“As the supplier of band-aids and ice packs this can be hard for a mama to do. My natural tendency is to smooth out all the rough spots, champion my children to success and just continue holding on to their bicycle seats for a good long while. But this does not help them in the long run.
A cut-throat workplace or college class are not the best place for our kids to be learning these lessons for the first time. Be intentional about giving your children a safe place to mess it all up, to crash and burn, to learn consequences and forgiveness and exactly what it takes to get back up and try again.”- Hitting the nail right on the spot on why we should let our kids fail. Full article here by Katie Westenberg
Right on point. Every kids deserve a chance to spend all their other hours outside of school doing their most important job of all: being a kid.
1 | Jump rope.
An important part of how young kids’ minds develop is through free, self-directed play. According to David Elkind, Ph.D., author of The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children, free play is critical now more than ever, as recesses are shortened or eliminated, and kids’ calendars are busier than ever.
“Through play,” Elkind writes, “children create new learning experiences, and those self-created experiences enable them to acquire social, emotional, and intellectual skills they could not acquire any other way.”
2 | Talk with parents.
I’ve heard from countless friends about their daily battles with their elementary-aged kids struggling to do homework, and the way it’s negatively affected their relationships.
Instead, of parents nagging their overtired kids to do homework they’re too young to do independently, families should spent much time talking together about their day. In fact, conversation is the best way for all of us – especially young children – to learn about our world and cultivate empathy.
3 | Sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation estimates that between 25 and 30% of children aren’t getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems in kids, including poor attention, behavior problems, academic difficulties, irritability, and weight gain. But even small amounts of additional sleep can have big impacts. One study found that only 20 additional minutes of sleep can improve kids’ grades.
4 | Independent reading.
Most of us know that developing good habits (and hopefully a love of reading) is critical to doing well at school. However, homework can actually interfere with the time that kids can spend on reading.
5 | Listen to a book.
Studies show that kids who are read aloud to do better in school and have better vocabularies.
6 | Work on a puzzle.
Being able to play on their own without adults (called “solitary play”) builds confidence in kids and makes them more relaxed.
7 | Go up a slide backwards.
“Risky” play — activities like climbing a tree — is good for kids. Children need to explore their own limits, to be able to assess risks, and to learn how to negotiate their environments.
Researchers theorize that risky play, found across all cultures and in other mammals, has a evolutionary role in preparing offspring for life without their caretakers.
8 | Dig in the dirt.
Another type of play, sensory play, is also critical for kids’ development. When kids knead clay or finger paint, they are stimulating their senses. “Sensory experiences,” explains one early childhood educator, “provide open-ended opportunities where the process is more important than the product; how children use materials is much more important than what they make with them.”
9 | Playing with a friend in a sandbox.
Parallel play, or the type of play in which kids play next to each other, begins in toddlers. But even for older kids, parallel play can help develop critical social skills.
10 | Help with dinner.
Kids who learn about new foods, and how to prepare them, may be more likely to choose more nutritious foods later on.
11 | Walk the dog.
Kids who help take care of family pets may be less anxious, less likely to develop allergies and asthma, and are more active.
12 | Volunteer at an animal shelter.
Even kids who don’t have pets at home can benefit from being around animals. The emotional and psychological benefits of being around animals can also be found when kids care for injured animals and take on care-taking responsibilities for other people’s pets.
13 | Plant a garden.
Kids who work in gardens may have higher achievement scores in science than those who don’t. That’s because they’re actively engaging in scientific concepts and practicing math skills as they learn about plants.
14 | Practice an instrument.
Kids who participate in musical activities – those who practice an instrument regularly and participate actively in music groups – may have brains who are better wired for literacy skills, according to one study.
15 | Hang out at Grandma’s.
Encouraging multi-generational relationships can yield many lessons for kids. They can learn how other adult role models in their lives who love them handle conflict, create and negotiate rules and routines, and embrace family traditions.
16 | Participate in a community service project.
Through volunteering, kids can become more grateful, empathetic, and feel more connected to the wider community.
17 | Draw a picture.
