Written by Clare Caro
Imagination: the ability to bring to mind things and experiences that are not present. We are not born with imaginations already 'installed'. Imaginations are developed at a tremendous speed in childhood, through the environments we grow up in, and through play.
In order to bring to mind images of an imagined item, you first have to have files of information to call upon. It would be impossible to imagine a cup if you have never seen, touched or held a cup before.
Young children gather important information about the objects in their new world through exploratory play. This explains why babies are often found seeking anything and everything around them to explore. When a thing is new, never seen or experienced before, a child needs to feel it, taste it, smell it, weigh it, balance it, get inside it... and the longer children play with the new treasure, the more information they gather for an objects 'file'.
There is also a lot of language gathering going on in childhood, and the names of objects are picked up and learned too. The name lets the brain file all the information for easy retrieval. For example, if I say "feather", you retrieve all the sensory information you have about feathers from your file. If I say "binturong" you probably have an empty file.
When a child is engaged in imaginary play, they call up images from their memory files and 'alter their world'. Typically, children use objects in their surroundings to do this: the tree becomes a horse, or a pirate ship, or a shop counter. Children also call up images without physical objects to aid their play: in that space there is a dog, did you hear that car whizz by? In imaginary play, children live and play in a three-dimensional world, adding a fourth dimension of their own making.
Imagination is an internal job - not an external one. This is a really important point to get our heads around because when we understand that bringing images to mind is what develops the imagination, and what 'imagination' is, then we know exactly how to aid this internal development with our external help.
Our External Job
Part One - 'Download' Material
To aid the development of imagination, first we can ensure that children have rich and meaningful experiences exploring the world. Real-life experiences offer imaginations authentic information for their files.
Young children need time with real objects and situations to gather information, even better when in context. When a child finds a real pinecone on the forest floor, their mental file will be richer in sensory and context information than if they find a pinecone in an indoor display or treasure basket. A trip to the real Vet is where details are picked up on a Vet's behaviour, tools used and etiquette, all the images that later get played out in the imagination.
It is our job to consider the authenticity of the object or experience that will be 'downloaded' as the 'image file' and used later to develop the imagination.
What happens when children have files based on un-real objects or experiences? Sometimes children experience, explore and download a heavy diet of "pretend toys" or "pretend experiences". Image files become full of inauthentic information based on the look-a-like objects and themed scenes or kits.
Imaginations need a foundation of image files first. The early exploratory play years are when we gather important information about our world. The more authentic those image files are the better in terms of setting up a solid foundation for the imaginary play to follow.
Part Two - Imagination Building
At around the age of two years old, we start to observe the first signs of imagination happening within the child when they take one object and use it in their play, with all the information of something else - an image in mind.
Because mental images are being created in the mind, objects being used in imaginary play do not need to already have an image on them. This means that every toy with an image already on it, that is sold for 'imaginary play' is doing the 'external job'.
If we don't actually need toys with images already on them, what can we provide that builds the imagination? Open-ended materials & loose parts develop imaginations. By 'open-ended', we mean objects that are open to interpretation and therefore become multi-purpose objects: a stick of wood can become a spoon, sausage, telephone, or sword. 'Loose parts' refers to materials that can be moved, used, combined - basically objects that are available for children to use in their play.
Pictured; real swords and imaginary swords / open-ended loose parts. The child gathers images and sensory information about the objects in their world, then brings to mind that information in play by laying the 'image' onto another object. That is how we develop imagination. A stick will become a sword, spoon, sausage, or telephone based on the quality of information they have filed on that object under that name. Many people are astounded at how heavy a real sword is when they pick one up for the first time, simply because most sword files are based on a pretend toy.
Whether children are in a setting where everything is provided for play, at home, or in the great outdoors, they will find what they need to facilitate their play. Our role is to choose environments with, or make available and accessible, open-ended materials & loose parts. We don't need to set up objects and imaginary scenes - we leave this fun, creative work for the child.
“Play is the work of the child” - Maria Montessori
When we give children image-ready "pretend toys", we might just be robbing them of the internal imagination-building opportunity. However, sometimes we also see pretend toys get used in play as something different to what they are representing. Some people (children and adults) can imagine a plastic toy slice of cucumber into money, or a wooden toy tomato into a fish - some people can take a pretend, image-ready toy and create an image in mind over the existing one. I speculate that this cannot happen without an apprenticeship with sensory-rich files and open-ended loose parts that got the imagination brain muscle flexed and strong enough to do this in the first place.
Imagination - The Intellectual Gateway
Many parents and people who work with young children are taking imagination development really seriously. They avoid having image-ready toys, costumes and kits in the child's environment and make a point of living an experience-rich life, with a variety of situations and people. Here's why: because the more experienced and developed the imagination is, the more skilled we are at communication, empathy, creativity, divergent thinking and problem-solving.
"If we knew the critical nature of imagination, how it's the very core, the very foundation of all higher stages of learning and intellectual life, we would certainly look at the child differently." - Joseph Chilton Pearce
Most of the words we use to communicate require us to call up images in mind. We use words to 'paint an image' of what we are talking about, to get across information and ideas to others. For example, when we are listening to someone speaking a language we don't know, the words we hear don't bring up images or understanding.
Communication is easier with someone who has a developed imagination. Something as simple as giving directions ("then at the book shop, you cross the road and find yourself in front of a church") only works if the person you are giving directions to has developed the ability to call up images and bring them into context.
Empathy is our ability to 'put ourselves in the other person's shoes'. This requires all our skills for 'altering our world', to call upon images and sensory information so we can place ourselves in the role of another. It is only with this ability that we can truly get to see things from a completely different perspective than our own, to feel and sense what that person may be feeling and understand their position. The more practised these skills are, the easier it is to see from another point of view - even when our view is different from our own.
Creativity and imagination are closely linked. While imagination is conjuring up images in mind of things that are not there, creativity is thinking up new ideas that are not there or have never existed before. Both deal in thoughts that are ‘unreal’ in the physical world and are working in the fourth dimension mentioned earlier.
“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will.” - George Bernard Shaw
Divergent thinking is where we generate many ideas and images that explore many possibilities. One of the benefits of divergent thinking is that the thinker does not judge ideas as "right or wrong", "good or bad", and what could be considered a "mistake" is instead seen as an opportunity or challenge. Typically, divergent thinkers are less self-critical and open to new information, regardless of other people's opinions.
How do you solve a problem? Problem-solving is an internal job, requiring us to think in images (imagination), to come up with ideas that are not yet there (creativity), and to explore as many different perspectives (empathy) and possibilities (divergent thinking) as we can think of. Finding solutions that work for everyone or will benefit all, is a skill. A skill that has its foundations in the internal development done in childhood.
We are not born with life skills already 'installed' - we develop the skills to communicate well, get along with others and problem solve. Developing the foundations for these skills is an important part of childhood.
What life skills will today's children need for 'tomorrow'? Our children are growing up in a changing world, and it is uncertain what the future will look like environmentally, socially and economically. However, it is likely that a skill set built on the foundations of a strong imagination will be very useful for our future citizens.
Pictured (left to right): 1, hoovering. 2, daggers, gold and guns. 3, a family in their house.
At Nature Play we do not take toys or tools into our sessions. The children find objects within their environment to facilitate their play. Sticks become vacuum cleaners, props for a pirate game based on files downloaded from cartoons, and undergrowth becomes the house for a family. Children bring images with them based on the files they have stored in mind. They share their 'images in mind' with other children, and in so doing develop their ability to work toward a shared vision (aka unity).
Written by Clare Caro
All children need the space, place, time and opportunity to follow their own play-urges.
What kind of play? The word ‘play’ is used in many ways to mean different things. Here we talk about the play intelligence that is embedded into the very nature of the human being. And through play, intelligence unfolds.
Play Is In The Child
Children of all ages follow their genetically encoded play-urges naturally. We can see these Universal Play Patterns being played out today, just as they have throughout time, in every culture, on all continents. Play is the opportunity for children to become capable, do things themselves, grow their autonomy and learn how to learn.
Because play intelligence is ‘built in’, it means that the child can lead their own play – without being taught or having toys, activities or ‘helping hands’. When play unfolds for the player they know exactly what to do, in the right sequence, and at the right pace. And they find around them all the objects they need for their play.
In play the child is capable
Play intelligence grows skills that children take with them through life – benefits such as problem solving and lengthy attention spans, self-confidence and motivation, self-direction and creativity, social skills and imagination, physical agility and spatial awareness, risk management and working within one’s own capabilities … and so much more!
