Monday, 30 January 2012

Preschoolers need to get a move on

I read this and hear the Pink Floyd theme playing in the background  - poor little buggers, who can't skip?

Studies are great! Usually they just quantify the obvious, the things that most people who work in Early Childhood Education already know. They're a bit like statistics, great to have in case you ever need to back up points in a paper your writing but unless something eventuates from them they're just cheap wrapping paper or doomed to the bargain book bin.

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above 

Most children at child care centers, preschools and nursery schools spend hours doing sedentary activities and aren't spending much time playing outside, research has shown.

A new analysis suggests possible reasons include concerns about injuries and parents' pressure on schools to pursue academic pursuits such as teaching kids shapes, colors and the ABCs.
"We know children learn through play, including vigorous play," says Kristen Copeland, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the study's lead author. "They practice fundamental motor skills like skipping, playing with balls, jumping and climbing." Physical activity helps prevent excessive weight gain and helps children develop healthy habits that can last them a lifetime, she says. But such play is getting squeezed out because of other priorities.

"These kids finish preschool and don't know how to skip, and that doesn't upset their parents as long as they know their ABCs and can count to 10," Copeland says.

The study, published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that educators said they know vigorous activity is important to children. But they cited several barriers, including concerns about injuries, focus on academics and limited outdoor space and playground equipment.

It doesn't take a lot of expensive equipment for children to be active, Copeland says. "They just need to be taken outside and given the time, space and freedom to run. Many kids spend all day in child care, so this may be their only chance to be physically active."

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Angela Mollard: To the wild yonder

I wonder as I read this....If this is what happens to someone who has only been exposed to the "Tech revolution" for a short period what is the the effect going to be on a child who has been weaned on an Ipad ? (see
In 2012, be kind to your brainBabies with Ipads, iPhones | Steve Jobs | Nature Deficit Disorder, iPadding toddlers: When is it too soon?Too much screen time eating into playtimeBabies and toddlers should learn from play, not screensSmartphone on wheels for a fascinating ride in the back seatVINCI | Why VINCI?)

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above  

FOR a year now, I’ve had a little quote pinned above my desk. “Tell me,” it says, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” On a particularly joyless day, I scribbled a response: “Make lunch boxes.”

....recently I’ve felt disconnected, which is absurd because last year I received 13,506 emails, sent 432 tweets and became Facebook ‘friends’ with someone I kissed in 1989. I’m so connected that I go online the second I wake up. I’m linked in, favourited, retweeted, liked.

Trouble is, all this click-and-flick stuff isn’t nourishing me or the people I care about. .....I miss being transported by a great book, enlivened by a lengthy conversation, wearied by a long walk. I crave smiles made with mouth muscles, not emoticons. I yearn for the stillness and soft foot of nature. Late last year, sitting with my husband beside a lake in the rain, I cried. Not because I was upset, but because I’d sat still long enough to feel something.

Tech torpor, nature deficit disorder, digital ADHD - call it what you like, it’s fracturing our lives. How many couples spend their evenings on separate devices? How many babies looking up from their prams see their parents’ faces masked by an iPhone? New research shows Australians are less inclined to embrace adventure and try new things, with 80 per cent blaming technology and social networking for their inertia. Add to that the 130 million days of stockpiled annual leave and you get the sense there are a lot of people visiting life rather than living it.

So, this year, I’m going trekking in Nepal. It’s a long-held dream, conjured before children and mortgage and responsibility, and put on hold for more than a decade. I signed up before they told me it would be so cold at night I’d have to pee in a zip-lock bag, and before reading that altitude can affect co-ordination (I’m challenged at sea level).

For me, the appeal is as much nature as nurture. My screensaver is an inky blue mountain iced with snow, wild and precious. It’s time I did more than just look at it.

Trailing, can do better: report needs answers

Trailing, can do better: report needs answers

'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'  allegedly Benjamin Disraeli

'We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.'
Albert Einstein.

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above

When Julia Gillard was in Sydney this week to announce extra schools funding for students with disabilities, she stressed the need for Australia to win the "education race" against its Asian neighbours.

The call followed the lament by her Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, over disappointing results from last year's national literacy and numeracy tests. There has been no marked improvement, and performance of top students is going backwards.

The brightest and most socio-economically advantaged children are concentrated in independent and public selective schools; the disadvantaged and poorest academic performers are in the public system.

For 10 years under the Howard government, Australia suppressed data comparing the performance of independent and public schools.

