Why Risk Taking is an Important Part of Play

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When I was a child I remember zooming down a very steep hill on a skateboard only to come shooting off at the bottom. I climbed trees up to the highest branches and amazingly, avoided falling. When you think back to your childhood play I bet it also involved taking risks. These risks are now considered so dangerous that they must be avoided. Playgrounds are super safe, in my opinion, too safe, and childcare centers and schools are required to have risk assessments for everything, reducing risks to nearly nothing.  I feel wrapping children in cotton wool can limit opportunities for them to experiment and explore, and thus reduce their potential for learning.

So what is risky play?  'Risky play can be defined as a thrilling and exciting activity that involves a risk of physical injury, and play that provides opportunities for challenge, testing limits, exploring boundaries and learning about injury risk'  (Sandseter (2007; Little & Wyver, 2008)

Why is it so important to allow children to engage in play that involves challenges and taking risks I hear you ask?

When we allow children to take risks we are providing them with opportunities that support them to problem solve and to make decisions. The big wide world is full of risks and children need opportunities to develop the skills associated with managing these risks.  Through risky play children also build resilience, develop problem solving skills and gain an awareness of the capabilities of their own bodies. 

Some examples of risk taking activities that we can introduce to our children are using real tools to cook or create, letting them climb in trees and jump off equipment, supporting them to cook over an open fire or simply giving them an opportunity to explore local bush land.  

Let's prepare our children for life, stand back and let them explore!

Why Toddlers Become Obsessed

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My little boy is obsessed with concrete mixers, when he sees one he nearly explodes with excitement. He carries his own mixer around all day and even wants to sleep with it. My friend’s little boy is obsessed with Batman. He wears only Batman t shirts and eats from Batman plates. So what causes these intense obsessions and how should we handle them?

Obsessions start as early at twelve months and can last right up until school age. They are a completely normal stage of child development and often begin if a child has particularly enjoyed an activity or has found something soothing.

So why do toddlers like to repeat the same activity or hold the same object day after day? All toddlers like familiarity, it makes them feel safe and secure. It is a big scary world out there and if they have control over one thing it gives them a sense of security.

As a child gets older these obsessions usually move from single objects or toys to themes or characters. At around age three children start seeing things from another person’s perspective. Instead of just enjoying watching butterflies they can image being a butterfly. This new skill allows them to try out new roles and helps to develop self-expression.

As children grow, these obsessions lessen and eventually this phase will come to an end. They will generally grow out of it by the time they reach school age.

So whilst children are in the middle of a crazy obsession why not use it as a springboard for teaching? Help your child to learn the parts of a butterfly or look into its lifecycle. Discuss mixers, what they do and how they work. Use Spiderman as a way of teaching new skills. Spiderman can climb, let’s see if you can too!

When these obsession are over no doubt we will look back on them and laugh. I went to a friend’s house the other day and she was arguing with her son about not being able to drink from his favourite cup that had accidentally fallen into the toilet. Toddlers are strange little creatures that are so exhausting but so adorable all at the same time. Let’s try and enjoy them being small and remember that as with everything else, ‘this phase too shall pass’.

The Importance of Mother Nature

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I grew up in England and come rain or shine I spent most of my childhood outdoors. We made dens in the woods and tramped through muddy puddles. We even camped in the garden in winter. I loved being outdoors as a child and as it turns out it is not only good for the soul and mental health it also has an extremely positive effect on child development. 

So why is it important to allow children time outdoors to explore and to participate in spontaneous play?

Being close to nature offers:

The chance for children to discover and to develop scientific knowledge and skills-The outdoor environment provides opportunities for children to explore and to learn through observation, questioning, experimentation and reflection. 

Opportunities for physical development- Whilst outside children run and jump, climb and balance. Children learn about the capabilities of their own bodies and develop balance and coordination. 

Opportunities for low risk taking- Children may  jump from rock to rock across a stream or learn to climb a tree. These risk taking activities are important as they develop life skills such as problem solving and the ability to assess risks as well as build resilience.  

The chance for children to build social skills and develop kindness and empathy- Outdoor play is usually unstructured, children engage in activities such as building dens, playing tag and interacting with bugs and nature. Unstructured play requires children to cooperate, negotiate and to solve conflicts. Being outdoors also allows children to establish positive connections to nature. To learn about plants and animals and about caring for them, thus developing empathy and kindness for the earth's creatures. 

In addition to the benefits outlined above children need nature play for the healthy development of their senses. It also helps to develop creativity and imagination. Let's all look up a local park and get out there! Mother Nature awaits us!