Children who play in nature gain a valuable, sensory-rich relationship with nature.
To provide our children with the opportunity to play as nature intended - they need plenty of the space, time to play uninterrupted, in a play-rich environment from a secure base.
You Are The Secure Base
As the child’s parent, caregiver, key-worker, play-ally, primary caregiver your role is important. YOU are everything your child needs to feel safe, and when children feel safe they can play with their full attention. Because play is an ‘inside job’, our ‘external care’ takes on a different role when supporting our children at play. We don’t just ‘leave our children to play’, far from it, we are present in a different way. We are the secure base for our children to move from and return to, the eyes of support, and there to step in only when necessary.
Step back and observe your children at play
When we step back we allow the child the freedom they need to unfold at their own pace. When we observe we see our children grow capable and confident, while at the same time providing them with the security and freedom they need to thrive.
We Invite You To Observe
We have come up with a list of Top Tips to help ‘play-allies’ like you in your role:
Children who are capable are safe
Unnecessary Play Interruptions
Traditionally a lot of play is interrupted in the name of ‘safety’ and ‘helping’ the child to become capable. These well-intended intentioned interruptions are both counter-productive to both play and safety. Referring back to the list of benefits:
Problem solving cannot develop when we step in to fix problems for them. Lengthy attention spans cannot develop when we interrupt with our questions, praise, frequent warnings and entertainment. Self-confidence and self-motivation cannot develop when we prompt them into being ready. Self-direction and creativity develop when we stop having ideas for them, like such as setting up activities and directing them. Social skills cannot develop when we are hovering and looking for ‘teaching moments’. Physical agility and spatial awareness cannot develop when we help them to balance or climb, or put them into positions that are way beyond their own capabilities. Imagination cannot develop when we remove their found treasures and give them image-ready toys. Risk management and working within one’s own capabilities are impossible when there are ‘helping hands’ managing us them beyond our their own capabilities.
When we support play we refrain from imposing our external influences on our children’s play. We only interrupt when absolutely necessary.
Interrupting Play When Necessary
A safe and secure environment is integral for play to thrive. Physically safety and emotionally security together provide the right conditions for optimum optimal learning. The brain’s learning- activity shuts down when we don’t feel safe. Play is by nature a peaceful experience where the player manages their excitement and risk.
Occasionally we need to step in and restore the safe and secure environment. We step in, to stop aggressive-violent behavior (such as harming others or oneself, or destroying property), where there is a hazard (rotten wood or poisonous plants), or when a child is out of their depth and unable to manage physically or emotionally.
If you spot a potentially unsafe situation developing, move in calmly and quietly. We move in quickly to block any unwanted physical contact or falls. When a child is ‘out of control’ we return them to the secure base to reconnect and calmly restore their self-control.
These guidelines can be found in the handy formate of a print-ready, double-sided A4 PDF. Click this link!
Copyright © 2017 Clare Caro, All rights reserved
Written by Clare Caro
It’s a bit hard to miss: the media are saying it, the environmentalists and naturalists are saying it, there are campaigns and organisations working hard to get the message out there… our planet Earth is in trouble.
As more and more humans populate the planet, more and more of Earth’s resources are required, more and more of the environment is being stripped, and in turn, more and more waste is created. The waste is poisoning our water, changing our soil, polluting the air all of which impacts through the ecosystem. The list of critically endangered animal and plant species is lengthening, and extinction of animal and plant species has increased so rapidly that we are now living in an age known as the 'sixth mass extinction'. Basically, our Earth’s eco-system is like a game of Jenga, when enough ‘bits' are taken out, the whole thing will fall!
A growing number of environmentalists are already looking to the children because the future is theirs, they are ’the next generation’ who will deal with these issues. As Eldridge Cleaver said, “you either have to be part of the solution or you're going to be part of the problem" which means raising our children to be part of the solution.
What can we do? First we have to give our children time and space outside, lots of it, and if possible right from the start of their life on this planet. For the next generation to even care, they must first spend time out in nature, they have to grow their relationship with the living world in order to become passionate about it. Passionate enough to become the young environmentalists who will take over the reins.
But is getting them outside enough? Today’s environmentalists have pinpointed one crucial element of human nature which aided them in becoming our Earth Guardians of today, curiosity. The hot question on many environmentalists lips is “how do we get children to be curious about nature?" And I can’t help thinking the real question is, how do we stop killing the child’s curiosity in nature? Every child is born curious about the living world, but not every child is born into an environment that supports that curiosity.
It helps to know what we are talking about first. Curiosity is the quality that prompts natural learning. It is in essence, a wondering or a questioning. It is thought that this quality is part of the very 'biological nature' of the child, and from this thirst for curiously-exploring springs knowledge and a passion. Passion and a thirst for knowledge are prime bullet points on any environmentalists CV.
Here are some simple ways to foster our children’s built-in curiosity instead of killing it:
Instead of taking up all the 'air time' by talking, we could stop.
When we stop talking, we make the space for our children to wonder and to be curious out loud.
Instead of naming the treasure she has picked up, we could wait.
When we name the treasure we interrupt the child who is in the middle of wondering, we cut their curiosity short. Knowing the name of something is not nearly as important as experiencing the treasure, as getting to know the treasure. So wait, pop the name in at the end of the exploring.
Instead of hurrying them on, we could slow down to child-pace.
Sure, there are times where we need to get everyone to a certain place at a certain time, though it is possible to make time for slow walks too. Slow walks are made for the curious.
Instead of stopping them from looking or touching things they find interesting, we could stop and reassess. We could reassess the objects that our children show an interest in. We could get curious ourselves and wonder what they see in their treasure. Need a little help on this one? While dog poo is probably not okay to explore curiously, sticks, dirt, sand, leaves, grass clippings, clay, winged seeds, acorns, rocks, insects, slopes, worms, birds nests… are perfect treasures for budding environmentalists. The way in which we react and respond to our child’s chosen treasures can sway our children’s curiosity.
Instead of snatching ‘that thing’ away from your baby’s mouth, we could observe.
Curiosity is the way we gather information from each experience. Your baby is building a full ‘body of knowledge’ for each of the treasures they explore with their fingertips, with the sensitive skin of their face, with the sensory high-way of the lips, the tongue and nose.
Instead of rolling our eyes when they ask "why...", again, we could meet their curiosity with partnership. We could be the partner we would want for ourselves, when we were engrossed in the wonders of the world. Remember, everything is new and wonder-full to babies and children. A true partner listens to us, responds to us authentically, tells us what they know, leaves questions where they don’t - questions you can find answers for together. When we can hear our children and respond to their passionate requests, they see us modelling partnership. Partnership is a two way street.
Here is my challenge to all parents on this planet: take your children outside, stop talking and give them space, come alongside them in partnership, and nurture their curiosity. The Earth they inherit from us is going to need humans who are curious, and who question the things that they consume, throw away, and do. This Earth needs people who will be in partnership with the Earth.
If we choose to pick up on even one or two of the ideas on this list we’ll make a difference, we’ll begin to create the environment for our children’s curiosity to blossom. In turn, the environment will benefit from our children’s curiosity, because partnership is a two way street.
Written by Clare Caro
Nature Play has been designed to bring together three key elements that contribute to the healthy development of the child; time spent outdoors in nature, 100% child-led play and offering the adult’s ways in which to support children in their child-led play.
This combination offers the child a way in which to build a relationship with the Earth, which is so important in this day and techno-age. Even though there are multiple benefits from being outside in inspiring ‘natural playgrounds’, our main goal is to offer babies, toddlers and young children optimum learning opportunities through uninterrupted child-led play.
Nature is child-led play
As the name ‘child-led' play- suggests, the child takes the lead following their own play urges.
These ‘urges’ are genetically encoded play-patterns that come from deep within the human child. As the child plays out these universal patterns (sometimes referred to as schemas), they master the use of their bodies, learn social skills, solve problems, discover their world, and in the process they experience joy in their ability and their achievements.
Child-led play asks us to take a step back, and when we do we notice things about play we have forgotten in this commercial age:
Taking children outdoors is the easy bit, and the difference the absence of walls and ceiling make becomes clear very quickly. Adults find that their mood changes (for the better) as do the children’s. Interests are sparked by ever changing surroundings. When you find an inspiring Nature Play setting close by, whether its a corner of the local park or a piece of woodland, you have found an outdoor playground can offer endless possibilities for exploration, imagination and creativity – and especially when you don’t take toys and objects.
