It is officially summer and it actually feels like summer! Of course, it is Seattle so we may be back to cool and rainy at any moment! With the school days behind us and summer stretching out in front of us we have an opportunity to be outside more and more. The sunshine pulls us out of the house and into nature. Some days it is nice to just lay in the yard and enjoy a quiet moment looking at the clouds. Other days it is fun to run through the sprinkler, have a water balloon fight and stay up from early to late at night. Summer brings adventures, delicious fruits and vegetables, family time and an energy that is different from how we feel on a sunny but cold day in the winter.
Ansel had his first corn on the cob – definitely a summer ritual. It used to be that eating corn on the cob was only a summer ritual like watermelon, strawberries and tomatoes on the vine. We can buy almost any of these fruits and vegetables all year round now so there is a different feeling when you are eating them but they still say summer to me. It was so much fun watching Ansel eat the corn off the cob and then eat the cob itself! I remember eating every kernel of corn when we were on the farm in Ohio. So delicious.
Children are curious about the food they eat. Summer is a great time to show children where their food comes from. Visit one of the local farms and let the kids pick strawberries, blueberries or beans. The produce at the farmer’s markets give you an opportunity to buy something you wouldn’t necessarily buy at the grocery store. Try something new – most of summer’s harvests may be new to your child this summer so trying a new fruit or vegetable lets you experience the world of eating in a way they do most every day. Have fun eating something new or preparing it in a new way.
Spending time outside is also a summer ritual. Picnics at the park, hikes in the cool woods on a hot day, water play at the beach, bike rides and listening to the bidrs singing early in the morning are all ways that we can enjoy the warm summer days. We loved to camp in the summer and Mt Rainier was a favorite camping spot. At the time you couldn’t make reservations at the State and National Parks so it was always an adventure just getting a campsite. And it usually meant a rather long drive and especially long if we couldn’t find a camping spot and had to drive back home! Since our sons were so excited about camping and we didn’t know if we could get a site we used to do a lot of camping in the back yard when they were little. By camping in the backyard we always knew we would find a spot and that our spot would be near the restrooms! We would set up the tent in the yard, roast marshmallows over a campfire and look at the stars in the sky. We had fun being outside without having to pack everything into the car. When the guys were in grade school they would ask to sleep outside on the back deck. It
was so much fun to sleep outside with the stars shining over your head.
We went on lots of local adventures during the summer but Discovery Park was always a favorite place for hiking and adventure. There was a great playground there, lots of tall trees that filtered the sunshine onto the trails and big fields to run in. We saw all sorts of wildlife on our visits. We would look for owls, eagles, rabbits, snakes, spiders, worms as well as watch the blossoms on blackberry bushes that would turn into the blackberries that we would pick in late summer. On weekends we would visit parks that were further away. One of the weekend trips was to Wallace Falls because it was near a fishery and Nick loved fish. Find places to go that are places that reflect the interests of your child. Knowing they will find something they like after enduring a long car ride is always helpful.
DAY HIKES WITH KIDS
Another favorite activity was reading. Summer is a great time to slow down the activities and just sit outside and read a book. One summer we visited every library in our area. We talked about the architecture, the neighborhoods, the way the books were displayed. Most of the libraries are close to parks so you can get your book ad have a picnic in the nearby park. Time to read and time to play. It is a perfect combination. At home we would spread a blanket under the tree in the front yard and read all afternoon long. As they got older they would spend the afternoon reading in that same tree. The tree had to be cut down because of a fungal disease but I kept a piece of the tree for myself, Joel and Nick. I miss that tree so much but I still have a piece of it to remind me of our summers sitting under it in the shade of its leafy branches.
What are the memories you have of summer? What did you do as a family? I have so many fond memories: listening to their laughter as they played games outside, watching them lay on their backs and look at the clouds, picking (and eating) the fruit and vegetables in the garden they planted, eating cold juice pops on a hot day, watching them run through the cool water of the sprinkler, the smell of the smoke from the campfire. These are triggers to the memories of summer with my children. Whenever I get hit by the water from a sprinkler on our evening walk, hear children laughing in the evening or taste fresh strawberries I am transported back to the summer days when our sons were little. So much fun!
What are the memories that will be with you when your little ones are not so little? What do you remember from your childhood that you would like to share with your child? Summer is a great time to share traditions and create memories. Enjoy!
