for something. I sit by her side and hold her close to me. “We need to be patient,” I tell her. “It’s hard, I know. Sometimes we need to wait. That is being patient.” I am trying to teach her the concept of patience rather than just the behavior of needing to wait. I think it will have more value in the long run this way.

8. Turn-taking

Turn-taking is about recognizing and understanding that there are other people in the world besides herself. As a concept and a behavior it goes beyond playing games or using the playground equipment. It is the understanding that we have our own needs but that we need to watch for and meet the needs of others, even if they do not ask us to.

9. Understanding and Acceptance of Diversity

This is harder to teach to toddlers but when she asks me questions about people who look different from her I explain the difference in a way that is factual, accepting and open, without secrets. I help her to understand what makes people different from each other.

10. To Love, Respect and Appreciate Nature

How could I forget this? In some ways it is the most important value in a technology-laden , eyes-glued-to-the-screen age. Because of an ever-increasing dependence on electronics, it is imperative that we teach our youngsters that the world is bigger than they are, that getting dirty is okay, and that food comes from the earth. Giving them the opportunity to feel leaves crunch under their feet, rain falling on their faces and dirt in their hands, are all ways we engage in the enormous job of teaching them to love and appreciate the earth and the world we live in.

How do you teach these values to little people?

Well, I’ve examined how my time is spent engaging in this ongoing task of facilitating the development of one (hopefully) amazing human being and this is what I’ve come up with…

  1. One of the ways is to model the behavior or action for her. Saying please to her; saying thank you to her; showing her how her momma does it. I read somewhere that this is actually more effective than continually reminding them of how to behave.
  2. Another way is reinforcing her positive behaviors. Anytime a “positive” behavior is produced you praise the heck out of them. If she spontaneously shares or offers a cookie to a friend, “That was wonderful! What a nice job you did sharing! You are sooo sweet!” Watch the happy look that comes over their face. They feel good having pleased you and are likely to repeat the behavior simply because of the praise they received.
  3. A third way is correcting negative behaviors. “We don’t hit when we’re angry. We say, ‘That makes me mad.” In addition to pointing out what they did wrong, and even more importantly, is to tell them what TO DO rather than what not to do. This can be very helpful when you’re in the moment. If your child is reaching out to hit, you can catch the hand and say… “No, no…we don’t hit to get what we want. We ask for what we need. Can you ask your friend for the ball?” Telling them what to do gives them a behavior they can act on rather than just feeling reprimanded or punished.

Well, those are my thoughts on teaching toddlers values. Interestingly, these are probably the values that will continue on as my child ages and develops. So, in essence, as parents we are creating the core values that our children will carry forth with them for the rest of their lives. It’s an amazing time in their development as they are soaking up everything like little sponges and imitating every little thing we do. This is the prime time for developing all of those pro-social behaviors that we want to see in our children. In essence, we’re in the throes of helping to create the people we want our children to be in ten and twenty years. It’s a big job – bigger than I ever imagined – but one that I signed up to do and one that I do not take lightly!