With this in mind, as facilitators we can provide a rich play-base outdoors, when we choose our ‘playscape’. We look for a mix of natural features, a rich ‘playscape’ might include slopes, fallen trees, low branches, an area where they can go wondering and still be seen and safe, and a flat area for resting or little ones who are not yet mobile. It will also contain the ‘loose parts’ children can’t resist, such as sticks, rocks, leaves and acorns, all necessary props for imagination and play.
Play – what is our role?
When we take a closer look at what play is, and the fact that play is a built-in program ready to unfold, we might ask ourselves, what is our role in all this?
This new role is a more relaxed role that offers you the privilege of seeing the genius of play unfolding. You learn more about your children, their choices, their interests and where they are up to in their development while they play. This serves to strengthen the bond and understanding you have already grown between you. This surely is a win-win situation.
This article was written for and featured in PACEY Childcare Professional Magazine Summer 2016.
...take me back to the A R T I C L E S menu.
Written by Clare Caro - with help from Maria Reyna, Hannah Pattison, Belle Clark, Natasha Morabito, Sophie Christophy and Ana Weller.
Water is amazing stuff - no doubt about that. Our bodies are about 70% water, we need clean drinking water to be healthy and survive, it is needed to grow the food that we eat. Basically we need it to stay alive... water IS life.
According to the World Health Organisation there are 783 million people in the world who do not have access to safe drinking water, that is about 1/8 of the world's population. Here in the UK, the demand for water has been growing 1% each year for the past 75 years, with water scarce in some parts. As a culture we are used to having clean water 'on tap' and we each use on average 150 litres a day. Perhaps we could go as far to say that our culture around water needs a bit of a wake up call; while there are people in the world without safe drinking water, we are flushing 30% of our total clean water a year (wait for it...) down the toilet!
Unlike many other countries with a safe water flow problem, we have the most marvellous source of life, we have rain! Enough rainwater falls in the UK to more than meet the needs of everyone here. The organisation Save The Rain have calculated that "if half of the 60 million plus people living in the UK saved rainwater (e.g. half of all dwellings fitted with rainwater harvesting systems), this would save over 750 million cu.m. of treated mains water a year." - in litres, thats 75 billion.
This water which is life, that falls in drops from clouds in the sky, could it be something to celebrate? Here at Nature Play we think so, and this is just one reason why we take our children out to play in and celebrate rain.
Nature Play groups run every week, in every season, every weather, and some of the wettest sessions have been the most memorable for those of us who are there every week to host. It also turns out that there are some parents and children who make a special effort to attend Nature Play when it rains, getting out in the rain can really be a magical experience.
“Rain is beautiful, especially in the woods, it is nothing like the rain you experience in a city. The sound of raindrops on the tree canopy... colours and smells are more intense after rain.” - Maria Reyna, Nature Play Croydon
Children are experiencing everything at a heightened sensory level. Days out in the rain gives them experience of different kinds of rain, an appreciation of rain, and it affords them a relationship with rain and the all-important water cycle of life. To build this rain relationship as a full 'body of knowledge' you need to be out in it. You cannot gain a true rain=appreciation inside.
“The different types of rain and their accompanying sounds and effect on the earth... the drizzle that feels like walking in a cloud... tiny bits of steam rising where the sun came through after the rain. Intercepting rain on the leaves and the accompanying play - as it’s propelled off in various ways. Large leaves [were] poked at with sticks and the collected water gushed off like a waterfall!” - Hannah Pattison, Nature Play Peterborough
Playing in the rain, is learning about the rain. When you are in it, you learn which rain runs off the ground, how wet the earth will be, how quickly it will soak in, how much has collected on the trees, what the clouds are doing, and which kinds are pleasant to be out in, and which kinds are best sheltered from. Whether you are busy playing or on the move, you become a part of the rainy environment with water collecting on your nose and eyelashes and fingers going wrinkly.
"I love raindrops on noses. No amount of gear can avoid that wondrous and alive feeling of the elements on your face. I stopped carrying an umbrella once I realised that my baby, who is often on my front, was arching her back to feel the rain on her face. …We have glorious rain." - Belle Clark, Nature Play, Nelson NZ
Nature Play sessions in the rain make for a totally different experience, in that the walking becomes a way to notice and find things that were not there when it was dry. Its not always possible to find a dry place to sit, so new places are found for shelter, exploring and discovery.
“A tree had been uprooted and fallen over, some of the children spent ages over a number of weeks 'drilling' in the muddy tree roots. Then one day when it had been raining they started to make little 'claymud' balls and cups, and lined their objects up on a log that was a 'shop'.” - Natasha Morabito, Nature Play, South East London
We have found the adults' role at Nature Play changes with the rain. Once we let go of our fears around getting wet, dirty or wet and dirty, we let go and start enjoying ourselves. We too find ourselves entering the world of rain-play.
“A muddy lake appeared as if by magic. The children were lost in wonder, their senses totally captured by the sights, smells and sounds of the downpour.
The adults were liberated, with wide grins and a rebellious sense of wild abandon. ...We had water running down our spines.” - Sophie Christophy, Nature Play North London
Our own rain memories start floating to the surface...
"The possibility to manipulate the flow of the rain itself. I remember making dams as a child and that's exactly what the children started doing on the bridge one day, using leaves as boats to send over the edge of the waterfall that had built up."
- Ana Weller, Nature Play South East London UK
Our own precious memories seldom include an adult directing our play. Remembering that can make it a little easier to know when to play along side our children sharing an appreciation of the rain, and when to take a step back.
When we add rain to a day out playing, play is given new life, it unfolds differently as does the child who plays in the rain. To get to know the rain, the seasons of rain, and the world when it is raining, we begin to appreciate how lucky we are to have a rainy day.
“It all goes back to the principle of stepping back and observing. If you do the same with nature you will find it infinitely more beautiful and moving!”
- Maria Reyna, Nature Play, Croydon
Need help to get enthusiastic about rain? What if we tell you There's No Such Thing as Miserable Rain.
...take me back to the A R T I C L E S menu.
Written by Clare Caro
You know that old saying 'there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing'? Well we know that it also applies to footwear! Keeping feet warm and dry is not as easy as popping a hat on, so we have brought you some ideas to help, making it possible to keep feet warm while playing for hours outside, especially on those wet, cold days.
On those really cold days, you know its time to head in when your toes start going numb. We have two top tips for you, on how to keep toes warm when you are spending hours playing outside.
Have a thin and flexible sole is important for young players learning to navigate uneven surfaces, finding their balance, and needing to move freely.
According to the feet and shoe specialists at Vivo Barefoot “70% of your brain’s information for movement comes from the nerves on the soles of your feet; the more you can feel the ground, the greater your body’s understanding of its surrounding environment.”
We suggest that crawlers have footwear made from material, this enables them to move freely and use their feet in a way that they simply can't with shoes on. For toddlers and older children, having footwear with a flexible sole means they can navigate uneven surfaces safely.
Here are some top tips for choosing a sole that supports play -
Many parents find that their children want to be barefoot.
Your children along with the orthopedic specialists, know that barefoot is best. By going barefoot they are not only developing their feet, sensory system and balance, but they will also be connecting to the earth, something widely know as Earthing.
Going barefoot on a mild or warm or wet day is good for the sole! We need to provide barefoot time both inside and outside. It’s always good to remember that feet are waterproof and washable.
If it is too cold then, then try warm socks which you can wash, or footwear that is like being barefoot – with room to move and a flexible soul, then we can have the best of both worlds.
When the temperature really drops, we really recommend layering – both with clothing and your feet. With wool next to your skin, and another pair of socks on top, then your footwear its possible to keep feet warm for hours when there is ice on the ground.
For the more experienced walker, an insulated pair of snow boots can make for warm feet when it’s below zero.
There are plenty of good reasons to look for used footwear for our children.
Some Practical Suggestions
Here are a few ideas, to give you an idea of what is possible -
For the wee baby, the commando crawler, the crawling cruiser and for the one still getting to grips with being on two feet.
You can't move freely with a shoe or boot, you need to be able to move and bend your feet, to grip with your toes, you need a material bootie.
Do It Yourself
A thick pair of woolen socks and a pair of plastic bags tied on around the ankle. Sometimes we need to make do with what we have around us.