As we enter the gardening season I thought I would send a note about the most important seeds you can plant: seeds that develop a love of learning in your child. There is a debate as to whether it is nature or nurture that is most important in the development of a child’s intelligence. How much is a child born with and how much is influenced by their surroundings. It seems to be 50/50. There are some attributes a child is born with: athletic ability, musical ability and artistic ability are gifts a child is born with. Can a child who is extremely gifted not perform to their ability? Yes. Can a child who is born with limited abilities achieve in those areas? YES! Do not put your child in a box and label his/her abilities to do something. In the same way, do not expect a child who does not have an interest, or the ability, to be gifted in that area. Even though you were an art major your child may not have any interest in the activities at the art table. Sad, but it is not the end of the world. Maybe someday they will develop a respect for art even though they are not drawn to that area at the moment. It is your responsibility to open the world to your child. It is their responsibility to grasp what you give them.
So, what seeds are the essential for growing a child’s brain? According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules and Brain for Babies, they are:
* The desire to explore
*Self-control (executive function)
Create a safe environment for your child to explore. Both inside and outside, children need areas for unstructured, open ended exploration. Children need these opportunities to develop the desire to explore. Give your child time to make choices about what they are going to do. They need to time play in the back yard without an agenda, dig in the dirt, examine a plant, watch a bug and explore in a natural environment. This takes time -- your time -- to give your child a safe area in which to do this. It also involves YOU. You have to engage your child in activities that will promote open ended exploration. It can be messy (most likely), it can be time consuming (young children are not known for staying on a precise schedule), it can be joyful (seeing the world as your child does), it can be amazing (watching your child has he/she grasps a new thought, idea, concept). Children need to be given opportunities to see connections, ask questions – why? and what if? They need to touch, taste, hear, tinker, take apart, put together, just BE in their world in order to engage their brains in learning.
Can a child have self-control? It is something you need to help your child develop. Self-control is also known as executive function. It is the ability to stop one’s self from doing something, to think about the consequences, to take responsibility for one’s words and actions. Executive function is a better indicator of academic success than one’s IQ. According to John Medina, executive function controls planning, foresight, problem solving and goal setting. If you can delay your actions (control yourself) you will do better in school and the work place. If you can filter out distraction and stay on course you will be better at staying on task. It is important to help your child develop good impulse control techniques. Teaching them to take a breath, count to 10 or stomp their foot when they are mad rather than throw the toy, hit their sister, bite their friend. Is this easy? No. Does it take time? Yes. Will it be worth it in the end? YES!
You want your child to explore the world but you want them to be able to control their body while doing so. They need to learn that there is a time to explore and a time to sit, a time to be involved in their own activities or thoughts and a time to engage with or listen to others, a time to take a chance and a time to be cautious. Teaching your child when and how to use self-control is one of the most important lessons you can teach them. The more practice they have at delayed gratification (staying on task when they are working on a project -- concentrating on a task) the better the brain becomes at controlling behavior.
Researchers believe creativity has a few core components:
*the ability to perceive relationships between new and old things that result in new ideas
*motivating actions that did not exist before
Creativity must also have an emotional connection. This involves risk-taking. For young children it is not as scary to be creative as it is when you get into grade school. You can encourage your child’s creativity by giving them open ended activities that allow them to use their mind in a way that allows them the freedom to create. It may not be what you had in mind but it is their response to the environment and materials that have been presented to them. Giving them blocks to play with rather than media based toys (that have a pre-set idea already in place) allows them to create a city, a boat, a world for their small animals or practice fine motor skills, discover scientific principles, concentrate on visual awareness and/or a combination of all of this. Junk is a wonderful art/science open ended starter. Give your child a box of “stuff” that has been collected (juice lid tops, magazines, recycled materials, glue, string, etc.) then let them create – whatever they chose to create!
Being with your child during the time they are outside exploring, while they are creating something from ‘junk’, as they read a story or while they are taking their bath gives you time to communicate with your child. They can tell you their thoughts, what they have created, ask questions about the world, learn new vocabulary words and you can answer their questions, marvel at their thoughts, be amazed by their creations. If you are not present in their world you will miss opportunities to develop a base for communicating with your child when they are older. As you listen to what they are saying now and respect their input in a conversation you are teaching them that communication is valuable in human relationships. Giving them opportunities to practice visual cues is also a way you teach your child communication – ‘that made you sad’, ‘look at her face – she is happy’, and ‘oh, I see you are mad’. Helping your child build a strong vocabulary and teaching them emotional cues will allow your child to communicate his/her ideas and feelings to others while building strong relationships.
