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Childhood, Nature Play, Parenting, Play, Risk

To the over-protective parent…

Firstly I would like to acknowledge that just because I have an early childhood education degree and 12 years professional experience, does not make me a better parent than the wonderfully dedicated parents I know. I certainly have my challenges, as do all families.  I use the television as entertainment to have a rest at times and have been known to have McDonalds because I just can’t be bothered cooking. Being an Early Childhood Teacher does however give me underpinning knowledge as to how  play and engagement in potentially controversial processes impacts children’s thinking, doing and learning.

As I sit here (yes, at midnight because my mind is whirling with thoughts!) and think about the opportunities I have given my son, who is now 5 and about to start primary school, I reflect on the experiences which have impacted his learning and may be criticised by the so called ‘helicopter parent’. Apologies in advance!

Yes, I encourage my son to walk up a slide at the park, to negotiate taking turns with those wanting to come down, to build leg strength, muscle tone, balance and coordination –  because getting up a slide, particularly at 2 years old is much more challenging than coming down. We know with the increase in children’s screen time and exposure to technology, there is a decrease in active play and this is manifesting in lower muscle tone and body strength of children in general today, when compared with children from prior generations (Hanscom, 2016).


Yes, I promote the use of stick play because we all know children (particularly boys) will use sticks for anything and everything and if we don’t give them opportunities to use them, to safely navigate them and to devise a set of agreements to keep themselves and others safe, how will they learn to do this when unsupervised and using sticks themselves?


Yes, I let my child pour his own milk on his Weetbix at 3 years old despite losing half a litre of milk on the floor 10 minutes before we have to leave for preschool. Why? Because he is using initiative and taking responsibility. He is developing pro social behaviours and becoming an independent citizen of the present. Yes, mess is not fun at the best of times (particularly for me- it is my shark music) but the outcomes for him are far more important to his lifelong learning.


Yes, I allow my child to go barefoot in the public park. Why? Because we live in a society where sensory issues and flat foot syndrome are on the rise and exposure to all the sensations of nature and the navigation of uneven surfaces will promote healthy physical and sensory development. Yes, I realise there could be a very very small risk that a hazardous incident, such as a needle stick injury may occur, but with the acknowledgement of drug addiction today and the many available needle disposal boxes, it was probably more likely I was to step on one 25 years ago when it was rare children actually wore shoes… anywhere!

Yes, I let him pick those crackers up off the floor at the supermarket and eat them because I had watched him persist for 3 minutes trying to open the packet without wanting any assistance or necessary intervention for the very first time and so not allowing him the pleasure of enjoying them with a huge sense of pride was completely trumped by the fact he may contract some minor germs (or more likely build his immunity!)


Yes, I have taught my son from 3 years old (with the support of his wonderful educators at preschool), how to safely engage with fire and allow him to use fire in particular situations, like when away camping and using a flint rather than a common household fire lighter that may be laying around the house. I do this as he understands the context in which fire is safe and is less likely to take unsafe risks with fire later on in childhood. He has often been observed reminding friends and family the agreements of safe fire use, such as keeping shoes on around the fire and knowing that even when there are no flames, fire can still be hot. Children are more likely to be burnt when flames are not evident as they associate the red flame with heat, yet the damage can be very similar. Exposure to real situations with fire will build their skills in assessing and managing the risks and therefore less likely to have a serious incident.  


No, I am not a free spirited, no rules mum. We still set boundaries, we still have routines and if we are faced with challenging behaviours, there are agreed consequences, but I give him ample opportunity to learn his way and in turn promotes his continuous love for learning and independent being!


It is with these thoughts that I encourage you to consider how protected is too protected? How does sheltering children from the inevitable because of your ‘shark music’ or anxieties as parent, impact your child not just now, but later in life?
Children are innate risk based learners. With or without your supervision, guidance and support they will try by doing. Allow them to make appropriate decisions that affect them and in turn start independently solving their own problems. After all, you won’t be there forever!

As I sit here, 25 weeks pregnant with baby#2 and emotional about sending ‘baby’ #1 to school next week, I reflect upon these moments and how competent, creative and capable my son has become. He is really ready for his next journey and I need to give myself, husband and other significant people in his life credit for this.