Whether you are making your own, or have a pair of booties that don't quite fit, then try securing on with 'velcro strips', cheap and easy to pick up.
For those now really into walking a long way, no longer dropping down to crawl, need some more protection now, its time to get some sole.
Greenpeace are running a campaign to get people using and buying outdoor gear free from PFC’s, which stands for per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals.
PFC's are polluting the Earth, and some PFC's can cause harm to the human body - they also happen to be used by many manufactures of waterproof and dirt-repellent products.
While we fully appreciate that it can be hard to find what some products are made from, if you are looking for a pair of wellies that is non-toxic then natural rubber is a good start.
Here are a couple of companies making 100% rubber boots - not toxic chemicals.
If you found this helpful, you might like to read our post on Going Outdoors in the Winter: How to Dress
...take me back to the A R T I C L E S menu.
Written by Clare Caro
If I started talking about something as being miserable, horrid, ghastly or awful - what sort of picture am I painting about this 'something'? Many of us unconsciously talk about nature in this negative way. More specifically, many of us talk about the weather and what its like to be out in it in this way.
While we are saying to our children, "It's a miserable day out there", what sort of information are they getting from us about nature when it rains, when it is cold, windy or overcast? What do they make of us when we follow it up with, "Lets get outside then"... outside into that which we have just described with unpleasant words and a frown? No wonder some of our children don't want to get out in all weathers. They are hearing 'crossed wires'.
We are our children's models. The language we use with them and around them has an impact on them. When we start to notice how we have been talking about outside experiences, its easy to see how the above emotive words might not be helpful in fostering a love of nature in all weathers. How can the rain be miserable and the cold be horrid? The truth is, it can't. We can replace these emotive words with descriptive words: It is drizzling, wet, brisk, cold, blusterous or windy. It doesn't matter whether your child experiences the day outside as exciting or miserable, but it matters that we allow them to feel how a day in the rain was for them. And watch your vocabulary as you talk about it with them.
When we progress past the 'miserable, ghastly, horrible, awful' words we have been using, we too can start to see and talk about the magic of the seasons. We can note the differences between spring and autumn, and we can discuss how we will dress to keep warm when it is blusterous and tipping down. That way we start to pass on information that is useful to young nature lovers.
...take me back to the A R T I C L E S menu.
Written by Clare Caro
Nature Play was set up in 2011 as a way of enabling young children to connect with nature, in all weathers, and in all seasons. What better way of achieving this than by simply going out to play in a place of natural beauty on a regular basis? Nature Play taps into every child’s innate ability for optimum learning, their ability to play.
Out in nature without the addition of ‘toys’, the children engage with their surroundings through play, and in doing so, they bond with the Earth. The Earth offers the perfect ‘play ground’ and every Nature Play group is held in an area that is carefully selected as being just right for all ages and for all developmental play stages. Babies will find plenty to look at, listen to and explore; little ones who are crawling will find slopes, fallen logs, and many treasures on the uneven ground; players will find ‘trains’, ‘houses’ and a plethora of ‘loose parts’ to facilitate all their play requirements.
Timing is everything. The first years of life are the years when by far the most growth happens in the child’s brain. During those early years children master the use of their bodies, learn how to learn, gather information about their world, learn social skills, and much more. All of this happens with ease, just as nature intended, through play. Each child has the universal play patterns coded deep within his or her body and developing brain. It is in the playing out of those patterns that children grow the foundations that will set them for the rest of their life.
A lot of what is written about play talks about importance of free, unstructured, child-led play. This is the type of play where the player gets into ‘the zone’, either by being deeply engrossed in his or her own world, or by interacting and playing with other children. This type of play is extremely beneficial, and is a requirement for developing human beings to unfold as designed.
Supporting child-led play is something Nature Play takes seriously; we recognize the importance of child-led play and provide the space for it to unfold at its own pace. We also provide resources for adults to understand child-led play, and to learn just how they can support children without interrupting the play (unless of course intervention is required). Learning to support child-led play can be a big step, one that walks a different path from that of structured, directed and aided play-time.
While the children benefit from Nature Play sessions, likewise so do adults. It feels great to get out into the elements, get lots of fresh air, noticing and share the magic and wonder of nature unfolding, on the Earth and in our children.
Nature Play is... Child-led play, for all ages, every week, all weather, all seasons and free
This article was written for and featured in the Autumn/Winter 2014 issue of New Addition Magazine, NCT Lewisham.
...take me back to the A R T I C L E S menu.
Written by Clare Caro
Do you find yourself following your child to make sure they don’t trip and fall? Do you hear yourself yelling out warnings to “be careful” and “look where you’re going”? What about offering them a helping hand to get up, to climb, and to balance because that makes you feel safer when your child is undertaking something you have deemed as risky? Or perhaps your child is ‘shy’ and so you find yourself accompanying them everywhere.
We always have good reasons when we chase, follow, call out, or hold our children’s hands. Yet unwittingly, these very behaviours of ours hinder our children stepping into the rich world of child-led play.
“Children need space – or at least have the perception of having time away
from adults. We all need time to relax, de-stress from the day, get creative,
to ponder life, create a balance, and find joy. Children especially need this
time to become independent and capable.” Angela Hanscom
We need information and confidence to learn how to step back when we find ourselves in any of these ‘traditional support roles’. It is very easy to read, talk about, and agree with ‘taking a step back and observing your child at play’, but the transition to taking on a new support role while our child takes the lead in their own play - without us, can be very uncomfortable at first. After all, up until now we have spent a lot of time and focus on reading our little one’s cues and responding to their needs and wants by being there. How do we advance to the next level and learn to let go? How do we learn step back while making sure they are safe and secure?
Our dual objective is to support our children should they really need us, and to support their unfolding autonomy at the same time. Needs, wants and autonomy combine to strike a fine balance. Like every balancing act, there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing while children find their own feet in the world. Even though we have to let go and step back, it’s also important to know that we don’t ‘just leave them’. The pivotal ingredient in creating a safe environment for child-led play is you. When you learn to step back and let your child take the lead in their play, you also create the safe environment that your child requires to make play the optimum learning experience.
An optimum learning play experience is an experience where there is no need for the child’s developing brain to go into alert. The more you learn to relax, get calm and present, the more the environment feels safer to those in your company. Your calm, relaxed emotional state allows your child the time and space to put all focus into their play.
This is the reason some children will not leave the parent’s side until they have summed up the situation, before their readiness-meter says its okay to venture off. Other children head off straight away and only glance back now and then to check you are there. In all cases, you are the anchor to their feeling-of-safety. It is genetically coded into human children venturing into the world - and into their autonomy - to check back with you.
One of the fastest ways to being a great supporter of child-led play is to become an observer. When you observe you create a safe environment by being there in an anchoring, non-intrusive way. At the same time you are nearby should you be required to step in. Being an observer also gives you the space to observe what is going on for you in this new support partnership with your child. Honing this respectful way of partnership-parenting early on makes other aspects of parenting easier.
The ‘observing-tool’ works for all ages and stages of development. It is the most appropriate support you can offer whether your baby is deeply engaged in learning to use her hands or exploring. It is the most appropriate support when she is moving, crawling, manoeuvring over objects, and generally working on her balance. It is even the most appropriate support for older children learning how to communicate and negotiate over objects. Whatever the play, observing is a great way to support children in their play without getting involved - unless intervention is genuinely required, of course.
Here are five easy steps to becoming an Observer.
1. Observers use their eyes.
2. Observers use their voice only when absolutely necessary.
3. Observers place themselves strategically.
4. Observers know about risk.
Observers have sorted out the difference between a genuine risk and a hazard. They also have a growing understanding about the different types of play and developmental stages.
5. Observers have timing.
“When children are free to play, they play naturally at the ever-advancing edges
of their mental and physical abilities...playing with other children, away from adults,
is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions and
impulses, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences with others, and
make friends. In short, play is how children learn to take control of their lives.” Peter Gray
Pretty soon you will be an expert observer, always anchoring and always with one eye on the play.
Nature Play - Take a step back and observe your child at play.
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This document served as guidelines for Nature Play sessions from May 2014 - October 2017
Written by Clare Caro
Nature Play has grown to seven groups meeting under the Nature Play name, and two additional early-education groups using the Nature Play model. For the last three years the main focus has been getting people outside with their children on a regular basis, providing a weekly space for child-led play; a time without structured activities, toys, or play that is directed by adults.
