Wednesday, May 20, 2015

5 Ways to Get Your Kids to Play Outside

Being in the outdoor learning field one question I get a lot is how do I get my child to play outside. Many parents report their child gets bored, or might ask to go home rather than settling in and getting immersed in their play. 

The first issue to tackle is looking at how your kids play in all environments. If your child is not playing in general it is a stretch to take them to a forested area and tell them to play.

But what about parents / caregivers who have children that get immersed in play at home, at school, with friends but seem to freeze when they go outside in the woods? There are a lot of elements to forest pretend play that are different than at home pretend play. Here are five stumbling blocks for kids (and parents) and solutions to help them over the indoor/outdoor obstacle. 

1. One difference is loose parts. If kids are used to playing with toys with predetermined usage (swords, dragons, castles) versus loose parts - sticks, rocks, leaves that either have to be constructed in reality or in the minds eye it is sometimes difficult for kids to make that leap. Kids that have this problem you can bring more familiar toys with you (bring dragon) and forget a part (oh, I forgot the swords what can we use!). This forces kids to slowly start thinking out of the box and as they get better and better at using loose parts you can move to using just loose parts or natural forest material. 

2. There is also a sensory element as well. Kids have had their toys at home and as babies and on up they explore by picking up, dropping, mouthing pushing but if they haven't done the same sensory exploration outside they may need to start there to get a comfort with natural loose parts. Even the most experienced and complex pretend players in my forest kindergarten will go back to sensory play during season change as new "loose parts" (snow, ice, mud, puddles etc) are discovered or rediscovered or if we go to a new place. But as they become comfortable with the items they start using them for more complex play. To help kids delve deep into sensory exploration forget pretend, forget stories focus on the feel of the outdoors. Let the creek water splash on your hands, bury yourselves in leaves and jump in piles, have a snow fight either with eachother or against trees or rock walls.  As the children become involved in the sensation it will eventually evolve into more pretend play and you can support their journey. 

3. Often times at the house they have "yes" environments - either because it is set up that way or because they know the rules (like not jumping on the couch) and it becomes a yes environment. They can get down and dirty and play without worrying about what they are doing. If there is a big no environment at the forest - no picking, no exploring, no lagging behind (keep up!!) they are more worried about doing something wrong, or are interrupted in their play, so can't get into deep immersion in the play. Instead take them somewhere they can explore how they want without worry about doing something wrong. As they become stronger at play you can bring them to more familiar places that may have more no's but they can juggle and adapt their play because they are experienced outdoor players. 

4. Friends - outside play for kids naturally involve others (my remembered memories are always with other kids). Kids learn from, imitate and build play with other kids in ways they can't with adults.  Start with kids who are experienced outdoor players and soon your outdoor excursions will involve the play they are learning from their friends even if they are not there. 

5. Adults should get messy too - Parents are often times worried about the product, the result and not necessarily the process (they focus on taking a hike, to find a certain flower, or learn a certain skill). However kids get immersed in process often times don't care about product but learn as they go along. Whether it be a sense of limited time for an outing, a general anxiety of being out of your element, or kids out of theirs, or a need to produce the perfect Facebook picture parents sometimes feel the pressure to "do something" outside.  If parents are overly focussed on a particular goal they often interrupt a child when they are getting off track of the adult goal but it is the full immersion in their process, the getting off track, not their parent or caregivers product, which builds good outdoor pretend players. If you are a product oriented adult try bring a project for yourself to stay occupied and free the kids up for some good old fashioned uninterrupted play.

Monday, May 18, 2015

We've Been Waiting For You

***A little back story. I currently have two boys in my program who are working on some SERIOUS social skills. Saying they don’t get along is an understatement. They bicker and argue, push and hit, and annoy each other to no end. They will tear each others papers to shreds, knock down the other childs block tower, and purposely stand in front of the slide or bike so the other child can't move. 

(Have you seen the movie Grumpy Old Men?! Yeah…that’s them. LOL)

As you can imagine…it’s tiring. Yet I am steadfast in my approach; allowing these things to happen, knowing (still learning) when to stand back and knowing (still learning) when to guide them when I’m needed. Working through conflict is the foundation of the social skills needed for their future, and an important step in their learning and development I simply can not ignore or shut down.***

We've Been Waiting For You.


A few months back, I came across a song from Tom Hunter and Bev Bos I simply fell in love with. It really resonated with me, what I offer in my program, the importance of relationships and being a part of our group, and the essence of what family childcare is about. I find myself singing this song all day…mostly in the morning when they arrive, various times throughout the day, and sometimes even when the children are long gone for the evening.

“We’ve been waiting for you to come to this place.
Waiting for you to come to this place.
Wherever you’re from, we’re glad that you’ve come.
We've been waiting for you to come to this place.

And if you like to play, we’ve been waiting for you
And if you like to smile, we’ve been waiting for you
Wherever you’re from, we’re glad that you’ve come
We’ve been waiting for you to come to this place.”

The song goes on to include words like “If you like to jump” or “sing”, etc.

During a recent conflict between the two boys I mentioned AND a crying, teething toddler, I began quietly singing this song. It wasn't so much to distract or redirect them. In all honesty, it was my own way of dealing with the bickering and crying I was hearing; to keep me calm and focused.

At that moment one of the boys began singing to the toddler who was still crying, and in the next verse he sang….

“And if you like to CRYwe've been waiting for you. And if you want to SCREAM we've been waiting for you….”

He was on to something. 

As I sat down on the floor cuddled up with the teething toddler and joining the boys, the other children gathered around and we began to add our own verses to the song.

Rip my papers
Jump off chairs
Run away
Get hurt
Fall down
Hunt bears
Kick toys
Throw stuff
Make a mess
Paint my body
Spill my cup
Say boo boo butt

(And they became even more silly, of course….nose picking, pooping, puking, burping and farting may or may not  have been mentioned. LOL)

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not only did they understand the context of the song, they got it. I mean they really got it. They knew in their hearts that they were loved and accepted for who they were.

It’s OK to have emotions.

It’s OK to make mistakes.

It’s OK to be themselves.

That at “Miss Minda’s” house, it was OK to be a kid.

From teething toddlers to temper tantrums, and everything in between. 

I am their safe space. 

Wherever they were from, I was glad they had come.

...And they KNEW it.

25 years from now, I don't want their memories of daycare to be endless lists of non meaningful rules, stop lights or sticker charts bribing them for good behavior, or how I dismissed their feelings while telling them to simply "play nice." 

Hopefully, they’ll be no memories of an uptight provider who was constantly telling them “NO”, yelling at them to sit down and be quiet, or to stop bickering.

No one telling them to stop jumping in the mud or quit making a mess.

I’m certainly not perfect. I have bad days too. I work alone and there’s no one here to relieve me when I need a grown-up time-out. But do I really want them remembering me as a cranky old daycare lady who never had any patience for them?!

Thinking about what memories I want them to have of their time here as a child helps to keep things in perspective for me when the going gets tough. If you think about it, that's a pretty big responsibility.

The children weren't the only ones to learn from this experience. It was a gentle reminder for me as well, that through it all…good days and bad, teething and tantrums…that I was living my whole purpose.....

Waiting for them to come to this place.


This place of play, of wonder and childhood. 
This place of friendships and relationships.
This place of growth, development, and reaching milestones in their own time. 
This place where children are celebrated and enjoyed for who they are, as they are, and right where they are.

My hope is that in 25 years, they will look back and think...

"That was my place."