When you spend time with your child you are creating these relational bonds. Taking your child to work with you, going to a museum or the arboretum, visiting a neighbor, spending time reading books are all ways to strengthen your child's ability to communicate, understand emotions and to build strong vocabulary skills.
Plant these seeds now and watch as they blossom as your child grows.
April is here and it is time to think about gardening. Do you like to garden? Do you like to look at what other people have in their gardens? If you are like me, you like both! This is a great time to share the world that is springing up in the gardens with your children.
Our sons loved to be outside digging in the dirt. As soon as the weather warmed up enough to plant we went outside to “put in our garden”. Of course, it was nothing like their Great Grandpa’s garden on the farm in Ohio but it was ours. His garden was the size of our whole backyard! We always had corn (which was never knee high by the Fourth of July) and we seldom got to eat it because the raccoons got there first! We planted carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, blueberries, pumpkins (that never got very big), strawberries, raspberries, cherries and, when they got older, peppers and cilantro for salsa. Ours was an “eating garden” not the “canning gardens” they could run through while visiting the relatives in Ohio. Our garden was there for them to experience the joy of growing something, to see where food comes from and to be able to taste the goodness of their harvest (if we could keep the raccoons and birds from experiencing it first!) We would take pictures of their two corn stalks and send them to Great Grandpa. I know my Grandfather was proud of his little gardeners and they were proud of the food that they harvested.
When they got to high school they both took the horticulture class offered at Nathan Hale High School. The teacher came up to me one day and asked if Joel and Nick had gardened when they were younger. I said they had a small garden in our yard and she replied, “I knew it. They have such a respect for living things.” It is so important to let little ones nurture things from nature. There is a lot to learn as they garden. When they garden they develop a respect for things living things as well as a knowledge of where food comes from, the grow in their knowledge of science as they experience the magic of watching a growing a seed, they learn patience as they wait for their plants to produce something to eat and there is a new level of self-confidence when they see what they have accomplished. This love for nature will stay with them.
Joel and Danielle have been working on the garden at their home. We just gave Ansel the little red watering can that was Joel’s when he was a toddler. Ansel loves being outside. He loves watching the leaves as they move in the wind, enjoys looking at flowers in the garden, finding something new in the yard and he loves to eat so I am guessing he will be excited to learn about the things growing in his garden. He will be especially excited once he figures out he can eat those red, ripe strawberries that grow in his yard!
Nick and Greta do not have their own garden but Greta works on an organic farm so they have lots of fresh produce at their house. Greta dried spices for our Christmas gifts this year. When we visited Madison she took us on a tour of the farm. There are garden plots on the farm like the pea patch gardens in Seattle as well as the large fields that the farm harvests. It is a fun community area. They have a community play area for the children – lots of mud, water, open spaces—lots of fun!
My Grandfather would be so proud of his little gardeners and pleased to know that Joel, Danielle, Ansel, Nick and Greta are carrying on one of the traditions he so loved. Gardening. I am glad we had, and are still having, fun digging in the dirt together.
Children love to see where food comes from before it gets to the grocery store or farmer’s market.
Take them to a blueberry or strawberry farm and let them pick some fruit. Then let them help prepare the food for a family meal. You know where food comes from but to them this is a new and exciting adventure.
Take some time to get dirty with your child – or just visit the pea patch and see what other people are doing in the dirt.
As parents of active preschoolers sometimes it is difficult to think of outside of the moment. Your focus may be -- what do I feed them, what park do we go to today, will they go down for their nap, where is that shoe? Life is busy when you have little ones running around the house. I know you have heard me, and others, say “Oh, but it goes so fast”. Yes, it does go fast but some days may feel like they go on forever!! As you start 2018 take some time to think about what you would like to do with your child this year. Do you want to laugh more, be more spontaneous, more structured, more playful, more serious? Find one thing you would like to do this year to be a better parent and be purposeful in setting up a plan to achieve that goal. Who can help you achieve your goal? I could always come up with the idea for a fun activity but it was Curt who actually made it “fun”. In our home I was the planner and Curt was the one who activated my plan. It was a nice balance – still is! What is something you can do with your partner that would enhance your family’s life this year? It could be as simple as taking time to go on a family walk before/after dinner, reading a book together, gathering shells at the beach…. Be sure to set a realistic goal that everyone will enjoy and that will be easy to implement. When everyone is on board you have the support needed to be successful.