Now that parents and their children are hooked on regular play in the outdoors, it is time to deepen in the practice of child-led play. Children of all ages follow their genetically encoded 'play urges' naturally; what they need is adults who understand these patterns and who focus their support on being a Play Ally.
The following Nature Play Guidelines will assist adults in becoming a Play Allies alongside their children.
What does child-led play look like?
Slow down and stand back
A huge part of supporting child-led play is about waiting, stepping back and observing, but in order to do this, we must first slow down ourselves.
At the beginning of every Nature Play session there is a slow walk between the meeting point and base. One of the key purposes of this walk is to unwind and relax, to switch from the hurried pace of life to the pace of the seasons. Everyone benefits from this walk. Adults do better for the walk, toddlers benefit from the run or from stopping to explore and find treasures on the way. Babies do better for having the motion of walking which activates brain growth.
Child-led play is about waiting to see what unfolds - we cannot be in a hurry.
Everyone is always learning
As a parent, one of the most important things to remember is that you don't have to understand it all, all of the time.
Whether it's child development stages, botany or ornithology, we do not have to see every moment as a teaching moment, it is okay for us to step back and let the learning unfold rather than direct every 'learning moment'. In fact, we don't need to teach, the learning will still happen. It's also okay not to 'fix' situations for our children, but rather let them solve problems for themselves. We can gain a lot by waiting, observing and seeing what unfolds for the person learning. This way we too learn from our children and with our children.
At Nature Play there are many play experiences to be had - it's not all about rushing off to explore and play. Some children will be ready and off before you know it - you can stay where you are, or you can follow at a distance and find a seat to sit and observe. Others may prefer to sit with you for a while - you can enjoy relaxing together, outside, surrounded by nature.
You might feel like having an explore yourself - you can see if your younger friends would like to join you. Even though you have taken the lead, you can enter into a parallel play situation where you can share in the wonder of discovery side by side.
We have found that the weather is a big factor in how children approach play, in warmer weather they are off, while when cold or wet it is about playing and exploring together, on the move. Sitting or standing - while it is better to sit to observe so that your eye contact is level with the children, when it is cold or wet you may find that standing is preferred.
Movement and balance
Play begins with movement, and allowing our children the freedom to move and find their own balance is an important part of child-led play. When we support the natural unfolding of motor development, children lead at their own pace, taking steps and risks when only they are ready and feel capable. Because they are given enough time, they wait until they are ready before they move to try new things. As a consequence, these children have far fewer accidents than the children who are helped.
Child-led play is about waiting to see what unfolds - not putting your child into any position they can not get into (or out of) by themselves - you do not need to give your child a 'helping hand' especially if they can not do it themselves.
Children who follow their genetic coding for physical development always crawl before they sit, stand or walk by themselves.
Crawling is an important developmental stage for every child, it prepares their body and fine-tunes their balance so they can sit, stand and walk without falling over. Crawling is the time when peripheral vision is developed and where hand/eye co-ordination is mastered.
Child-led play is about waiting to see what unfolds - not standing, walking or lifting-to-climb a child who is perfecting their crawling.
After crawling comes standing while holding onto things - the best things to hold onto are ones that won't move. Eventually the child stands unaided on two feet - this huge milestone in balance will take months to perfect naturally. When the child is sure of her balance she risks balancing on one foot and moving off with the other, she takes her 'first step'.
Child-led play is about waiting to see what unfolds - not walking your child before they can walk unaided or lifting to climb.
You cannot learn balance for your child, and it is impossible for your child to master her own balance while you hold her hands to stand, to walk or climb.
Helping the 'helped'
Children learn what they are physically capable of by doing things unaided. When children are in the habit of being helped to achieve physical positions they are not ready for, they grow to expect help. Examples of unwarranted help include being lifted when climbing, steadied when balancing, rescued 'in case' they fall or get stuck - and all without waiting to see if they can manage for themselves. They also have no idea of risk. It may take your child a little time to adjust when you change your style of 'support'. At first they will look to you to help and take the lead; you won't. You will gently let them know that they can take the lead, and in doing so, they reset their assessment of risk. This can take some time, be prepared to slowly let go of their hand (physically and emotionally).
Here are three helpful ways to help the 'helped' learn to lead themselves -
1. Wait then ask, leaving time for a considered response before you pick up a child from a tumble.
2. Never put your child into a position they cannot get into or out of themselves.
3. Suggest another way of doing things within their capabilities. Without your help they will discover what they are capable of. Your gentle suggestions may guide them to work out what they can do for themselves.
Objects of interest
What to expect - young babies will be exploring with their hands and mouths.
Everything is new for them and the best way to get information is the mouth.
How to support exploration - observe, most items are tasted then released. If you want the item out of their mouth and in your hand, please do not snatch but ask for it with your open hand held out, palm up. Poisonous or dangerous items should be avoided all together.
Child-led play is about gathering information through touch, taste and smell - you do not need to snatch them from exploring.
Crawling and climbing
What to expect - older babies who are not yet walking by themselves need time on all fours to explore. On all fours means they will get dirty hands, knees, legs and bottoms so bring clothing that can get dirty.
How to support crawling and climbing - observe, find a place where you can see them and they can see you. If you can make eye contact you are giving them all the support they need. If they look a bit stuck climbing (on a log or a slope) or loose their balance and tumble - wait and observe. Give them enough time to assess their body position. They might be okay to keep going or they might call for you.
Child-led play is letting your child crawl and climb so that they can find their own balance - you do not need to hold them or help them.
Off in the undergrowth
What to expect - toddlers and older children will head off when they are ready to explore on two legs. Your child needs to know you are there and most children will only go as far as their feelings of safety will stretch (the 'invisible safety line'). If you move with them, they will keep going, if you stay still they will find the edge of their safety line.
How to support children off in the undergrowth - Establish an anchor point, use eye contact, which can support both close and far, only follow closely if necessary.
If you have started the 'game of chase' with your toddler (what people refer to as 'he/she's a runner') then the same theory applies, your toddler will only go as far as they feel comfortable before looking back to check you their anchor. Even the 'runners' will look back to make sure you are following. Stop the game of chase by teaming up with another parent. While you stay still, your teammate can keep an observational eye from a closer distance than you. It may take a few no chase games to get the stop the game habit.
Child-led play is observing sometimes close and sometimes from a distance - you do not need to follow your child closely everywhere they go.
Sharing is an adult concept that children are not ready to understand until much later.
What to expect - some young babies can be very happy giving and taking with each other, at some point the item will become an extension of their self, and there will come a time when toddlers will be upset over that ONE thing while they learn to negotiate and handle their emotions around ownership. If left to it without adult interference, there is no problem - the problem usually arises in the adult who feels compelled to 'teach about sharing'. The child who is 'made to share' is not sharing, she is complying.
How to support children's interaction with objects - sit back and observe, if there does happen to be some negotiation wait to see if they can resolve it themselves. If not then the person holding the item is the owner, and when they have finished their turn they can offer it to the other child.
Child-led play is about waiting to see what unfolds - not about making your child share.
Conflict is necessary for learning how to negotiate, to stand up for your rights, to learn to see things from other points of view, and much more. Conflict can also make us very uncomfortable. The way we facilitate conflict situations will determine whether the conflict is a child-led learning experience, or an adult-led teaching experience. How we deal with conflict between our children and ourselves can be authoritarian, "You do what l tell you to do", (I am so embarrassed); child-led and authoritative, "Lets come to an agreement"; or passive, "Anything to stop you screaming", (I am so embarrassed). No one is embarrassed when a situation of conflict is handled fairly.
Child-led play is about waiting to see what unfolds - we only step in when there is aggressive behaviour, violence, or the negotiation has reached a dead end.
At Nature Play we share a healthy snack together at each session. We believe that food should always be a pleasure. For many children helping themselves to ‘shared’ food, and ‘exploring’ new foods is also part of the experience. This is a time where adults can model how to share respectfully. When your child is making their own food choices, wait to see what unfolds - many parents find that when sharing food at Nature Play, their children enjoy a larger variety of different food than usual.
Child-led play is where the child takes the lead, so that they can follow their own play urges.
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Written by Maria Reyna
At our Nature Play sessions we often get asked if we are going to be meeting during the cold winter months, and the answer is yes! We will indeed be meeting throughout the winter and an important element of this is dressing appropriately in order to enjoy this time outdoors in a safe way.