For kids who have trouble expressing themselves verbally, drawing can be a way for them to relax and communicate in a different way.
18 | Do a science experiment.
Kids are naturally curious and want to know how things work. Scientific exploration outside the classroom may be particularly effective at teaching kids about scientific thinking.
19 | Play dress up.
The significance of imaginative “pretend” or “fantasy” play for kids’ creativity and future problem-solving skills is difficult to overstate. When kids pretend they’re superheroes or talk to stuffed animals, they’re learning about social roles, setting the stage for later learning, and processing ideas from the world around them. In fact, some research suggests that kids who don’t engage in fantasy play may actually struggle in the classroom later.
20 | Wrestle with a sibling.
“Rough and tumble” play is not the same as aggression. It’s vigorous, free-form, whole-body, energetic, happy play. Kids learn decision-making skills, relieve stress, improve their ability to read social cues, and enhance their cardio-vascular health.
21 | Clean their room.
When kids are spending their afternoons working on homework, there’s often not time for them to help out with housework and other chores. A University of Minnesota researcher, Marty Rossman, found that one of the best predictors of a kid’s future success is whether they contributed to household chores as a young child.
According to Rossman, “Through participating in household tasks, parents are teaching children responsibility, how to contribute to family life, a sense of empathy and how to take care of themselves.”
22 | Write a story.
By writing down stories, kids can express their feelings, stretch their imaginations, and practice their fine motor skills.
23 | Zone out.
Just as important as play is “down time.” The authors of “Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Happy, Successful Kids“ argue that every kids needs PDF: playtime, downtime, and family time.
Downtime is when kids are allowed to literally do not much of anything, like sit around and listen to music or stare at the ceiling. These moments allow children to reflect, rest, and reset their minds and bodies.
24 | Meditate.
Kids also benefit from meditation. Studies have found that mindfulness and meditation can improve behavior, focus, and reduce impulsiveness.
25 | Create a collage.
“Constructive play” – building a fort, making a snowman – is goal-oriented and involves kids building something using tools and materials. Constructive play also has an important role in developing children’s communication, mathematical, and socio-emotional skills.
26 | Listen to classical music.
One study found that playing classical music to children can improve their listening and concentration skills, as well as self-discipline.
27 | Learn to knit.
Knitting, sewing, and crocheting are hobbies that can help enhance fine motor skills, improve coordination, and develop longer attention spans.
28 | Take pictures.
“Photography can help develop a child’s voice, vision and identity as it pertains to their family, friends and community,” according to one photographer who teaches photography to children in Canada.
29 | Ride a bike.
Kids who are physically active – as well as adults! – have stronger hearts, lungs, and bones. They are less likely to develop cancer or be overweight and more likely to feel good about themselves.
30 | Listen to a long bedtime story.
Babies, children, and adult sleep better when they have a regular (not rushed) bedtime routine. Kids who don’t have bedtime routines are more likely to have behavior problems, be hyperactive, and suffer from emotional difficulties.
31 | Play “Simon Says.”
During cooperative games, kids collaborate to reach a common goal. There may be a leader, and kids start to learn about social contracts and social rules.
When homework is assigned to young children, it doesn’t improve academic learning. In any case, the learning done in school is only one form of learning. Homework takes away from the time available to engage in endless other forms of learning, such as social, physical, and emotional, as well as rest.
1. How you treat their mother.
If you are kind, sharing, giving, supportive, caring, and treat your wife with respect and dignity, your children will treat your wife with respect and dignity.
But if you’re degrading, belligerent, frustrated, or rude to her, you can bet your children will treat her the same way.
2. How you manage your money.
If you are in debt up to your ears, or spend money frivolously, your children will spend money frivolously, and they will carry that trait into their adult years. They will copy the same lack of responsibility they saw in you. They too will live in debt.
But if you exercise wisdom, stick to a budget, save and plan, they will do the same.
3. How you treat other people.
If you are always using people for your own gains, or constantly belittling or mistreating people you come into contact with, so will your children. If you treat the waitress or the bank teller like dirt, they will devalue people the same way.