BOOKS to READ
Next try to set a goal for yourself. Find something that you enjoy (something new or something you used to do) and try to add it to your schedule. It may be something as easy as a neighborhood walk but you will need support to have the time to do something all by yourself. What can you do that will help you be a better parent – how can you give yourself some time to relax, re-charge, rejuvenate? This was always difficult for me. I had a hard time setting up time for “just me” as I always preferred “family time” – still do! The one thing I did do for myself was to go for a walk with my neighbor – still do! When we walk we have a chance to vent, laugh, share stories and get some outside time as well. Nick was happy to hear that Mary and I still take our walks. It makes him feel like the neighborhood is still the same. Mary was the one person he would go to when he was little. She was his “Mar Mar”. He would toddle down the sidewalk saying, MarMar, MarMar. The first time he called her Mary she almost cried - she knew he was growing up. She had a brain tumor removed in June 2011. This was a difficult time for all of us, but especially Nick. Being away in Wisconsin was hard on Nick and it was comforting to him to have the established traditions still in place. Who would have thought that my daily walk with Mary would become one of Nick’s anchoring memories.
As our sons grew older some of our family activities turned into family traditions. One by one, little by little, some of the things we did as they grew up became the traditions that created their childhood memories. The things we did as a family and the things that were set in place as my “Mommy Time” are part of what make up Joel and Nick’s childhood. When you set a goal it may be for just a short time – learning to knit was a wonderful goal but I discovered it was not my gift! Or it may be for a lifetime – walking with Mary has been an activity that has been going on for 35 years now. I enjoy looking back at what we have done as a family, what I have done for myself and what the members of our family have accomplished in this past year. Curt and I have set come goals for what we want to do this year – going on another family snowshoe trip is one of them! Take some time to reflect and to reach a goal this year. You never know – in the years to come it may be one of your family’s treasured memories.
Traditions are the glue that hold a community together. A community may be your family, your school, your neighborhood, city, state, country or the culture you grew up in. Communities can be small or large, near or far, present or past. As with the traditions themselves your community changes with time. Some traditions last many generations and some are there just for a season. It is the memories of traditions that hold the members of the community together.
We have traditions here at preschool. We just held one of my favorite – Pumpkin Night. It is something the alumni children look forward to and remember. It holds the memories of ‘their school’ and they are excited to come back and ride the horses, play with the trains and see what is in the sensory table. These shared memories are part of what builds the preschool community.
In our neighborhood we have activities that have created a bond with our neighbors. Some of the families have been in our neighborhood for 35+ years and we have watched our children grow into adults and now have the privilege of watching their children come back to the neighborhood for visits. This year Ansel came and Trick-or-Treated at the same neighbors’ houses that Joel went to as a child. Our neighborhood has many traditions in place. One of them, that has warm memories, had a cold start! My sons still send me notes when it starts to snow because a snow event was a big deal when they were young. Two of our favorite activities: to build snowmen using all the snow in the parking strip (because you usually needed all you could get to make a snowman Seattle) and our 'first snow' neighborhood snowball fight – no matter what time it started to snow! All the families with children would be outside as soon as the snow started to stick. If the kids were in bed we would wake them up and put their snow clothes on over their jammies. With their footie sleepers tucked inside their boots we would go outside to play in the snow because we all know with Seattle Snow there is no guarantee it will still be there in the morning. I have great memories of our snow days. Now there are no snowmen in my yard but I enjoy walking the neighborhood to see the snowmen pop up in yards and listening to the children laughing as they play in the snow.