Now all I can think is… let’s do it all over again!

Mistakes and all… we have learned and we have lived!

Until next time…

Written by Kate Higginbottom

Mother and Early Childhood Professional

Empowered Early Childhood Consulting and Resources.

Kate Higginbottom has been in the early childhood profession for over 12 years, the last 10 of which she has been a Centre Director, working across diverse long day care settings from private, to organisational and now the community based sector. She holds a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood) from the University of New England and qualifications in training and assessment. Kate currently manages the operation of a community based service in Newcastle. Kate supports early education and care services through her business Empowered Early Childhood Consulting, as a consultant, with a particular forte in quality governance and leadership. Kate recently presented at the European Early Childhood Research Conference in Italy, where she, along with 5 other Newcastle based colleagues were awarded the 2017 Practitioner Research Award. She also has written for a number of early childhood publications and blogs, including Rattler and Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE).Kate has worked in a variety of advisory roles including on the Early Childhood and Primary External Advisory committee for University of Newcastle and the Queensland Workforce Council PSCQ for the Gold Coast.





Childhood, Pedagogy, Play

This week we launched our exciting new TimberNook program. This amazing program, which is the brainchild of US Paediatric Occupational Therapist Angela Hanscom, has a strong focus on children getting outdoors, strengthening physical skills, building resilience and getting back to play! The facilitators of the program play a really important role, yet there is a very hands-off, stand back type of approach… and for good reason. I have written about the concept of interaction vs interference before and while many educators agree in theory, putting it into practice can be a little tougher. Which is why we have put together some practical tips for educators to “back off out of children’s play!” 

3 Questions NOT to ask Children at Play:

1. What are you doing? 
If a child wants you to know what they are doing… they will tell you! While this question is often well-intentioned, with educators wanting to know more about the child’s play and thought processes, it can lead children to question if they are doing the right thing, to wonder if their play is appropriate or “normal.” We also need to think about what we hope to garner from asking this question, that we wouldn’t be able to learn from simply observing. 

2. Can I play? 
If a child wants you to play… they will ask you! When we ask a child to play, we send the message “you need me.” In fact, children don’t need us, yet it has become an ingrained belief that they do and many feel that they need an adult to drive or guide the play. So why do children feel that they need us to play? Because from birth, we have “entertained” them. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t engage with infants or young children (this is very important for language development and strengthening bonds) but we do need to make time for all children to be “left to their own devices” so that they feel confident in their ability to play! 

3. Can I write that down/take your photo? 
I am all about consent. Children have a right to decide if they are photographed or have their personal words and ideas recorded. But, we need to be mindful about how we do this. The other day I watched a child working with pipes and water, connecting them on a hill to make a water run. He worked carefully and thoughtfully and silently. Had I stopped him to ask “can I take a photograph?” I would have interrupted his thought process and ultimately, his play. Instead, I took a few photographs from a distance (the benefit of a DSLR and a long lens!) and after he had finished I showed him the photographs and asked if I could keep them and use them or if he wanted to delete them. Most children are indeed delighted to have their ideas and voices recorded, yet others prefer not to, so it is important to find a way to seek consent, yet not disrupt the play. In your own setting, you may have the opportunity to ask children prior to play what they would prefer, giving them the option to say “please don’t take photos of me.”

It’s not always easy to step back and let children play. As early childhood educators we are usually taught to engage, to question, to play. There is definitely a time for this, but children also need a LOT of time to play. They need long, uninterrupted blocks of play. They need time and space to think and create. They need opportunities to make decisions and choices in their play. They need freedom to play how they want to play. They need to feel like they are not under the watchful eye of adults! 

While not asking questions might seem counter-intuitive or may leave you wondering “but how will I know what is happening, how can I document the learning, how will people know that I am doing my job?” staying quiet and tuning in to your observational skills (looking and listening) can actual reveal even more about children and their play! 


Art, Pedagogy, Play

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing – Salvador Dali

They sit side by side painting. He is 7 and she is 4. 