But if your approach to other people, especially those who are performing a service like waitressing, is kind and respectful, your children will follow suit.
4. The amount of respect you give to authority.
If you are rude to a police officer who pulls you over, or always rant and rave about how awful your boss is, your children will grow up with a lack of respect for the authority figures in their life. That includes you!
But to hear you talking about your boss with kindness and respect, even when they might not deserve it, shapes their tiny view of authority in a very positive way.
5. The depth of character and integrity you display.
They know if you cheat. They know if you say one thing and then do another. They are listening to the way you talk about people you encounter in public, or the frustrating neighbor who gets under your skin. When you face a crisis or unfair accusations they are taking note of how you respond.
The level of character or integrity you choose to live by, or not live by, goes a long way in determining how your children will choose to live.
6. The measure of discipline you live your life by.
If you overeat, overspend, sleep too much, get behind on your bills, drink too much, let the house go, always take short-cuts, or make excuses for poor choices, guess what? So will your children!
However, if you choose to live a disciplined life, your children will make better (and healthier) choices with their lives!
7. How generous you are.
If tithing to your church, giving to a charity, or supporting a cause isn’t high on your list, it won’t be on your children’s either. If you choose not to serve, your children will too. If you sign up for a good cause and then slack off when you’re participating and choose not to give a strong effort, they will see that, and do the same.
But if they witness a person who lives with a giving spirit, always reaches out to those with the least, and gives from a full heart, they will emulate that behavior and become people who give, love, and serve with full hearts!
“From elementary through high school, my parents had two rules. First, I had to study a year ahead in math and science before I could participate in fun summer activities. Second, I had to get a job (and not just any job—one that furthered my career) and work for every dollar I wanted to spend. So instead of working service jobs with my friends, I studied patent cases. Not a fun experience but the mentality of career-driven employment has stuck with me today.”- Fallen Fatemi
Three-year-old Desi Sorrelgreen’s favorite thing about his preschool is “running up hills.” His classmate Stelyn Carter, 5, likes to “be quiet and listen to birds — crows, owls and chickadees,” as she put it. And for Joshua Doctorow, 4, the best part of preschool just may be the hat he loves to wear to class (black and fuzzy, with flaps that come down over his ears).
All three children are students at Fiddleheads Forest School here, where they spend four hours a day, rain or shine, in adjacent cedar grove “classrooms” nestled among the towering trees of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.
The program, in its third year, is less than seven miles from Microsoft, which means some parents sit in front of computers all day inventing the digital future, while Fiddleheads children make letters out of sticks or cart rocks around in wheelbarrows.
Founded in 2012 by Kit Harrington, a certified preschool teacher, and Sarah Heller, a naturalist and science educator, Fiddleheads is part of a larger national trend that goes beyond Waldorf education, which has long emphasized outdoor play, even in inclement weather.
There’s the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, Mich., founded in 2007, where children wear hats and mittens during daily outdoor sessions in the frigid winter months. At the All Friends Nature School in San Diego, which became a nature preschool in 2006, children often spend mornings making sand castles at the beach. And at the Drumlin Farm Community Preschool in Lincoln, Mass., founded in 2008, children learn to feed farm animals, grow vegetables and explore the farm’s many acres of wildlife habitat.
Whether the schools are emerging in reaction to concerns that early education has become increasingly academic or simply because parents think traipsing around in the woods sounds like more fun than sitting at a desk, they are increasingly popular.
The Natural Start Alliance, founded in 2013 in response to demand from a growing number of nature preschool providers, now counts 92 schools that deliberately put nature at the heart of their programs, and where children spend a significant portion of each day outside, according to director Christy Merrick. That’s up from 20 schools in 2008, when Patti Bailie, a professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, counted them as part of her doctoral research.
A typical day at Fiddleheads starts at 9 a.m., with Desi, Stelyn, Joshua and fellow students zipping up waterproof suits so they can climb on, and sometimes slip off, sopping-wet logs; create secret forts under dripping boughs of bright green, and examine squirming earthworms in grubby hands.