Sue Thomson, from the Australian Council for Educational Research, says the latest OECD snapshot revealed, for the first time, no significant differences in test scores from public and private schools after they were adjusted for the socio-economic background of students and their school peers. This confirmed the performance of Australian students is linked to the family background of students and their peers – not the school they attend.

Data from other OECD countries consistently showed public schools performed as well or better than independent schools after socio-economic factors were accounted for. The Australian private schools lobby rejects the research as flawed.

"Any supposed performance advantage from going to a private school is entirely due to the fact they come from advantaged backgrounds and are concentrated together."

But money will not solve all the problems. High-performing countries recruit high-calibre teachers with masters degrees. They do not focus on standardised testing and "teaching to the test", which teachers complain of in Australia.

"What goes on in Chinese classrooms, for example, is a process of teaching kids to think and not a process of just drumming in facts," Sweet said.

Barry McGaw, who heads the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, is concerned schools are not stretching the top students.He believes there has been too much focus on developing basic skills to meet minimum standards.

He found students in south-west Sydney were studying lower levels of mathematics and English than those in northern Sydney, despite being of similar ability, because "south-western Sydney schools weren't offering the higher level courses".

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Force of Nature

Outside the box, my favourite place. Whether that box be a screen, a building, a life style or an idea, that's where I believe creativity exists. Anyone who is of the belief that play and learning cannot coexist..... read on MacDuff! 

I'm somewhat jealous reading this article as I was brought up in a strict factory type preschool that locked you in a cupboard if you drew outside the lines of the stencil .... products for Mummy and Daddy.  Ahh...those were the days.

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above

'A boy, just 4, leaps into a puddle. Mud splatters high across his boots and pants. The boy races from puddle to puddle, leaping, splashing and laughing. He is exultant as he discovers his own power in the mud-puddle universe. He’s also gleaning an early physics lesson: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. At a lot of nursery schools, that reaction might include chiding the child for making a mess. 

“We like to get dirty,” the boy’s teacher, Lorrie Clendenin, says, smiling. “We like to explore. The parents know that we are all coming home messy. We dig. We take hikes when it rains and snows. We’re always out.”
In the 79 years since the Outdoor Nursery School was founded, the nation has changed in ways that make the school profoundly countercultural. American children today spend dramatically less time outdoors than they did in 1933 for a host of reasons.....Television has redefined Americans of all ages as consumers of both hawked goods and time spent sitting transfixed in front of the electronic screen.

The suburbs—once marketed as bucolic and expansive escapes from the confines, ills and dangers of the city—are now developed in ways that sharply limit open land where children can play and explore.

Parents who grew up roaming freely in the neighbourhoods of their youth are often afraid to let their children do the same. Schools pressured to reduce budgets and raise test scores cut recess and physical education. Teachers assign ever more homework, effectively tethering children indoors after school.

Jane Clark, a University of Maryland professor of kinesiology, coined a phrase to describe today’s physically constricted youths: She calls them “containerized kids.”

There is a nascent movement to free containerized kids to spend more time exploring the natural world..... although nursery schools designed around teaching children outdoors are relatively rare nationwide.

Teachers at both nursery schools remark how calm their charges are after time outdoors. On the coldest, bleakest days of winter “even the 2-year-olds love to go outside,”......By the time we get back in, everybody is pretty wet. But now they happily settle down and do whatever they are going to do next. It’s calming being outside.”

Watching these preschoolers, it’s easy to believe that even in modern-day suburbia, an evolutionary memory of roaming the land is hardwired into our brains—and we deny it at our peril.'

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Health and safety culture is keeping children from nature, says Sir David Attenborough

Health and safety culture is keeping children from nature, says Sir David Attenborough | Mail Online

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above

"Britain's health and safety culture is discouraging children from 'roaming the countryside', Sir David Attenborough said yesterday. He said Britain risked losing the next generation of naturalists because of unfounded fears over safety.

'Fear and laws ruining fun': Sir David warned that the next generation of naturalists was being deterred from observing nature

He added that children had become 'out of touch' with their own environment and were likely to know more about exotic animals than those domestic to the UK. 'I dare say they know more about East African lions and game than they do about foxes,' he said."

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Standardized Tests - Your Rights and the Impact on Your Child

My thanks to Melissa Taylor from Imagination Soup for drawing my attention to her post which detailed an interview she had with Susan Ohanian. Susan is a staunch opponent of Standardised testing in the US and commentator on how the fixation has caused a trickle down effect that's gradually eroding undirected creative play and the development of any non-quantifiable skills in pre school environments.