The traditions you share with a specific group of people will glue that moment within your heart – a memory you can keep forever. As we enter the Holiday Season you are probably trying to figure out how to navigate through a large mix of family, community and cultural traditions. As warm and cozy as the thoughts of traditions are when you mix them all together it can become a sticky mess that is difficult to untangle. What traditions do you want to keep, to start for your own family, to share with others? How do you choose which ones to keep? What new ones to start? How to tell your Mom (or Mom-in-law) you are saying “no” to some of the family’s traditions? It is a time to sort through the memories and decide what traditions you would like to invest in this year. It is an investment – always of your time and sometimes of material goods. The nice thing about a tradition is that they can be made to fit your family. You can add to it, take it away, or keep it exactly the same. They are moments in time that create memories you can hold in your heart. Just remember that as with any event these memories can make one laugh, cry or cringe. Ah, the memories of holiday times with family – the foundation of Hollywood movies!
For our family we have had many changes in the last few years. We have become ‘the inlaws’ to two of the nicest daughters. Danielle and Joel have started many new family traditions. We have adjusted to their choices on how to spend the holidays. It was not easy for us but it is necessary for them to be their own family. And now they have Ansel to add to their traditions and memories. Greta and Nick will be adding to the changes in our activities as well as starting their own traditions. We are working on blending, creating, establishing, keeping and remembering new traditions and traditions from the past. As our sons have left home and are creating their own family traditions, Curt and I have created some new ones – a drive to Vashon to see the leaves, going to the Pumpkin Farm by ourselves (and this year with the Eagles Class!) and knowing we will continue to adjust to activities without Joel and Nick. Joel and Danielle have introduced Ansel to the zoo, hiking, camping, Discovery Park and soon he will join them as they continue the tradition of cutting down a Christmas tree. Greta will always be with her large, extended family during Thanksgiving and Nick has discovered that one of Greta’s family's traditions is similar to one of ours. Both families play ping pong after the Turkey Day feast. They call it RoundyTown. Nick has introduced them to our version which we call Round Robin. It is fun to see some of our family traditions live on with them.
Sometimes a tradition is started by someone other than family. That was the case for one of our most treasured holiday traditions. When our sons were little a lady in our church asked if she could bring them gifts at Epiphany. Maria was from Mexico and she did not have family here in Washington. We learned that Epiphany, Jan 6, is the actual Twelfth Day of Christmas. In many cultures all around the world it is they day that children receive gifts as they celebrate the day the Wise Men brought gifts to Baby Jesus. Joel and Nick put their shoes outside the front door on the eve of Jan 6 and the next morning their shoes were filled with small gifts. It was the start of a new tradition for our family. We began to celebrate Epiphany with a ‘fancy’ dinner chosen by the boys that included the ‘fancy’ Loony Tune cartoon glasses. It was a time for our family to celebrate Christmas – just the four of us – sharing a fancy dinner and opening a gold box that contained a family gift. When they were little it was a trip to the zoo or a new game. The year Nick started his PhD it was a family trip to Kauai. We knew that as Nick began this new adventure it would be a time of change for our family. Since then we have added Danielle and Greta to our family and our dinners may not be on Jan 6, but Epiphany will always be a shared time of fun and laughter with the emphasis on family and time spent together.
As you decide on your family traditions remember that the traditions are a memory maker – adjust them to fit your family.
Traditions change, as do the people who make up our communities, but the memories will be with us forever.
Some of our favorite family traditions:
~Walks in the snow
~Bike rides to see the cherry blossoms at UW
~Bonfires and s’mores
~Camping at Mt Rainier
~Fall hikes at Discovery Park to crunch leaves
~Visit to a Pumpkin Patch
~Nighttime bedtime stories
~Playing games after dinner
~Putting together jigsaw puzzles – especially on Jan1
~Watching seasonal movies and eating homemade caramel corn
~Making homemade Valentine cards
~Waiting for the Leprechaun to visit and make mischief at the house
~Coloring eggs and hiding them
~Leaving May Day baskets at the neighbor’s door
~First Day of School picture on the front porch
~Pumpkin carving party
~Leaf walks, flashlight walks
~Cutting down our Christmas tree
I love fall. I like watching the leaves as they change colors. I love going for walks in the woods. One of our family’s favorite places to go for a fall walk is Discovery Park. When we are there we feel miles away from the city. As we walk in the woods, looking up at those towering maple trees that drop huge leaves, we forget we are in the city.
When our sons were younger we would take a family Leaf Walk -- crunching the leaves along the trail, kicking leaves and admiring the biggest ones. The boys spent a lot of time examining the size, color and texture of those leaves. It was, and is, a great way to start the fall season.
