Happy Earth Day! In March I went to a workshop at the Zoo on “Play”; I got many resources there. Below are some websites and books that were recommended for helping families find things to do together outside.
Office of environmental education in NC- provides links and activity calendar www.ee.enr.state.nec.us/
NC Outdoor Learning Environments Alliance: www.osr.nc.gov/ole
North Carolina State Parks- www.ncparks.gov/
Books (the Amazon links)
For those who don’t want to check out the links, the books are:
The Kids’ Nature Book (Milord)
My Nature Craft Book (Owen)
The Mudpies Activity Book (Blakely)
Sharing Nature with Children (Cornell)
Teaching Kids to Love the Earth (Herman, Passineau, Schimpf, Treuer
Discover Nature at Sundown (Lawlor)
“In a learner-directed classroom, children are not passive; teachers hold high standards for them and they have broad responsibilities. In particular, students are held accountable for their decisions regarding their work because they have the opportunity to choose what they do and how they do it. If we wish for our students to do the work of artists, we must offer them the opportunity to behave as artists, think as artists and perform as artists.” Douglas & Jaquith, 2009
I get tired of reading the importance of “play-based” education. As if we could teach children how to play, needed to, or knew how they played. In my experience, play is vitally important, in fact, so important that the only ways you can stop them from doing it are 1) have them overly dependent on adults or 2) plop them in front of a lot of technology for a long time.
I think we could replace the above word “artist” with “scientist”, “philosopher”, “peacemaker”…let’s give them important work to do, in addition to playing, which they instinctively know how to do. Let’s set up an environment in which they can practice the skills needed to be amazing adults. There are lots of those skills: concentration, coordination, persistence, empathy, kindness, detachment, grace, flexibility, self-control, humor….they all need practice. Why not set up a real-world for them, child-sized, when they can practice taking responsibility for real things and themselves and each other, with help?
Even if you don’t want to read the rest :).
As some of you know, I spent Thursday and Friday at a conference called The Pedagogy of Play, sponsored by the NC Zoo. Good stuff. It was affirming to know that many of my observations about my experiences with my own kids and at school around play are valid: that “free play” (not adult directed, not “sport”, not fantasy play based on watching cartoons, outside, with others, in mixed ages) is important. I know this because ALL children who come to Mary’s School, during the school year, in the summer, to visit for two days, who are 2 or 12, find things to do that are spontaneous, enjoyable, creative, meaningful,and that connect them with others. These “things” may or may not involve imaginative play, playing with “stuff” (snow, water, mud, dirt, sand, sleds, tires, swings, balls, wheelbarrows, foam noodles, shovels, buckets) and often involves other people.
I have recently become more committed to making sure that each child get (depending on how long they choose to take for lunch and when they are picked up) a minimum of 30 minutes outside every day, no matter what, in addition to my “outside every day” plan. This reflects the importance I place on this, how much they enjoy it, and the possibility that, some days, this might be the only outside time that they get.
I could go on and on about the cognitive, social and physical benefits documented about this kind of play, but will save that for another time. One thing I will say that confirms, once again, my love for Montessori is the opportunities in the multi-aged community for learning about play. Research talks about “play cues”, how children invite others to play, verbally, non-verbally, and the children who are very young who come and do not know how to initiate play with others learn this, along with all the varied ways to play, from the other children. Children with older siblings of course have learned much of this at home, but now get to practice and hone these skills with other children. Needless to say, this is fun to watch.
Another affirmation I got at the conference was the importance of the environment. Montessori said that the environment was the “other” teacher. So the way we set up the outside space is important, along with “loose parts” (yes, this is a term) that allow other play opportunities to emerge. At home, for example, how can play change with a new bucket and some spoons, the ability to have a special area where digging is allowed, some water, some bubble solution, a pile of sticks, an empty box? Maybe our most important job is just to keep renewing the space with some new “stuff”, even if the stuff is just “junk”. One thing that is enjoyed greatly at school is water, containers of water left outside to freeze that can then be dumped out and stomped on, thrown, slid on….
“But children of parents who are highly nurturing, yet fail to set limits on behavior or encourage self-sacrifice, tend to be lacking in compassion, a new study has found.”