You may ask why am I posting about a US problem and how does it relate to naturalistic play and environments? I'm glad you asked. Australia has always had a habit of scouring the world for ideas that have been tried and failed dismally in other countries and then attempting to implement them in the face of logic and generally at great cost and frustration of the community.

Currently we have NAPLAN, which, according to its million dollar website....tests Australian School children  in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. It tests the types of skills that are essential for every child to progress through school and life, in reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and numeracy...(and) is the measure through which governments, education authorities and schools can determine whether or not young Australians are meeting important educational outcomes..... This report shows final NAPLAN results by gender, Indigenous status, language background other than English status, parental occupation, parental education, and location (metropolitan, provincial, remote and very remote) at each year level and for each domain of the test.

I could go on at great length about the egrerious mistake that is NAPLAN but Google the words NAPLAN and funding and you'll see what it's about -Money.

The passages below are Susan Susan responses to questions about the purpose, validity and efficacy of Standardised testing in the US.  

'The standardized tests are taking over more and more of every child’s day. Some districts have pre-K screening–so parents can know if their children are “on track” for the rigours of the kindergarten curriculum. Kindergarten, which means “children’s garden,” was intended as a place for children to engage in creative play, learning important social and developmental skills, a place where they learn to care about one another and help one another. Now it is a place of worksheets, homework, and curriculum rigour. Look that word up in the dictionary and ask yourself if you want that for your child at any age.

Research shows that test scores are a much better measure of family income than of student ability. We don’t need grades based on standardized tests to determine how schools are doing on those standardized tests. We can look at the zip codes of the students and predict the rating by the poverty index of the community.

In an effort to boost test scores, teachers often feel pressured to devote more time to test prep, thus narrowing the curriculum. When curriculum is reduced to subjects that are tested, children are deprived of the varied experiences that allow them to find new interests and talents.....More testing means more testing. It means that a child’s opportunity to experience a rich and varied school experience is reduced to the narrow range of items that can be tested.

Hiding behind a smokescreen of “preparing workers for tomorrow’s global economy,” these so-called education reformers treat children as commodities and teachers as mere functionaries in an accounting system. We need to protect our children, and this means asking for schools that nurture curiosity, imagination, independence, laughter, joy.'

Finally I'll let Sir Ken Robinson make my point for me about what happens when you stifle creativity.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Threat of toxic playgrounds

Wow! You can certainly say this about the Australian press, if it's a contemporary global topic, they're sure to pounce on it -six months to a year later.

I have posted previously on this issue, see Dangers of Artificial Turf  and while we're looking at potentially dangerous surfaces in childcare centres/services lets not be myopic, see Schools and Daycare Are Top Sources of Kids' Toxic Chemical Exposure.

We have used artifical turf in natural playspace projects in the past. Generally it was used in projects where because of exceptionally high foot traffic, excessive shade, extreme weather conditions, or being positioned in an area that would not allow the installation of real turf (raised slabs, rooftop playspaces etc) it was the more practical and safe alternative.

Like most things you get what you pay for and we recommend people who intend to install artificial turf do their research (see the questions to ask in  Dangers of Artificial Turf ) and chose a manufacturer/installer who can provide proof of the safety of their product and abides by the ANZ safety and quality standards. In the past we have used the Australian manufacturer and supplier Flexitec.

The American Society of Landscapes Architects Magazine, LAM  (01/2012) provides a  detailed article entitled "A Shopper’s Guide to Fake Grass", which gives an analyse of the physical make up of various artificial grasses, different methods of grass construction and an insight into contemporary safety hazards.

The text below is an extract from the Sun Herald article.

'At Montessori East pre-school and school in Waverley, the principal, Bill Conway, said he was worried about artificial turf and it was being removed. Montessori's new playspace was designed by Tessa Rose and constructed by Jaime Miller Landscapes, photos can be viewed here later this week. 

An oncologist with the Yale Cancer Centre in Connecticut, Barry Boyd, who is also a consultant to the Environment and Human Health Inc, has said: ''While fear of raising concerns may be an understandable motive for limiting public information about risk, the long-recognised goal of limiting childhood exposures to environmental hazards must take precedence.''

Artificial turf has gained popularity in Australia in the past decade as a way of extending playing hours???? and cutting maintenance time and costs. Schools, councils and sport groups have opted to use it to replace grass.

