Thursday, February 21, 2013
Nature can "level the playing field" in ways that nothing else can. In nature, children are faced with challenges large and small and often instinctively work together to help each other face those challenges. Last week we were climbing mountains of snow and ice, and J needed some help getting up to the top of a huge snowbank. His sister, who had already reached to top, quickly removed her scarf and threw him a line to hold while he scaled the icy slope. She held fast to the scarf and cheered as he climbed, then eventually reached the summit of the great Ice Mountain. It was lovely to see them working together, not in competition with each other for anything. This got me to thinking about where in life there are opportunities or reasons for children to give this kind of support to each other. Physical challenges indoors? In most homes and schools, there aren't many. As children age, and they are involved in more adult-directed activities, the challenges we present to them are pretty controlled, and mostly meant to be overcome alone. But bring the children outdoors and there are all sorts of physical challenges to be faced. In most cases, children know they can't do it alone. They seem to automatically reach out to one another, to ask for help or to be a source of help. It doesn't matter who's bigger, smaller, faster, more competent, etc. Children are able to easily tune into their own strengths and limitations, and to help each other or ask for help they need. This ice mountain offered a fine example of teamwork, but I've seen children help each other cross streams, climb trees, dig holes, make forts, pile leaves...you get the idea. Nature experiences like this are important because they give our children opportunities to help one another, opportunities for collaboration, teamwork and cooperation.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Our plan the other day was derailed by this little surprise L discovered while we were walking under some trees. A frozen squirrel! Right there on the ground!! Now, I do recognize that this sort of thing, happening upon a frozen dead animal, might make some squeamish people, well...squeam. But for those of you who can set the heebie jeebies aside, finding a dead animal can really be a treat. (yes, you read that right.)We got to take a nice, close-up look at the squirrel. The kids each held it, curious about how heavy it was and its "actual size" (in J's words). L and J wondered matter-of-factly about how it died, so we spent a long time looking around the area for clues, and how it happened to be right there in the grassy parkway by the side of the road. Some ideas the children had: it was attacked by a dog or an owl and died. (they dismissed this idea, due to no blood and the fact that the squirrel was perfectly intact) Maybe it got hit by a car and crawled to the grass before dying. Maybe it fell out of a tree. Maybe it froze to death and fell out of the tree. They expressed sadness and some concern, but their curiosity overtook their other emotions. Whatever the case, finding this dead squirrel ignited a really long conversation and a fun bit of "secret agent" work as we looked for clues around the area and speculated as to the cause of the squirrel's demise. It also afforded the children an opportunity to have a close-up look at an animal they are very familiar with, but never see at close range. And it also helped to demistify the idea of death. Since I wasn't freaked out and didn't try to hide the dead squirrel from them, they were free to approach it and look at it and ask their questions without shame, judgment, or fear. At no point did they seem afraid or even upset by the squirrel. Rather, they were fascinated and excited about the opportunity to examine it. I wanted them to feel free to make observations and ask any questions they had. What a rare opportunity it afforded us. I am grateful that we found it and humbled by their respect and tenderness toward the squirrel.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Although a surprising number of people are uncomfortable with the idea of children carrying and playing with sticks, I encourage it. After all, the stick was a recent inductee into the toy hall of fame! Children can learn a lot by playing with sticks. They get to experiment with objects that are heavy, oddly shaped, and perhaps even longer than they are! They can poke and drag sticks, making interesting patterns in the snow, sand, or leaves. Sticks are tools with which children can manipulate their environment. The endlessly variable sizes, shapes, textures and weights of sticks mean that there will always be challenges and plenty of "stuff to do" with sticks. Sticks make great building materials, props for dramatic play, tools, and even musical instruments. Sticks offer physical challenges and give children opportunities to test their own physical abilities. Think of the sense of accomplishment brought by carrying something that is twice as long as your own body! If you're uneasy with the idea of sticks, set some simple rules to keep everyone safe. Teachers have told me that some of the rules they've used to keep stick play safe include: no sticks longer than your arm, no touching other people with the sticks,or no hitting anything with the sticks. Think about what rules might make your classroom community safe, or keep your children from annoying their siblings! Whatever your outcome, I do encourage you to stop yourself from reflexively saying "put that down!" when you see someone pick up a stick. Remember the value that natural objects like sticks can have.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
While there is great value in trying something new, exposing children to new ways to enjoy their time outside, remember that they are really good at finding their own fun! Often, educators and parents tell me that they are somewhat stuck when it comes to finding things to do outside. (Thus, I started this blog!) Sometimes children don't need activities or plans. Just letting them mess around outside is often enough. They'll find their own fun! Some children will have an easier time with the lack of structure. Others may be a bit "lost" if you don't offer them a plan. I believe this is because children have become so used to being told what to do, how to do it, where to do it, with whom and when. Adults manage so much of their time. My hope with this blog is to provide you with enough open-ended activities and ideas that you can play around with free, relatively unstructured time outdoors and see what happens. Despite my many creative attempts to provide my children with fun new activities and ways to enjoy winter (and let's face it, in Minnesota we need variety! These winters are long!) -the best fun happens when we're outside "doing nothing"