Growing up in Guatemala, known as the land of the eternal spring, I was clueless on how to dress my son to go outdoors in the winter months. So I went on to search for details on what other families were doing across the northern hemisphere. The findings of this search and our family experiences throughout the past couple of winters are the basis for this guide.
So how you dress yourself and children for winter? This will depend on how active you are going to be and how cold it will be. We have found that, when exploring the woods with young children, there are some high-energy moments mixed with a lot of slow moving and waiting. One of the best ways to manage cold weather in these changing conditions is to layer your clothes. Layering will help to transfer moisture, provide warmth and protect from the elements and you can adjust temperature by adding or removing layers.
When layering there are three main layers.
A tight fitting garment with moister transfer properties such as wool, silk, polyester, microfiber etc. We like to use merino wool thermals for our young son as we believe wool is the best insulator. Having wool next to your skin, it can wick away and absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp. It lso acts as a temperature regulator so it will keep the body warm in warm and cold conditions – even when wet, retaining up to 80% of its insulating value even when saturated. Do avoid using cotton for the inner layer as it traps moisture and that will keep you wet and cold.
A looser fitting garment which provides insulation. The best materials for this layer include fleece, wool, and synthetic fiber. Again, cotton is not the best material for the mid layer.
It should protect from rain and wind at the same time as allowing as much moisture from the inner layers to escape. It should also be strong enough to cope with all the exploring and adventures, as well as be flexible to allow for movement. When children are young and in nappies (and may have wet material around their skin) a one suit can help to keep them fully insulated.
Once the core areas of the body are covered, then heads, hands and feet will also need to be protected.
In cold weather you lose heat through your head and neck. Hats need to insulate and breathe well to let excess heat and perspiration escape. Wool and synthetic materials will help to keep you warm. Remember to look for materials which have a lining and/or are not itchy, as hats can become uncomfortable without them. On colder days or when you are not going to be doing as much activity, a face mask balaclava or neck warmer can give you even more protection. We like hats that cover little ears!
Gloves are better for activities that require dexterity and hand freedom. Mittens will give better insulation in extreme cold conditions and when being more sedentary. We found magic gloves, the kind that stretch as you put them on, to be very useful. In general, these gloves are not waterproofed so when it is very wet and cold it is helpful to carry several pairs of gloves to change wet ones with a dry pair.
You may have to experiment and try both mittens and gloves to see which kind you and your child feel more comfortable with.
Socks should be of materials that can take moisture and stay warm such as wool and some synthetic-wool mixes. Cotton socks are not good for cold and wet conditions!! Shoes should be waterproofed. Wellies are good when the weather is not so cold; however, wellies tend not to be insulated. So when the weather gets too cold it is best to wear water resistant/waterproof insulated boots, such as snow boots. Footwear for the cold should have plenty of room for toes to move in.
Don’t forget that besides wearing the right clothing and footwear to keep warm it is also important to keep your circulation moving by doing simple movements like jumping up and down or a little run.
Now that you and your children are cold proofed the only thing left is to pack some high-energy snacks for fuel, and having a hot flask warm soup, hot tea or hot chocolate with you. Get outdoors and enjoy those beautiful crisp days that only winter can offer.
...take me back to the A R T I C L E S menu.
Written by Clare Caro
How do we foster a love of nature and evolve imaginations and creativity in our young children? The answer is simple; take your children out into nature and leave the toys behind. At Nature Play we do not bring toys, we are there to bond with nature, not with toys.
Without toys your child shifts her attention, exploring and sourcing objects of interest from the natural environment. It is this shift that opens up the world to your child; a world full of wonder, rich information, imagination and creativity, a world where play offers a two-way dialogue between your child and the natural living world she is a part of.
Children learn and bond with the earth, and in turn, the earth provides the perfect place for their play to take place.
The biology to learn
When children are left to their own devices in a natural environment they play out the genetically encoded mammalian-human play urges inherent in every child.
Every child is born to move, grow, explore… and it is these processes that develop their minds and bodies.
When children are free to follow this ‘biological design’, nature takes its course. All the child needs is freedom of movement, a safe environment, opportunity for uninterrupted play, and access to the sensory-rich natural environment.
The possibilities are endless when you enter a natural environment. Every garden, beach, stream and glade offers many multi-sensory learning opportunities for every age and stage of development. Touching, listening, collecting stones, throwing sticks, crawling up and sliding down slopes, and building structures that are furnished by the imagination - all play in a natural environment ensures a master-class with the natural materials.
While there are no risk-assessed safety-regulated slides, climbing frames or ladders in sight, the natural environment offers a wider range of resources. Gentle slopes or fallen logs can be just the right challenge for the young crawler as well as for the more mobile children who need to race, roll and jump.
Renowned playground designer Günter Beltzig explains that far from being dangerous, the ideal playground "offers visible, manageable risks, as playing is all about testing and transcending one's limits." Something that is readily available in nature’s ‘play grounds’.
Explore and gather information
In their exploratory play, children gather information and make their own knowledge of their world. The young baby gathers information about the environment and their world as fast as 40 million bits per second, without filtering any of it out. Their senses gather information, creating a super-highway of multi-sensory information that feeds into a growing brain. In turn, it is this multi-sensory stimulation that causes the brain to grow.
When things are new, never seen or experienced before, a child needs to feel it, taste it, smell it, weigh it, balance it, step inside it... and the longer children play with the new treasure, the more information they gather. This information, gathered in the top-speed-download mode, ensures that the child grows a rich and full ‘vocabulary-treasury’ of their world.
"The most influential perceptual programming of the subconscious mind occurs in the time period spanning from the birth process through the first six years of life. During this time the child’s brain is recording all sensory experiences as well as learning complex motor programs for speech, and for learning first how to crawl and then how to stand and ultimately run and jump."
- Dr Bruce Lipton
Imaginative play is the highest form of play, it is play where anything and everything is possible. The stepping-stone into imaginary play is exploratory play because in order to call up images and play with them, you first have to have a file of information-images to call upon. You cannot imagine a pineapple if you have never seen, touched, smelt or held one before. In imaginary play, the child calls up mental images from her memory files and 'alters her world': the pinecone becomes the pineapple, the tree becomes a horse, or boat, or a den. She lives and plays, not in a two-dimensional virtual world, but in a three-dimensional world of her own making.
“The inner image in the absence of the exterior image. This is where words can stimulate the highest cortical systems of the brain—not the sensory motor system, not the emotional cognitive system—in coordination with the other two brains to create, out of its own processes, an image.”
- Joseph Chilton Pearce
Natural objects inside
At a very deep and subconscious level, many of us recognise our children need a connection with the natural world. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves surrounding our babies with fake representations of nature, everything from furry rabbits to winged insects made from brightly coloured, textured fabrics to 'tickle the baby's senses'. But what do children learn with these unnatural objects? How can they learn vocabulary that will serve them in nature? Their biological drive to gather information about the world is, - for many in our culture - met with ‘useless information’ about an object that holds no relevance in the real, natural, living world.
While it is not always convenient to take our children outdoors into nature, there is plenty of quality exploration and information-gathering time to be had indoors too. This is good news for young babies in wintertime when it is too cold to lay or crawl on the ground.
Inside we are able to make treasures from the natural environment available - a cluster of scallop shells, a basket of horse-chestnut conkers, a tray of beach mast, for smaller babies wooden bowls and rings, cloths from hemp, cotton or wool - these are known as ‘open-ended’ objects, meaning the possibilities they present are endless. They can facilitate indoor exploration and play for all stages and ages when getting out on the earth is not feasible.
By exchanging a world of plastic toys and synthetic furry or 'sensory' animals for the smörgåsbord of flowers, shells, stones, pinecones, silver birch seeds we can bring inside, we move away from an attachment to the artificial world. Synthetic materials hold no information about how the earth turns through the seasons of our lives, nor do they hold any magic compared to a bird’s nest, the patterns of a pinecone, or the miracle of a birch seed.
By removing the synthetic toys and stage-dependent playground equipment from the environment, and by taking our children outside into the nature places where they have regular contact with the natural treasures of this planet, we set up the perfect conditions for imaginative play. We will be privileged to see imagination unfold, as a deep connection with the earth forms in each child.
What the child needs to unfold is met with what the earth has to offer. By supporting this first relationship both the Earth and the Earthling benefit and thrive.
Article originally published in The Space magazine.
Subscription available at www.childspace.co.nz, free post to overseas subscribers.
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Written by Sophie Christophy
Outdoor play. What’s not to love? It’s free. It’s simple. It expends energy.