One professional turf adviser, Martin Sheppard, who consults councils and other groups on the use of artificial turf, dismisses concerns about safety, saying it poses fewer environmental dangers than the street. Mr Sheppard, who has been advising on artificial turf for 30 years, says the turf has been used since 1965 around the world. If there are serious health risks, he argues, they would have been identified.
Correct. If anyone was looking for them.

Yet across the US, schools have been digging up the turf and reinstating grass, concerned about toxic chemicals and heavy metals, including lead, which was used in some of earlier generations of turf.
Gavin Edwards, of the school of chemistry at the University of NSW, said lead no longer appeared to be used in new versions of the turf. Dr Edwards said concerns about emissions of toxic components could be minimised by pre-treating some of the components, including the crumb rubber from car tyres. Shouldn't that be done already. Is it OK to sell a product that you know may pose a potential health hazard, until your caught, then take remedial action? He agreed there should be some standards to regulate what materials can be used in the turf.

''Over the past 50 years technological advances have seen artificial turf mature from a product with many problems, to one that is becoming used more widely,'' Dr Edwards wrote in a report in 2010 commissioned by Turf Australia. ''Nonetheless, even with the latest 'third-generation' surfaces, problems still exist and questions remain unanswered.'' Obviously the answer is YES.

Dr Edwards said an overlooked issue was the heating of the turf to temperatures that could cause injury. He quoted a study by Brigham Young University in Utah that showed it reaching temperatures much higher than grass and in some cases almost three times the air temperature, recording 93.3 degrees.

The same study said one coach developed blisters on his feet, despite wearing tennis shoes, as a result of the extreme temperatures and that the New York State Department of Health had issued warnings.'

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Obsession with safety is ruining our playgrounds

Thank you to our friend Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids for bringing our attention to the above article in the La Times which  addresses the hysteria (fuelled by the fear of liability and vexatious litigation) surrounding safety in public playgrounds.

To quote Lenore "How have we evolved to a society that sees splinters, blood and lawsuits every where we turn? Especially in light of my hero Phillip Howard’s contention that (according to the LA Times piece) there is no data showing an increase in playground injuries or lawsuits!

We are drunk on safety and hallucinating pink liability issues. (Elephants are too big to safely be hallucinated anymore.) Time to sober up and let kids have fun. — L.

Picture from the highly recommended Rants from Mommyland 

LEGO Friends Petition: Parents, Women And Girls Ask Toy Companies To Stop Gender-Based Marketing

LEGO Friends Petition: Parents, Women And Girls Ask Toy Companies To Stop Gender-Based Marketing

"Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses, some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses. So why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?"

As discussed in my December post Lego targets girls with block and awe campaign I disagreed with the proposed reasoning and PR given for Lego's new range of play materials targeted at the young girls. It seems I wasn't the only one. The article above from the Huffington Post provides information about a grassroots campaign in progress to address the obvious gender based marketing. Details of the campaign can be found here.

A video detailing what Riley (of the Riley talks about pink stuff video) did subsequently can be viewed below.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

"Nature Deficit Disorder” in Pakistan | NewsPakistan.PK

I suppose it's my ignorance but I had thought that in Afghanistan you couldn't avoid nature. The desire to be like the West carries more than just opportunities. You blindly embrace the lifestyle you get the whole package.

"Pakistan has been a victim of political and security crisis for a very long time, and ironically, they have apparently now adopted and evolved to these inevitable circumstances. Life continues seemingly uninterrupted one turmoil after another.

Just as in other parts of the world, the country (Afghanistan) has experienced the IT revolution. With hundreds of channels on TV and access to wireless high speed internet, parks and playgrounds which were once the hub of all activity are now abandoned and deserted. Urbanization in Pakistan is among the highest of ratios in Asiatic countries and the newly built sky scrapers and condos leave little space for the luxury that was once called a park. “Nature deficit disorder" if it may rightfully be coined as so, is more than inevitable".

Saturday, 14 January 2012

How children in China's urban jungle are reconnecting with nature

How children in China's urban jungle are reconnecting with nature 

Really sad, but more and more the rule rather than the exception.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              'The child who answered didn't even look up, being too busy adding leaves to the "cake". We laughed, but also felt a little sad. It was good to see the children at ease and happy and feeling close to nature. But it was also obvious that it had been a long time since they'd seen any real nature and that they rarely got to play outside; otherwise, they wouldn't have been so excited about this scrap of land'.