As you walk the trail through toward the bluff, you pop out from under the canopy of trees into a large open field. When our boys were young they would run through the tall grass. We would sit under the giant maple trees that sit near the top of the field and watch them as they ran up and down the hill. The colors of the changing trees, against the backdrop of the white houses, always made me feel like I was back in my grandparents' small town in Ohio. After they finished running the hill we would head off to the “beach”... the sand pile that overlooks the water at the end of the pathway. Sometimes we would bury treasures to be found by someone else later in the day and look for our own treasures (usually a snack in a ziplock baggie that we hid while they were digging in the sand). As the sun began to set we knew it was time to head back home. We would hike up the hill to climb on the small rock wall and have a leaf fight before heading back into the woods. On our walk through the woods we would look at the tall trees, listen for the birds, examine slugs, pick up rocks and talk about what we saw, or not talk at all, and enjoy the natural beauty of the day. No matter how much time we spent at Discovery Park – one hour or the whole afternoon – it felt like we had been a grand adventure.
As the boys got older our family park walks were harder to do. As Joel and Nick grew into young adults Curt and I continued the outings without them. We would take a picture and text them asking, "Guess where we are?". At first it was hard to go on our walk without them but I realized they would always be with us in the memories we have from those walks when they were young. It has continued to be a place we go for family fun.
became part of our family traditions.
It is a part of who we are as a family and what we value.
We all have
a respect for natural places, enjoy being
out of doors and love going for walks in the woods.
What you do with your children
will be with them for all of their life.
Memories of family walks in the fall will come back
to them when they see a maple leaf, hear a bird in
the tree or see the sun filtering through the leaves on a large tree
When we returned from our trip we spent time with Ansel and were amazed at how much he had changed in just 16 days. His history is short but it is an ever changing story of his life. Every day he adds another chapter to the story of Ansel. Each day he adds to our lives new memories that we will remember long after he has added teeth to his smile and words to the sounds he is making. We compare notes on the lives of Joel and Danielle to determine if Ansel has the same developmental pattern as his parents or if this is a new track he is heading down. As we hear him laugh, see his desire to stand up and watch how intrigued he is with sounds we can use our knowledge of family history to see if it is Danielle or Joel he is taking after - or some relative we do not know.
History is many years in the making as well as just moments ago — world history, country history, state history, city history, family history and your history — every moment we add a piece to our history. What are the ways you can add special memories to the day that will become the history that makes up your child life story? His-story and Her-story.
One of the fun moments we enjoyed this summer was camping with Ansel. As he looks back on the history of his life I am sure that camping and being outdoors will be a major component that is included in his historical markers. We camped with our sons. Mt Rainier was a favorite. Every September we headed to Cougar Rock Campground. We would leave on a Thursday night hoping to find a camping site…ah the fun and anxiety of camping pre-online reservations! After we set up our tent the boys would head out to climb “CougarRock”. A large rock in the campground area. This rock got smaller and smaller each year. We have ‘historical’ data to document that the rock shrunk each year! The guys were amazed at how small this giant rock was when they returned for a picture the year they were in college. Mt Rainier holds many memories for our family. It was the first of 4 mountains that Nick summited. It is the place that Nick asked Greta to marry him. It is also the place that Danielle will remember, not so fondly, that our radiator exploded and we had to be towed off the mountain when she was pregnant with Ansel. Danielle’s family also spent their summer’s camping. With three girls in tow they went weekend camping near Bellingham and on major camping trips throughout the United States. Danielle and Joel went on a camping honeymoon to visit the National Parks. Both family’s have a history of camping. It will be fun to continue a camping tradition that is 35 years in the making.
Activities to do with Children
This year we will watch these little people change and grow. They will learn so much while being outdoors. They will watch a spider in a web, see the wind blow the branches of the trees, hear a bird sing, touch the rain as it falls from the sky, feel the warmth of the sun on their face and smell the sea air as it wafts through the play area. We will be a part of the laughter, the questions, the pouts, the tears, the joy and surprises as they explore their world. We will part of the his-story and her-story of the children that make up the world of Crown Hill Explorers.
What a privilege to be part of your child's history. I am honored to be included in their life story.