Students go on “listening walks” with their teachers during which they stand in a circle with their eyes closed and name the things they can hear, like wind and rain, when they don’t talk. The children also eat lunch, sing songs and occasionally squabble under the open sky and towering trees.
Desi’s mother, Judy Lackey, 34, is pleased. “It’s just a magical place,” she said. “In indoor spaces, teachers have planned everything. Here, you never know what you’re going to see.”
While the children are carefully supervised by trained teachers, the school has a choose-your-own-adventure attitude toward learning. So when students first placed one of those closely examined earthworms in an empty toy watering can during a recent visit, it prompted a conversation with a volunteer teacher, Marnie O’Sullivan, about what kind of homes earthworms might most enjoy. (Hint: not a plastic watering can.)
“We kind of just think and find what we want to do in our head, and we just do it,” Stelyn said.
There are rules, and Stelyn, one of the oldest in the class, is quick to explain them: “If we see a bug, we are careful not to step on it. If we see a pretty leaf, we pick it up and put it in our magic spot.”
Walking alone onto the park road (despite its ban on car traffic) and pretending sticks are swords are also forbidden. But such rules and a few others leave room for plenty of adventures.
There’s carting around rocks in wheelbarrows, playing at being (sword-less) pirates, examining trees split by lightning, digging in wood-chip piles to make child-size “nests,” finding an unknown seed and dubbing it a “nothing berry,” and running up and down hills. The most popular word at Fiddleheads is “notice,” as in, “What do you notice about this fallen log?” and “I notice mushrooms.”
“Some days we’re setting up and we hear eagles calling to each other, and we run out and look up,” Ms. Harrington said. “Kids are the best at sharing in joy and wonder.”
Or as Adele Miroite, 3, said, her little hands wrist-deep in a wood-chip pile, “I love school.”
Fiddleheads is one of at least 18 similar preschools founded in the greater Seattle area since 2005, according to a recent story in ParentMap, a local parenting magazine. And 18 apparently are not enough.
There are 51 children on Fiddleheads’ waiting list and 143 on a list for next year’s spots, Ms. Harrington said. That’s after the school more than doubled its enrollment to 50 students in two classrooms this year from about 20 in just one classroom last year. And students’ parents, to judge from a small collection picking up their children on a recent afternoon, aren’t off-the-grid types. They include lawyers, chief financial officers and television producers.
“I don’t know if we’re hitting a tipping point yet, but maybe,” said Ms. Bailie, who got her start as a teacher at an outdoor preschool program at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes in Cleveland. At the time, she knew of only about a half-dozen schools in the entire country trying something similar, she said. These days, she teaches a class specifically for would-be preschool teachers who aim to work outside.
Ms. Bailie thinks the pushback against standardized testing and growing concern about young children spending too much time on touch-screen devices has helped the market for outdoor schools. She also credits the best-selling 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods,” by Richard Louv, which helped popularize the idea that children should spend as much time as possible in the outdoors.
Mr. Louv argues passionately in his book that children should play and explore the outdoors in the same unstructured ways their parents and their grandparents did before them.
While reducing childhood obesity (8.4 percent of American 2- to 5-year-olds are obese) by increasing physical activity is a prime argument in support of outdoor play, Mr. Louv suggests that the need goes beyond exercise. Today’s children have fundamentally lost touch with nature, he said.
“Nature deficit disorder describes the human cost of alienation from nature,” he wrote. Among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illness, he writes.
Though they all try to address this “nature deficit disorder,” not all of the new nature preschools are quite as natural as Fiddleheads, which belongs to a type of school usually described as a “forest kindergarten,” characterized by having no indoor space other than an emergency weather shelter.
Many nature preschools, like Chippewa in Michigan, do have indoor facilities. Ms. Bailie and the Natural Start Alliance both count as nature preschools those in which students are outdoors for a significant portion of their day and in which the focus of the curriculum is the natural world.