"Now I see the secret of making the best persons; it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth." Letting children build an emotional connection to nature, to ignite their curiosity and passion – that is the root of all learning. - Walt Whitman

Great link - Friends of Nature - oldest environmental NGO in China.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Quiz - Examples of Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Quiz - Examples of Divergent and Convergent Thinking

In the pursuit of knowledge it's always good to question what you "Know".

This particular article from the blog Imagination Soup does that in respect to adult perspectives of creative play - specifically what is convergent and divergent thinking. What is real creative play and what is structured factory produced for the appraisal and appeasement of parents.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking

Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking | The Creativity Post

Another great article from Creativity Post.

"The artist is not a special person, each one of us is a special kind of artist. Every one of us is born a creative, spontaneous thinker. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are not is a simple belief."

Aspects of creative thinking that are not usually taught.
1. You are creative.
2. Creative thinking is work.
3. You must go through the motions of being creative.
4. Your brain is not a computer.
5. There is no one right answer.
6. Never stop with your first good idea.
7. Expect the experts to be negative.
8. Trust your instincts. Don't allow yourself to get discouraged.
9. There is no such thing as failure.
10. You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.
11. Always approach a problem on its own terms.
12. Learn to think unconventionally. 
13. Creativity is paradoxical. 

Monday, 9 January 2012

How children’s ‘play’ is being sneakily redefined

Further to my previous posts and my conversation with Brenda from  Mullin Avenue Workshop / Early Childhood Education and Common Sense, this article from Creativity Post addresses the how's and why's of  unstructured imaginative/creative indoor/outdoor play being covertly traded for 'the “cult of rigour” at the centre of "corporate-style school reform".' Read more from the link above. LOVE to hear your impressions and ideas.

"Children should have plenty of opportunities to play" 

"Even young children have too few such opportunities these days, particularly in school settings"

These two propositions — both of them indisputable and important — have been offered many times.

The second one in particular reflects the “cult of rigour” at the centre of "corporate-style school reform". Its devastating impact can be mapped horizontally (with test preparation displacing more valuable activities at every age level) as well as vertically (with pressures being pushed down to the youngest grades, resulting in developmentally inappropriate instruction). The typical American kindergarten now resembles a really bad first-grade classroom. Even preschool teachers are told to sacrifice opportunities for imaginative play in favour of drilling young children until they master a defined set of skills."

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Preschools flunk the test

An interesting article highlighting the first years research into school readiness programmes in Victorian and Queensland preschools, child care centres and family daycare.  

The national study of 2500 children found that on a scale of one to seven, the quality of instruction for four-year olds - regardless of whether they attend preschool, a childcare centre or family day care - averages a ranking of just two. This puts Australia on par with the US, which has an unregulated sector considered to be of poor quality, according to Professor Karen Thorpe, one of the study's research directors.

While children from NSW are not participating in the study, Professor Thorpe said the results provided an accurate national picture. Professor Thorpe said the overall results of the first year of the study revealed that early childhood education and care services in Australia were ''mediocre''.

''We don't have too many exceptionally bad services, but we don't have too many exceptionally good services either,'' Professor Thorpe said. She suggested this was because past early childhood sector regulations only required services to meet a minimum standard to be accredited.

Christine Legg, the chief executive of KU Children's Services, one of the oldest community-based preschool groups in NSW, said she was not surprised by the E4Kids findings.

''It's a really good reflection of the sector at the moment,'' Ms Legg said.

She said that some less qualified staff misinterpreted the previous preschool teaching guidelines as ''sit back and wait and the children will learn by osmosis''.

New federal government national quality standards came into effect on January 1 and include lifting the minimum standard of qualifications for staff, education benchmarks and better staff-to-child ratios. 
Professor Thorpe said she hoped the new standards would improve quality in preschools.

''The new standards are asking us to work to optimal levels as aspirational. You'd hope this would shift quality,'' she said. ''Research suggests the early environment does make a difference to a child in the long term.''

No Child Left Behind Anniversary: Education Law's Promise Falls Short After 10 Years

Ahhhh... the Bush legacy - a very interesting article

"The No Child Left Behind education law was cast as a symbol of possibility, offering the promise of improved schools for the nation's poor and minority children and better prepared students in a competitive world.