Looking forward to a wonderful year together,
Immersion in the natural world is a central aspect of healthy child’s play. Play, that involves our hands, is richly connected with our brains, and a primary way we interact with our world. As kids play with blocks, fashion mud pies, and throw balls, they are constantly fertilizing neural growth and integrating complex areas that the natural world offers.
~from an article by Stuart Brown, MD Founder of the National Institute for Play
The benefits are amazing and the effects are lasting. There is evidence that a connection to nature enhances social skills, mental cognition and emotional health. Your child will learn empathy for living things, develop self-regulation and have a reduction in stress (sadly childhood depression and stress are on the rise) when being in nature. It is important for your child to spend non-structured time in nature. The time you spend outside will have a long lasting impact on your whole family.
It is important to help the kids engage in nature and then step back and let them use their imaginations. It is great to see where they go! You are the first step in connecting your child to nature. If they do not know nature they cannot love nature. You cannot love something you do not know.
There are many benefits of being outside.
North Carolina State University – Natural Learning Initiative: Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature
Being in nature is a gift you can give your child that will stay with them for their whole life!
April is a time for dreams for a gardener….what is new in the garden today? what shall I plant? when can I go outside and dig in the dirt?! My boys loved to be outside digging in the dirt. As soon as the weather warmed up enough to plant we went outside to “put in our garden”. Of course, it was nothing like Great Grandpa’s garden at the farm in Ohio but it was ours. We always had corn (which was never knee high by the Fourth of July and we seldom got to eat it because the raccoons got there first!), carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, blueberries, pumpkins (that never got very big), strawberries, raspberries, cherries and, when they got older, peppers and cilantro for salsa.
Ours was an “eating garden” not the “canning gardens” they ran through when visiting the relatives in Ohio. It was there for them to experience the joy of growing something, to see where some of our food comes from and to be able to taste the goodness of their harvest (if we could keep the raccoons and birds from experiencing it first!) We would take pictures of their two corn stalks and send them to Great Grandpa – I am not sure who was prouder of their corn. When they got to high school they both took horticulture. The teacher came up to me one day and asked if Joel and Nick had gardened when they were younger. I said they had and she replied, “I knew it. They have such a respect for living things.” It is so important to let little ones nurture things from nature. They develop an empathy and a respect for living things when they garden as well as a knowledge of where food comes from, experiencing the science of growing seeds, patience while waiting for their plants to produce something to eat or look at, and pride in what they have accomplished. This love for nature will stay with them. Joel and Danielle have been working on the garden at their home Wedgwood. Nick does not have garden space but he likes to read books on gardening and loves planning a menu to eat all the things that Joel is growing!
My Grandfather would be so proud of his little gardener. I am glad we had, and are still having, fun digging in the dirt together. Children love to see the plants and see where food comes from before it gets to the grocery store. Take them to a blueberry or strawberry farm and let them pick some fruit. Then let them help prepare the food for a family meal. You know where food comes from but to them this is a new and exciting adventure. Take some time to get dirty with your child – or just visit the pea patch and see what other people are doing in the dirt.
Some of the children have already had the opportunity to plant seeds in the garden at preschool. We will all be planting soon. We will encourage the science of gardening while we set up experiments outside and have fun digging in the dirt at preschool. Be sure to check out the garden area when you are at school --The raspberry plants are leafing out, the hummingbird is visiting on a daily basis and the slugs are enjoying our primroses. There is a lot going on in the preschool garden. And more to come! Our Wildlife Habitat Garden has attracted the birds this winter and soon the butterflies will return. The garden is a place that allows the children to experience nature and encourages habitats for the animals in the area. When we encourage children to be a part of nature they develop a caring attitude toward nature that develops their ability to nurture – plants, animals and people.
Children learn through play.
We see play as just “fun” but for children play is hard work. It is a child's full time job to play. For children play comes naturally. It is so important to give children opportunities to play -- unstructured, open ended, child centered play. We may see it as meaningless but it is an important developmental activity for a child. Children learn through play.
By giving children an opportunity to play we give them an opportunity to learn. Through play they develop:
How does play come so easily to little children?
They have less outward restraints -- they have less focus on what society "thinks" as well as being less self-conscious about what they are doing. As we “grow up” it gets harder for us to play as freely as we did as children. We have to work at it.
What can we do to enhance their learning while they play?