(About how allowing children to do uninterrupted play time allows them, at a very young age, to develop concentration- amazing video at the end!)
..is the name of an area of the curriculum which includes everything from putting on your shoes to the “grace and courtesy” lessons (”how to ask if you can do a work with someone, and what they might say back”) to raking leaves to folding napkins to sorting socks to cooking to making your own mittens (sewing work).
I have just been reading a great article about the importance of practical life, including how it evolves with the older children (our fives). “Montessori education is the purest example of brain-based learning there can be. A tremendous amount of development won’t happen unless the brain has the opportunity to engage in experimental interactions with the environment. It’s to engage, to explore, to handle…to build the child’s sophisticated neurological network.” (Steven J. Hughes, pediatric neuropsychologist, 2010)
“Practical life for 5 year olds involves children in planning, decision making, error correction and troubleshooting activities, wherein they have to determine what the next move is going to be. It allows for the orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals while competence is accomplished through repetition.” Examples include independent tasks like washing a bike or stool, feeding a pet, organizing their belongings, making lunch (5 year olds can do this!), washing dishes, sorting laundry, gift wrapping, using tools (an adjustable wrench comes to mind!), knitting and crochet. In the past weeks I watched fives in the classroom make their own works (variations on familiar works), construct creations out of the recycling bin and LOTS of tape, sew happily for half the morning, and be a teacher for many children. I have seen a five year old organize all the children who have jobs that need to be done before we can have snack (snack helper, teacher, clean dishes puter awayer, dish washing set up duo, napkins folders) so that snack can happen, with no help.
This is all to say, don’t underestimate the skills gained in self-care and care of the environment; they are the building blocks to the concentration and self-confidence that is needed for all other success.
(Yes, I know, all I’ve done recently is post links to stuff, but they are awesome stuff! I am also working on courses for my M.Ed., which is taking up all my “extra” time. I would rather do : stuff that helps/is good for the kids at school, talking to parents and staff, family and friends, and minimal housework than blather on, in the little time that is left over love, Mary)
My niece is pregnant with her first child!!!!!! First pregnancy in the new generation that includes my children, so we are all a little excited, eh?
She kindly wrote and asked me for a book recommendation or two or three. I thought: Dr. Spock and Penelope Leach were my “go-to” books- is there a copy of Dr. Spock IN print? And who would not laugh at reading that old thing? However, I found his matter-of-fact responses very comforting….
So, since the main thing I read is Facebook these days, I looked at the blogs that I like and repost, and found one by Janet Lansbury (http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/07/rie-parenting-a-respectful-debate/) that referred to RIE parenting (pronounced “wry”). This is based on the work of Magda Gerber.
I had been so thrilled, as a Montessori teacher, to see more and more posts in the “blogosphere” that advocated allowing children to “be” so that they could learn what interested them, to learn to concentrate. In the Montessori classroom, if there is nothing on which you want to or are willing to concentrate, there is so much less you can learn, you are literally “disabled.” And, of course, this learning to concentrate, begins in infancy, as they attempt to focus their eyes and consciously move their bodies.
One of the things that we are aware of is how much children will attempt to figure out on their own if we give them a little “benign neglect”. In the classroom, we often turn away briefly while a child struggles in order to give them the chance to figure something out on their own, or at least to ask another child, which will do more toward building their self-esteem, certainly, than to have adults just “swoop in” and fix things, do things, or give an explanation. So much of this self-worth MUST come from self effort; it cannot be “given”.
This is in stark contrast to “attachment parenting”, which I really find suspect. The assumption seems to be that if we are not constantly reactive and engaged with our children that they will not be properly “attached”. From my limited knowledge, however, it is very difficult for typically developing children not to be attached to caregivers; this is why children love abusive parents despite the abuse, unfortunately. So we can trust them to attach, to grow, to be happy by figuring out a few things on their own. In fact, anything else is damaging to children.
So check out a blog or a book; whatever you do, if you do everything for your child and scoop them up at the first whimper, or if you allow them to experience some feelings, including boredom or frustration, in order to learn, you will be criticized by the armchair parents who watch you, so don’t worry about that part!
Expanded title: how to allow your child to learn to entertain themselves and how to be able to be successful in school….