The law forced schools to confront the uncomfortable reality that many kids simply weren't learning, but it's primarily known for its emphasis on standardized tests and the labeling of thousands of schools as "failures." 
Critics say the law carries rigid and unrealistic expectations that put too much of an emphasis on tests for reading and math at the expense of a more well-rounded education.

The law requires annual testing. Districts must keep and publish data showing how subgroups of students perform. Schools that don't meet requirements for two years or longer face increasingly tough consequences, from busing children to higher performing schools to offering tutoring and replacing staff.

Jennifer Ochoa, an eighth-grade literacy teacher in New York who works with low-performing students, said the law has hurt morale among educators as well as students, who feel they have to do well on a standardized test or are failures, no matter how much progress they make.

"Afterward, it didn't matter how far you came if you didn't make this outside goal," Ochoa said. "We started talking about kids in very different ways. We started talking about kids in statistical ways instead of human being terms."

As the 2014 deadline draws closer, more schools are failing to meet federal standards, with nearly half not doing so last year, according to the Center on Education Policy. Center officials said that's because some states today have harder tests or have high numbers of immigrant and low-income children, but it's also because the law requires states to raise the bar each year for how many children must pass the test.

"One of the things we ought to be able to do is fix No Child Left Behind," said Alexander, R-Tenn. "What we ought to do is set new realistic goals for it so that schools and schools can have those kinds of goals, and most importantly we need to move out of Washington and back to states and local communities decisions about whether schools and teachers are succeeding or failing."

Where children thrive on an outside chance

It may be the depths of winter in Scandinavia, but children attending the increasingly popular outdoor childcare centres spend all day in the forest. They pitch tents, go hiking and make hot chocolate.

While this freewheeling approach is a far cry from the regimented system in Australia, early learning experts suggest it could be the key to why Scandinavian childcare is consistently rated the best in the world.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Playgrounds Too Safe to Keep Little Kids Active

Universal formula for the eradication of learning and development of imagination and creativity through PLAY,
Ignorant and officious bureaucracy + fear of litigation = death of unstructured play/spaces.

"Boring playgrounds may be one reason preschoolers aren't getting enough exercise, researchers found in interviews with childcare providers.

Strict safety rules for equipment and low budgets at childcare centers were largely blamed for playgrounds that don't make kids feel like playing, Kristen Copeland, MD, of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and colleagues reported.

"Fixed playground equipment that meets licensing codes is unchallenging and uninteresting to children," The other main problem cited was pressure to focus on academic readiness at the expense of physically active play time, Copeland's group noted. 
Another common theme was pressure to prioritize teaching children shapes, colors, and skills that would prepare them for reading over giving them time for outdoor and active play.  That pressure came directly from parents -- both upper- and lower-income families -- as well as from state early-learning standards. The result was that many providers tried to turn active time into learning time too, "motivated to demonstrate a 'purpose' for gross motor time so that the children would not be seen as just 'running around.'"

Several providers also mentioned pressure from parents to keep their children from getting injured, even being asked to keep a child from participating in any vigorous activity. State inspections of their playground equipment and increasingly strict licensing codes made the providers feel confident about safety, though perhaps too much so for the children's tastes. "To keep it challenging, teachers noted that children would start to use equipment in (unsafe) ways for which it was not intended," the researchers wrote.

They quoted one provider who explained that with new equipment fitting the tighter standards, "you see children trying to climb into places they're not supposed to climb in because it's just not challenging. They're walking up the slide much more than they ever did with the other one. You can see they are just trying to find those challenges."

Friday, 6 January 2012

Why Daydreamers are More Creative

Many thanks to Nico Swan from Pinterest for directing me to this fantastic article from The Creativity Post, a site I would recommend to anyone interested in contemporary and critical essays on learning, thinking and educational practices.

I have three other articles I think are pertinent to natural play and early childhood learning but decided to post/link this one first as it dovetails with my previous post In 2012, be kind to your brain which also discusses the concept of daydreaming and provides a highly detailed breakdown on the "default brain network " and how it affects creativity.

Back to daydreaming!

3 Ideas to Prevent Schools from Killing Creativity, Curiosity, and Critical Thinking

A great article written by  Dr. Todd B. Kashdan is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University.   

"If we want kids to experience a sense of wonder and discover new information on their own (curiosity), if we want them to generate novel, adaptive ideas (creativity), and if we want them to derive their own perspectives and conclusions after a discussion (critical thinking), then the current educational system is a failure."