We can give them opportunities to develop their imaginations by allowing them to engage in open ended play. Children used to have toys that were not connected to a product, movie or book. They would use a stick as a doll or train. They developed their own scenarios without adults orchestrating the play. When they had a train it was just a train not a train with a name and a specific role in the play. It is hard not to allow your child to have a Thomas or a Dora but you can help them develop the play without mirroring the story or TV show.
Kids today are attracted to the same things as when our boys were young but the difference then was that a train was just that -- a train, dinosaurs were dinosaurs, tools were hammers without a specific builder using them. Our first experience with attaching a particular movie/story to the generic dinosaur was Land Before Time and the dinosaur characters in the movie. We had to drive to a Mercer Island Pizza Hut to get Sharp Tooth. I never thought I would have allowed an advertisers scheme to manipulate me to buy pizza in order to get a toy. It was through my children's big, pleading eyes. We drove across town to buy a pizza in order to get the last dinosaur in the collection. Advertisers have found a big target population to sell items to – children.
It is important to give your child a chance to use their creativity when they play not just copy what they see or hear. One way to help your child develop their imagination is to give them opportunities to think and play "outside the box" that society puts their toy in. A prime example of how children enjoy the open ended "toy" is watching a child play with the box and wrapping paper the toy came in instead of with the toys that came in the box. If you allow children to have items that they can use to create their own play scene -- things that do not already have a story line attached to them—you allow them to engage their mind in their play.
Giving them opportunities for open-ended activities will encourage your child to develop their imagination and enhance their cognitive skills. Our sons played for hours with wooden blocks, animals and cars. Often they built towers, towns, boats, roadways -- the start of each project was new and changed as they developed the idea for that day. It was the same set of blocks yet used to create different outcomes, scenarios, stories. Toys are the same, yet different, now -- Legos used to be an assortment of colored building blocks but now they have a theme or specific story line attached that pre-determines the outcome of the play, many books have a show or movie that sets the visual imagery, dolls/trucks/trains have a pre-determined personality or story line. The play is less imaginative and less creative if the child is just re-creating what they have already seen or knows about the characters or materials they are playing with. It is important to help the child create his/her own story line or scenario rather than just mimic one that has already been determined by a toy manufacturer.
A natural arena for open-ended play is the backyard.
Give them time to be outside playing in the yard -- they can dig in the dirt, play with water, use animals as they make their own zoo or farm, plant a garden, watch the clouds, read a book. Being outside is something that is important for developing empathy for living things. They learn to respect living things -- both animals and plant life. Children need time outdoors -- unstructured time to play in natural surroundings. They experience the world through all of their senses. It gives them opportunities for leaning balance, eye hand coordination, cause and effect, visual discrimination, depth perception, enhances their hearing, creates associations with sound/sight to the knowledge they have acquired while reading books -- and you just thought they were playing outside! As they get older they can organize group play. The older kids set up the scenario and the younger kids get to play the parts. It is through this kind of multi-age play that they can develop social skills, problem solving techniques, leadership skills and self- confidence. Allowing the children to govern the play gives the child opportunities for developing abilities to manage their bodies and emotions, express their opinions and feelings, and create an environment of cooperation. They learn how to play together with rules and how to deal with their feelings when the outcomes of the group play are not what they want them to be.
When you are inside the house you can set up open ended activities that allow children to use household items for activities that encourage academic learning through play -- measuring and pouring develops spatial awareness (science, math, verbal skills), sorting items like buttons, nuts and bolts, food items (sensory awareness, verbal skills, visual discrimination), using socks for puppets, scraps of cloth for art projects (visual discrimination, 5 senses, creative problem solving).
There is a place and time for both open ended activities and playing with beloved characters. We had Snow White and the Seven "DORFS" memorized – I could not miss a word or page - ever! While on a trip to Ballard I had to stop at a toy store and ask permission to put the "dorfs" that were on display in the window in the correct order (Doc to Dopey). Winnie the Pooh and Mickey were part of the Disneyland play, Beatrix Potter was played out with their stuffed animals but they also made magic brews in the backyard, set up wild safaris in the garden and just laid in the grass and looked at the sky.
Give your child a balance of activities so they can develop creative thinking skills, cooperative play, and problem solving skills. Through play your child is developing many new skills that will be the building blocks for a lifetime of learning.