It is refreshing, relaxing, and restoring. It is a chance to explore, create, imagine, experience, to flex all of the senses. The possibilities are endless, and these benefits are for the whole family, not just the children. Fresh air and a change of scene have the power to miraculously renew and reinvigorate even the most harried parent. Stresses melt away, and there is little choice but to live in the moment. Everyone sleeps better after some time in the great outdoors, and feels better after a hearty dose of the coveted Vitamin D.
I started taking my daughter to the woods weekly once she could walk, although I now realise you are never to young to benefit from play in nature. We went in a group, whatever the weather.
Each week I watched her play, learn, her exploration and curiosity unfolding. I observed her improving and testing her balance, challenging herself physically. She was courageous. She was strong and her abilities and aims were beyond expectation. Given the chance and freedom, she could really explore herself and build confidence in her physical capabilities. I am convinced that these experiences have shaped her, steadied her on her feet and toughened her. She can hold her own and she believes in herself and her abilities in this world.
One of our best weeks it was pouring with rain. At first there was a sense of resistance amongst the adults. This quickly melted – the rain forced us into the moment. The children were in paradise, and a sense of euphoria spread through the group. A muddy lake appeared as if by magic. The children were lost in wonder, their senses totally captured by the sights, smells and sounds of the downpour. The adults were liberated, with wide grins and a rebellious sense of wild abandon. We had water running down our spines, but the play only drew to a close as the sun started to dip and the temperature started to cool. I’ll never forget that week.
How to get the most from outdoor play? Choose a location that fills you with joy. To increase the relaxation and enjoyment – choose somewhere without a playground. A natural space that allows you to let the children go. To let them explore freely, at their own pace and in their own way, whatever their age. No one is too young, even the newborn babe will benefit from time in natural setting. Leave the toys/bikes/scooters at home. Step back. Given the opportunity, children do well at managing their own risks – they have a sense of what is within their ability and what is not. These skills work best with minimum interference – the likelihood is that if a child can climb somewhere on their own, they can cope with where they have climbed. If they have been assisted, this can disturb their ability to manage the risk. Take a passive seat, discreetly follow, enjoy your own journey and observe theirs.
Tips for outdoor play:
- Make it a regular part of your week – same time, same day. Commit to going, whatever the weather – in order to stick to this, invite other people to come with you. It’s always easier when you’ve got a buddy/ies (and will be more fun for you and the children when you are there).
- Be weather prepared – put together a bag with clothing and footwear and any other accessories to accommodate any weather, and keep it ready to go by the front door (an all in one waterproof is highly recommended).
- Find somewhere to go that you love, that you will look forward to going to. You can use this website to find local woodland.
- Take snacks and water.
- Remember that you don’t need to do anything. Given the chance (time and space) the children will find their own way and their own enjoyment of the setting. Leave expectations behind you and go with their flow.
The article featured in the Spring 2013 edition of Harlow and Epping's Roots and Shoots NCT Newsletter (UK).
Photographs by Jacki Davenport, Sophie Christophy and Clare Caro.
...take me back to the A R T I C L E S menu.
Written by Clare Caro
Nature Play is… A platform for child-led play
‘Child-led’ is a term wide enough to encompass a range of adult-infant play dynamics, from the first steps of ‘unstructured’ play time to ‘uninterrupted’ play. Child-led play is about letting children 'go' to do what they need to do to learn and to grow.
In child-led play children take the lead following the play urges genetically coded into their developing bodies and brains. Whether they are deeply engrossed in their own world, or interacting and playing with other children, this type of play is a requirement to unfolding and developing human beings as ‘designed’.
As the adults and guardians of these young 'learning sponges', it is our job to support them when required - or requested - and to sit back to watch and wait as they discover, invent and explore.
Nature Play is… For all ages
During the first six years your child's brain operates in a pure download state. In these formative learning years they will be downloading EVERYTHING at forty million bits per second.
Simply by being out in Nature in all weathers and all seasons babies are amassing sensory-rich information about being a child in this place, on this earth.
Toddlers use their environment to evolve their imagination and creativity, and these essential building blocks for each child's future can only be gained through play. Nothing else can do it.
Nature Play is… Every week
Repetition makes connections stronger, so it makes sense to keep repeating the experience of being ‘surrounded by nature’ to create a love and first hand knowledge of nature and the earth that we live on.
Nature Play is… All weather
Nature offers a host of experiences and different weather is a large part of that; the sound of the wind in new leaves, the smell of wet undergrowth, the taste of wild blackberries. A change in conditions can provide a whole new play experience in the same spot.
Nature Play is… All seasons
The changing seasons can influence the mind and body. What better way to understand the seasons than to experience them, to observe them, to feel them, to be a part of them as much as they are you?
Nature Play is… Free
Nature is available to everyone; a first-hand connection to the earth is every child’s right.
Nature Play is free. By keeping this group free we are making it available to everyone in the area.
Nature is always there, nature does not 'close' for the day, and admission is always free.
It is our hope that our children will keep this close bond with nature they develop at Nature Play, and that they will pass it on to their children, who will pass it on to their children, and on and on...
In order for our children to bond with nature and the earth, they must spend time outside.
These words feature in the latest issue of KINDLING - The Journal for Steiner Waldorf Early Child Care and Education (Issue 22 Autumn/Winter 2012).
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Written by Clare Caro
‘Child-led Play’ is where the child follows their own play urges. It does not refer to the play during which the adult follows the child, or to play during which the child follows the adult.
We live in a time when there are play experts. People who are concerned with the lack of play and are working hard to get children engaged in play. Why? Because play has a very large role in how the human brain develops.
In fact, every child’s brain-development-work is done through play. Play provides the brain building blocks that will set them up for the rest of their life. In this formative time of their lives, children gather information about the world, master the use of their bodies, learn social skills and pick up every little detail to do with fitting into the culture that surrounds them.
The current crisis around children's physical, mental and intellectual health is brought about because today’s children have limited playtime. Previous generations of children disappeared on their own, in groups for hours and hours of uninterrupted play, but the world has changed for our children. Whether they are at school, after-school activities, in front of screens or being directed around the playground, this new generation is not getting enough uninterrupted child-led play, and this is cause for great concern.
Many people believe that children are around three years old before can safely play unassisted, before they will be in control of their bodies enough to not hurt themselves, and be in control of their emotions enough to not hurt or be picked on by peers. Unfortunately for many children, many adults do not understand that it is the uninterrupted play itself that grows the very qualities they are waiting for - and long before a child's third year. Because play and development go hand in hand, your baby starts on their road to development through play from the moment they start moving.
All parents want the best for their children. When we hear the message from these play experts, on the seriousness of this lack of play for our child’s future, we are left wondering ‘what can we do?’.
“Decades of research has shown that play is crucial to physical,
intellectual, and social-emotional development at all ages.
This is especially true of the purest form of play: the unstructured,
self-motivated, imaginative, independent kind, where children initiate
their own games and even invent their own rules.” Dr. David Elkind
So What Can We Do About This With Our Children?
As adults and guardians of these young 'learning sponges', it is our job as a ‘learning ally’ to –
· offer a safe learning environment
· let them follow their own play urges
· support them without interrupting
· watch and wait as they discover, invent and explore
Offer a Safe Learning Environment
Where to start? – Start on the lap. You are your child’s ‘safe ground’. Your arms are where they feel most safe. All children have their own built in readiness-meter, they will leave your lap when they feel safe and feeling safe is paramount for optimum learning.
Your baby will be relaxed and looking around signalling when she is ready to leave your lap and be placed on her back on the mat in front of you. You can assist by placing light and easy to hold objects beside them to reach, objects just right for exploring.
An older child will decide when to leave your lap to explore and move independently. Children work out and sum up any new situation before engaging with it. With this in mind, please allow your child/children as much time as it takes for them to feel comfortable to engage in play.
Let Them Follow Their Own Play Urges
Let your baby search and engage with the object of their interest rather than you shaking an object in front of her face or placing it into her hand. In place of an object, your baby may find the tree canopy mesmerizing, or their hands or feet.
The exhilaration of discovery is something we can all identify with. In order for babies and children to discover climbing or what wet leaves smell like, a learning ally takes a step back to let them discover for themselves. When your child feels like climbing, or finding acorns in the undergrowth, it is their curiosity that is driving their wonder and learning.