Some preschool providers still think time indoors can be a valuable addition to an outdoor-focused day (and some children may prefer it). There’s also the practical matter of getting licensed. Many states won’t allow a school without a building to receive a license, and unlicensed schools can usually operate only for four hours a day. In fact, that’s a requirement in Washington state and it’s one of the reasons Fiddleheads is open only until 1 p.m.
Then there’s just the practical requirements of spending all that time outdoors. Children need the right clothing, which can be expensive. And even for the die-hards, sometimes it’s just not really safe to have children under 5 playing outdoors.
At Drumlin Farm Community Preschool, where it can get quite cold, the director Jill Canelli uses several overlapping sets of guidelines to determine when it is too cold, windy or icy to go outside.
If the temperature, with wind chill, is below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, for instance, the children have an indoor day. That guideline is based on an Iowa Department of Public Health publication, Ms. Canelli said. And if the local school district cancels because of snow, the preschool will usually close, too.
“Safety is first,” she said, adding that parents have asked why their children weren’t outside on a given day and she’s had to explain Iowa’s safe-temperature guidelines to them. “Children can’t learn if they’re not safe.”
Safety notwithstanding, Deborah Stipek, an education professor at Stanford University who studies early education, is not a booster of the outdoor preschool model. “I have a feeling that this is a flash-in-the-pan idea,” she said.
Professor Stipek pointed out that excellent natural materials can be provided to children indoors and that setting times when they can freely choose between activities like blocks, art projects and dress-up allows for plenty of self-determined “adventures.” And while she is a strong believer in the benefits children get by spending time outside, she is skeptical of the idea that spending the whole day outside is necessarily better.
“I don’t see benefit of being outdoors doing the same activity as you’d be doing indoors,” Professor Stipek said.
But for the administrators of Fiddleheads, the benefit of children doing the same thing outdoors that they could have done indoors is as clear as a babbling brook.
“When I taught indoors, every material had a learning goal,” Ms. Harrington said of the various items she would put out for her students to play with when she was a Montessori preschool teacher. “Here, the entire classroom is a material. Certainly, the materials we set out are that way, but this classroom has so much more to offer.”
Though there is plenty of evidence that playing outside lowers the risk of obesity, improves balance and agility, calms high-energy children, reduces stress, improves self-regulation, aids healing and soothes the soul, little research specifically on outdoor preschools has been conducted in the United States. (There is more in Scandinavia, where they are popular.)
Ms. Harrington and Ms. Heller hope to help change this by opening their school to researchers. The first study, set to start in January, will look at how much children in outdoor schools move compared to children at home or in traditional preschools. The lead researcher is Dr. Pooja Tandon, a pediatrician at the University of Washington Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
Most nature preschools are private; tuition at Fiddelheads is $760 a month. But some programs, like the Chippewa Nature Center in Michigan, have begun to work with their school districts. Students in the nearby Bullock Creek School District can now attend “nature kindergarten” and even “nature first grade” at their regular public elementary school.
And a few city schools have even taken up the forest school mantra. Students at the Brooklyn New School in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn now spend every Wednesday outside in nearby Prospect Park (as long as it’s not raining).
Back in Seattle, Andrew Jay, a former Audubon Center director and nonprofit entrepreneur, thinks it’s far past time to take advantage of the low facility costs of outdoor-based programs and open them up to a broader range of families. He is planning to open nine outdoor schools based in Seattle City Parks in the next two years.
“A city park is the most democratic space” for a school, Mr. Jay said. “The nature part is amazing. But what hooked me was making it available to all.”
Mr. Jay got the official go-ahead to operate his schools on city land from the parks department in October, and now he’s trying to get approval from the city’s education department to qualify for funding as a local public preschool program.
Back at Fiddleheads, several children huddled around Stelyn, who was holding a treasure. With her blond hair trailing to the edge of her bright yellow rain jacket, she held out a “nothing berry” for all to see.
“I want to see the inside,” 4-year-old Rowan Wessels said.
“O.K., but don’t break it any more than that,” Stelyn said, pointing at a nick somebody had made with a rock.
Rowan peered closely at the soft white center of the mystery berry and exclaimed, “It looks like ice cream!”
This story was published in partnership with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.