Turning Christmas Around

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Christmas means many different things to different people but for the majority of us it spurs us into a frenzy of present buying. Our children wake up on Christmas morning and rip open gift after gift after gift. We all love our children and want to give them everything that they want and need. I love the smile on my child’s face and the excitement in his eyes when he gets a new toy. However, after reading some shocking articles on overindulging children I will be resisting the temptation this year to buy every toy on the Christmas list. So why should we fight the urge to overindulge our children? The article that sticks in my mind was based on the findings of a psychologist named David Braedehoft (Bredehoft, D. J., Mennicke, S. A., Potter, A. M., & Clarke, J. I. 1998. Perceptions attributed by adults to parental overindulgence during childhood.). Braedehoft concluded that overindulgence as a child can cause problems in later life. In his study adults that were over indulged as children reported that they were disappointed in others, lacked coping skills, were in debt and were often unhappy. This makes sense! If you are given everything you want how can you cope in the big wide world when things don’t just fall in your lap when you click your fingers?

Aside from wanting to bring up a happy human being who is able to cope with life here are three other reasons to curb the crazy present buying.

1.)  We want our children to learn that happiness does not stem from things but from making connections with people and from nature.

2.)  We want to teach our children the value of things and to appreciate the things that they have. If children have too many things they are not able to truly appreciate them.

3.)  We want to show children the difference between wants and needs. They need to learn that we don’t have to have the latest gadgets to survive.

So what can we do to change things? Promoting giving at this time of year can highlight how lucky we are and can teach children that there are people out there less fortunate than ourselves. Giving also makes us happy, seeing other people’s faces or preparing a gift and imagining how a present may make someone feel gives you a buzz. With regards to present buying, activities are always a great gift idea as they promote time together and don’t require you to build a house extension to accommodate any new toys. I also try and stick to the following guidelines and buy just four presents. Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.

So let’s turn Christmas around and show our children what it is really about, using this time of year as an opportunity to teach kindness. This could just be the best Christmas that your family has ever had!

Why We Should Embrace the Mess

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Some parents are put off by messy play and to be honest with you I fall into this category. The very thought of my little boy smearing paint across our table, squishing mud between his fingers and dribbling glue on his pants makes me run for a cloth. Since having him, however, I have been battling the urge to  pull him out of puddles and avoid all art and craft activities because messy play is extremely beneficial for child development and in fact, it has been deemed to be one of the best ways for young children to learn. Here’s why we should let our little explores get messy!

Messy play encourages exploration and imagination- Messy play allows children to learn about their senses and to find out about the world around them. They discover how things feel, smell and taste. When they are left to explore they also make discoveries, which in turn develops their knowledge.

It supports the development of language -Most messy play activities are social experiences so children are learning to share, collaborate and negotiate. They are also learning new vocabulary when they discuss their observations and express their excitement.

It teaches children how to play independently and develops their concentration skills- In this day and age I feel children are losing the ability to amuse themselves. This type of open ended play offers children the opportunity to experiment and explore in many different ways without the need for adult intervention. These activities also require concentration, often for extended periods (my little boy recently played with Kinetic Sand for twenty-five minutes and he is seventeen months, I was amazed!).

It develops observational skills and enquiry based learning- When children engage in messy play they are using the skills of observation to find out what is happening. They are also making predictions (thinking about what may happen) and drawing conclusions (thinking about what happened and why).

Messy play can involve sand, water, chalk, paint, playdough and mud. Lets embrace the mess and allow our children to play in a sandpit, splash water in the bath and dig in the dirt. Oh and Christmas is around the corner, why not stick some paint and chalk on the Christmas list!

 

 

What Do Our Tiny People Need?

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In a world where everyone spends hours on electronic devices are we drowning in a sea of technology and losing sight of what our children really need?

When I was a child I remember hours of fun spent in the garden making mud pies, riding my bike, dressing up and most importantly time with my parents. We went on walks, visited amazing places and sometimes just stayed at home, but we talked and laughed together, shared stories and our lives. As I go about my life today I see children in restaurants on ipads and parents walking with their little ones who are so desperate to point something out. Sadly their Mum or Dad is too busy on their phone to even notice. We are all guilty of these things and I don’t want to pass judgment on someone who needs ten minutes time out, however, we can all be honest with ourselves. Our children need us to be present and we need to be able to look back at the time we spent with our children with no regrets.

So what is important to a preschool child? What do they need from us? Children need our guidance, they need us to be role models, sharing our values and showing them how to behave. They need to feel and hear that they are loved in order to feel secure and become confident human beings. They need us to play with them and to teach them new skills, sharing our passions, thoughts and feelings.

In the words of Max Lacado, ‘children spell love in four letters, T I M E’

Through offering our time our little ones will benefit from the following:

Talking often: open communication is the key to understanding our children and to them understanding our thoughts and feelings.