Christmas present

I was trimming the apple trees in the backyard yesterday when I decided to use the off cuts in an experiment. We have created tepees and houses for a number of previous projects, but never using coppices that have the potential to take root and grow like hazel or willow. Thus the garden cubby (for cats) Mark I is born. Merry Christmas Max and Molly. 
Hopefully the canes will strike and provide a foliage cover during the summer, together with a non toxic climbing plant. During the winter depending on your climate you could interlace it with a climbing vegetable plant like snow peas. I'm going to trial a larger version with acacias and figs, I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

In 2012, be kind to your brain

In 2012, be kind to your brain  (Article originally from the New York Times)

"Here's my New Year's resolution: in 2012, I plan to spend at least 30 minutes a day without my iPhone. Without internet, Twitter, Facebook and my iPad. Spending a half-hour a day without electronics might sound easy for most, but for me, 30 unconnected minutes produces the same anxious feelings of a child left accidentally at the shopping mall. 

For example, I was worried that if I did not capture that beautiful sunset and stuff it into my phone, I'd forget it.

"Even with something as beautiful as a sunset, forgetting is really important as a mental hygiene," said Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, a professor of Internet governance at Oxford University and the author of the book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.

"That things in our past become rosier over time is incredibly important," he added. "As we forget, our memories abstract and our brain goes through a cleansing process." Professor Mayer-Schonberger said that keeping a perpetual visual diary of everything could slow down our brains' purging process.

Constantly interacting with our mobile devices has other drawbacks too. I have no time to daydream. And daydreams, scientists say, are imperative in solving problems.

Jonah Lehrer, a neuroscientist said that our brains often needed to become inattentive to figure out complex issues. He (discussed) an area of the brain scientists call "the default network" that was active only when the rest of the brain was inactive — in other words, when we were daydreaming. Letting the mind wander activates the default network, he said, and allows our brains to solve problems that most likely can't be solved during a game of Angry Birds.

Jonathan Schooler, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara who has focused his research on daydreaming, put it this way: "Daydreaming and boredom seem to be a source for incubation and creative discovery in the brain and is part of the creative incubation process."  (Article originally from the New York Times)

In the past I have discussed my misgivings about introducing babies and children to computers and electronic media devices in their formative years without information (research) about the effects. Now comes an article which  seems to validate that this constant distraction and cognitive stimulation (usually with crap) can have a negative affect on adult recall, imagination and creativity. If this is the toll for adults imagine what effect it would be having on yet unformed or forming minds. Articles on brain plasticity can be found here and here.

For those of you who ask what does this have to do with natural play and playspaces the short answer is, everything.

"Benefits of undirected play, especially play in a natural environment have been constantly documented over the last decade to stimulate young minds in a variety of ways.

Children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are better able to concentrate after contact with nature (Taylor et al. 2001).

Children with views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. The greener, the better the scores (Wells 2000, Taylor et al. 2002).

Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often (Grahn, et al. 1997, Fjortoft & Sageie 2001).

When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse with imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills (Moore & Wong 1997, Taylor, et al. 1998, Fjortoft 2000).

Exposure to natural environments improves children's cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills (Pyle 2002).

Nature buffers the impact of life's stresses on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits (Wells & Evans 2003).

Play in a diverse natural environment reduces or eliminates bullying (Malone & Tranter 2003).

Nature helps children develop powers of observation and creativity and instills a sense of peace and being at one with the world (Crain 2001).

Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder (Cobb 1977, Louv 1991). Wonder is an important motivator for life long learning (Wilson 1997).

Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other (Moore 1996).

Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children (Moore 1986, Bixler et al. 2002).

Outdoor environments are important to children's development of independence and autonomy (Bartlett 1996).

Play in outdoor environments stimulates all aspects of children development more readily than indoor environments (Moore & Wong 1997).

An affinity to and love of nature, along with a positive environmental ethic, grow out of regular contact with and play in the natural world during early childhood. Children's loss of regular contact with the natural world can result in a biophobic future generation not interested in preserving nature and its diversity (Bunting & Cousins 1985; Chawla 1988; Wilson 1993; Pyle 1993; Chipeniuk 1994; Sobel 1996, 2002 & 2004; Hart 1997; Wilson 1997, Kals et al. 1999; Moore & Cosco 2000; Fisman 2001; Kellert 2002; Bixler et al. 2002; Kals & Ittner 2003; Schultz et al. 2004).

(Derived from an article by Randy White, White Hutchinson, article link is here.)