You become a learning ally when you understand your child needs to direct their own explorations. The more you stand back and enjoy observing their deep play concentration, their independent play ability increases. Babies and children who are allowed uninterrupted play-time are less likely to learn what ‘boredom’ is - they develop creativity, imagination and a concentration span that they take with them to adulthood.
Support Them Without Interrupting
There are many ways you can offer support to your child when they are playing;
Your presence is the most important support as their 'safe-ground'. As long as they can see you, and as long as they know they can reconnect with you when they want to, they feel safe enough to play and learn.
Your face is their radar screen, they look to you for a read-out on each situation. Your expressions let your child know if this experience is 'positive or negative'.
You know when your child or someone else's child is stretching their physical skills, and you can stand in close enough 'in case'.
When you support this in this way, you do not have to hover next to them, you will be able to maintain the greatest amount of support with the least interruption by actively observing.
Wait and Observe As They Discover, Invent and Explore
Some things take time when you are learning, or when you are still perfecting the use of your body, so instead of jumping in to put a name to the creature they have in their hand or to lift them up where they need to persevere with acquiring climbing skills, wait.
By standing back, observing and waiting to see what unfolds for the person doing the learning, we are able to support our children in play without interrupting their development.
Observing is one of the key tools for a learning ally. Through observation you are able to step back and keep the connection needed to support without interrupting, without neglecting. As long as you can see them and they can see you when they look up you have created a solid base for support.
Do Not Disturb – Brain In Development!
No one can do the learning for another person, it is not possible. Because play is all about learning and development for the person who is doing the playing, the experience is a personal thing.
A great deal of concentration and focus is required in play - whether it is exploring an object, repeating a physical manoeuver or trying new social interaction skills in a group. This concentration, action and the learning is led, performed and held by the person playing, they are busy at work developing before our very eyes.
As learning allies we honour the space required for this personal learning experience by not interrupting play unless we are invited to by the child – in which case we take the passive role - or when we must intervene due to safety issues.
Exploratory Play – You cannot explore or gather information for your child or her growing brain, so please do not interrupt your child when they are busy, allow your child uninterrupted play.
Repetitive Play – Doing a move or action over and over again is how we master it, we cannot master it for ourselves if someone helps us. Likewise you cannot master any skill or action for your child so please do not interrupt your child when they are busy, allow your child uninterrupted play.
Physical Play – It is impossible to use your body and master your own balance when someone is holding your hands or shifting you around. You cannot learn balance for your child so please do not interrupt your child when they are busy, allow your child uninterrupted play.
Role-play – The ‘play’ can often require actors to fill various roles. This is when you are most likely to be invited by request into your child’s world of play. On the other hand you might not have a role in the play at all and if you are not invited please do not interrupt your child when they are busy, allow your child uninterrupted play.
Imaginary Play – Conjuring up ‘images’ for imaginary play comes from within and is based on your child’s experience and information gathered during exploratory play. Your child is pulling up the image files and creating a ‘new play’. You cannot do this for your child by projecting your own images so please do not interrupt your child when they are busy, allow your child uninterrupted play.
Creative Play – Making up new rules, ideas and creations are inspirational sparks in the brain. You cannot create these sparks for your child so please do not interrupt your child when they are busy, allow your child uninterrupted play.
When we take a closer look at how personal play is for every child, it becomes obvious that there is rarely an adult role in children’s play.
"It is essential that the child discovers himself as much as possible.
If we help him to solve every problem we deprive him of exactly what
his mental development is most important." Dr Emmi Pikler
So What Is Our Role As The Learning Ally In Our Children’s Play?
We sit with our children until they are ready to leave our laps and play.
We provide inspiring learning environments where there are multipurpose landscapes and open-ended objects that facilitate our developing child’s play needs.
We make sure that children have appropriate clothing, especially for outdoor conditions. Always remain open to the possibility of ‘less’ when children request barefoot and seek opportunity to get dirty.
Blood sugar and liquid levels need to be maintained for everyone to function at their best.
If invited to join the play, take the passive role and follow the children’s lead and suggestions because it is their play.
We sit quietly and observe our children at play, careful not to break their concentration. They will glance at us if they need reassurance. When we limit our involvement to eye contact and facial expressions we meet their needs for ‘safety with backup’ without interrupting their play and discovery.
If we need to break the silence we choose respectful language so as not pass judgment or interrupt their flow of development too much. A calm tone of voice and clear descriptions of what it is you are informing the person concentrating in play.
If you see a potential safety, conflict or violent situation developing, move in calmly and quietly. Your calm presence is often enough reassurance for the child trying something new. Move in quickly to prevent any unwanted physical contact in conflict or in potential fall situations.
There are benefits for both sides when we become learning allies for our children.
Our children get that important uninterrupted play time to develop to their full potential, unfold their brains and bodies and reach milestones in their own time.
They also get to grow more confident in their own abilities and trust their own instincts, become aware of their capabilities, judge how far to stretch their own abilities, and let them hone their powers of judgment around risk.
You have the pleasure and privilege of watching your child interact with others, be immersed in their own activities, accomplish physical tasks unaided and become an independent self-confident being.
They are able to follow their own urges and interests and develop lengthy attention spans, leaving behind the need to be entertained and a whole host of other benefits, a list too long to draw.
Becoming a learning ally and gifting your child the chance to play uninterrupted creates a circle of trust. As you learn to trust your child managing their own capabilities, you begin to feel more comfortable with stepping back and trusting in their ability. Through observation we can sit silently and peacefully at a distance without being negligent or interrupting. A win-win situation.
"Athletes call it The Zone, researchers call it Flow.
Children call it Play. This state is the essence of
real intelligence and creativity." Michael Mendizza
Play Is Important For All
Play is important for everyone; from young babies to grandparents, best friends, to brothers and sisters. Finding time and space to create and discover by yourself, or to team up with friends for laughter and games are all important. As we move through developmental stages our play changes along the way, we all have a need to play regardless of our age.
It is part of our job as parents of the next generation to honour this time of play for our children, to provide for them the space to create and discover by themselves and with others - for it is this time that they are busy developing their growing brains, mapping out their world through play.
Take a step back and observe your child at play.
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Written by Clare Caro
Schemas in Children’s Play are such an important concept when it comes to the development of our children that it’s worth taking the time to understand them so you can facilitate them when you see them.
What are these schemas?
Well it’s really a fancy word for the urges that children have to do things like climb, throw things and hide in small places.
They appear through play; perhaps it is the way they choose to do things, or what they desperately need to do out of the blue!
Here are ten of these natural play-urges mapped out in a list, they can come one at a time, in bunches, some are super strong and last for ages... each child is different.
They are the building blocks for the brain, repeated behaviour that in turn forge connections in the brain, patterns of unfolding, learning and growth.
Schemas are such an important part in every child's development that they are covered in training for anyone in the business of care and education of young children - yet not too many parents seem to know about these natural, uncontrollable and totally necessary play-urges that all children have.
Knowing about these play-urges can help us to understand why our children are so determined to do certain things that we might not understand. If we have no idea about the way in which a child exhibits signs of brain development, then we might actually think that the child is being 'difficult' or even try to stop the developmental urges themselves.
By knowing about these schemas we can recognise and support their urges and development.
Bringing It All Together
After looking at each schema individually to get to grips with what each 'urge' is all about we may already be able to recognise some of the different ways they can appear in your child.
Rotation, Trajectory, Enveloping, Orientation, Positioning, Connection, Enclosure/Container, Transporting and Transformation are urges that show in all children starting as early as their first birthday, some times before.
How Can Knowing About These Urges Help Us?
As a parent, one of the best things about having an understanding of these urges is that we are able to recognise and support them in our children as soon as we see them.
Sometimes they will come through as what we might once have seen as 'inappropriate behaviour' such as throwing objects in enclosed spaces or climbing on the table.
When we observe the behaviour and recognise the play-urge we are able to redirect it, your child will be happy to throw something outside where it is okay, or climb a tree instead! Its not about the action, its about the urge.
If the action is dangerous, harmful or inappropriate then find a more suitable outlet for the urge. That way the energy seeking expression (the urge) can fulfill its role in your child's development, and in an acceptable way.
If you found this useful, you might like these... Five Easy Steps for the Observer and The Adult Role in Child-led Play.
Thank you Jannelle Preston at Heart Felt for the use of the acorn image to show Transporting.
Thank you Kylie D'Alton at How We Montessori for the use of the mixing pot image to show Transformation.
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