Instruction: supporting our children to make good choices through discipline and guidance.

Modeling: learning new skills through you and setting a positive example.

Emotional security: knowing that they are loved.

In a nutshell all our children really need and want is for us to be there so put down your phones and pick up that spade because your children won’t be small for long!

Igniting Children's Curiosity in Science

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Over the last couple of years we have seen a big push on STEAM education in Australia. So is this just a passing fad and how important is this to our children? 

STEAM education is an approach to learning that focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. It aims to develop inquiry skills and critical thinking and to prepare children for our fast-paced, modern world.

Our society today is driven by these subjects, every day we see advances in the fields of technology and science. If we can spark children’s curiosity in these areas early we will grow innovators, young people with high order abilities that are well equipped to deal with the 21st century.

 I want to focus on the area of science, it has always been one of my passions and in my opinion is definitely one of the most exciting subjects to teach to small children.  So how do I spark this curiosity I hear you ask? There are so many opportunities for teaching science that occur on a daily basis. Young children are naturally curious so it is important to use this as the foundation. When your child stops and shows an interest in something, allow them to observe and explore. They may be observing a bee landing on a flower or watching you combine ingredients to bake a cake. Through allowing them to observe, ask questions and reflect you will support them in developing an understanding of the world around them.

Another important way of developing science skills and knowledge is to plan hands on activities that allow children to explore and discover. These activities could include exploring whether objects sink or float, planting seeds and watching them grow, joining in with cooking activities or exploring shadows on a wall. Any activity that supports children to learn about the world around them and prompts them to ask questions about what is happening and why is science. In the words of Sally Ride (American engineer , physicist and astronaut and the first woman in space) ‘Science is fun, Science is curiosity’ and in my own words Science is all around us so let’s take our children’s hands and jump in!.

 

Preschool Phonics: To Teach or Not to Teach? That is the Question.

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A friend asked me the other day whether she should buy some books to help her three year old learn his letter sounds. It got me thinking about the importance of teaching this skill at this young age and the method that I would recommend. 

Children at this age have a natural interest in books and text. It is this that we need to cultivate and not irradiate. In my experience formal teaching too early can stamp out this literary fire and set the child up for a reading struggle rather than success. So do I think formal teaching of this skill is the way forward? To this I have to say no but this does not mean that phonics learning and reading itself should wait until school. So what would I recommend and what have I found works?

Sharing and cultivating a love of literature- Expose your child to books often and I mean often. Share books at home, take them to book readings at the local library, get granny to read to them and share her favourite book.

Playing games that involve listening for the initial sound in words- Play I spy, I spy something beginning with 'b' can you guess what it is?

Have fun with the alphabet- Can we think of an animal beginning with every letter of the alphabet?

Play fun sorting games- Lets sort picture cards into different groups depending on the letter that the object starts with. Put all the things that begin with 'b' in this container and everything that begins with 'l' in here.

Starting with what they know- Support your child to recognise their name, point it out when you write it, show your child that name sticker on their lunch box, read them their name on their bedroom door.

Point out familiar words in the environment, the sign outside the library, the sign outside Coles. You'll be surprised how quickly your child will start to recognise these words out of context, for example on leaflets and vouchers that you may have in your house.

Taking the lead from your child-When they are ready they will start to ask how to spell their name or what a certain word says in a book. 

So to teach or not to teach? Definitely to teach but do it through fun and preserve that magic ! Don't rush it and leave the formal part until they get to school and until they are ready.  Through taking it slowly and taking your child's lead you will build the foundations for a happy and healthy relationship with literature.

 

What do kids love so much about trains?

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Most little boys are obsessed with trains, right? Forgive the stereotype for a minute ....... People used to believe that this was due to nurture and boys being exposed to trains from a young age, however, scientists believe more and more that boys are just born this way. A study was done in 2008 (Hassett, Siebert, & Wallen, Hormones and Behaviour) where a group of monkeys were given cars and dolls. The male monkeys gravitated towards the cars and the females played with the dolls. Scientists believe that the reason for this may be testosterone. Of course some little girls love trains too and this should be encouraged as playing with trains develops spatial awareness and reasoning. In fact playing with trains is fabulous for supporting many areas of a child's development.  Whilst playing with trains children are developing...

creativity and imagination, they are creating stories in their heads as they play.

social and communication skills, they are interacting with others, negotiating and taking turns.

problem solving skills, how can I make my train go the correct way around the track and use the points to change the train's direction?

fine motor skills, placing the train onto the track and putting the track back together.

These are all skills that will help your child excel in school, especially in areas such as Maths, Science and Technology so embrace the obsession!