She begins painting her (almost trademark!) rainbow flower, each petal a different colour, while he begins with a series of black circles. She completes her flower and stops to watch him for a moment. She can see his circles beginning to form something. She retrieves another piece of paper and washes her brush. As she begins the black circles on her page he says “she’s copying me!” to which I respond: “she must be inspired by you.”  This simple explanation satisfies him and they both quietly return to their work, he creating his vision and she replicating it. 

We see the scenes often in early childhood settings. A child sits building a tall tower with the blocks, arranging them in a specific way before another arrives and begins using the same approach to tower building. Elsewhere, a child has adopted an accent and is “playing mum” in the home corner, giving away all sorts of “family secrets” as they imitate her behaviour and language! 

Children are natural imitators because the world is new to them.

They imitate to make sense of things that they may not understand.
They imitate to process ideas.
They imitate to try new ways of playing and working. 
They imitate because they see another child experiencing enjoyment or success. 
They imitate because their experiences of the world are still relatively limited. 

Many years back, I was working in a preschool room team. We were still exploring our own identity and at times that meant imitating.

We imitated because we thought someone else knew better. 
We imitated because we saw what worked for others. 
We imitated because we were learning about new ideas and ways of doing. 

We saw ideas in books and we tried replicating them in our program. We saw photographs of experiences and environments that inspired us and altered ours accordingly. We imitated and we played with ideas and we observed and asked questions. 
And then we made it our own. 

Its the same for children. Often they will imitate others, but the end result varies. Perhaps they just needed a little inspiration to get going. In our preschool room, we often observed children peering around the side of the easel to see what their friend was working on before even picking up a paintbrush. As they painted, they would take breaks every few minutes to peek around the side and check on their friends progress, returning to their own to make adjustments. When we established an art studio in our space, one of the key elements was that children were able to paint and create side by side. We began to see even more of this artful imitation. One child’s idea could lead to a whole group exploration! 

Another feature of our art spaces was often the inclusion of a provocation. An idea that stemmed from our understanding of the work in the early childhood services of Reggio Emilia, Italy. We would place an artwork, book or an object or jar of flowers beside the painting area. At times we questioned if this was too prescriptive, if it led children to create only in a particular way. Yet, we found that while some children were inspired by the provocation, others chose to ignore it and set about bringing to life their own vision. For some children the provocation was merely a start point, while others chose to replicate it in its entirety. So how is this different to “today everyone is going to paint on this stencil of a bird”? The key is in the choice. That and the ability to make it their own. Just the same as how we adults took what we were seeing in exemplary programs and approaches, imitated and then adapted to make it our own, no two artworks will be the same, even when the inspiration is the same or where one child imitates another. 

She  had watched as he painted the white frame of the bicycle, yet she chose yellow. While she was clearly imitating his work, inspired by his vision, she had a vision of her own – a vision of a yellow bike! His arched rainbow became a flat rainbow for her (who usually, interestingly paints arched rainbows!). 

In this case, the imitation was a great example of scaffolding. He, an older child, unwittingly supported her to go above and beyond what she had previously been able to create. While rainbows were already in her repertoire, had you asked her before this to paint a bicycle, you almost certainly would have heard “But I don’t know how!”  Yet , during the process of imitating him, she found that she could in fact paint a bicycle, she expanded her skill set, and no doubt – these new elements, such as the carefully crafted wheels, will make their way into other artworks of hers. 
Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate – Anonymous

Advocacy, Childhood, Parenting

From the moment they are born, children seek out connection with the adults in their world. They grasp their fingers and at the same time take hold of their hearts. Even before a child is born, the movements inside the womb act as a connector, bonding them to their mother before they even arrive. It is no wonder that as they grow, children try new and often interesting (including behaviour that is aptly deemed to be “attention seeking”) ways to connect with adults and build relationships.

In our early childhood settings, relationships matter. In fact, they don’t just matter – THEY ARE VITAL. 

This week news outlets have been reporting on the tragic suicide of 14 year old Amy “Dolly” Everett, citing ongoing cyber bullying as the cause of her death. Like many other parents, my heart broke for that family and for that child. And unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Over the last few days I have found myself wondering how we bring about change. While the family of this young girl obviously had a strong, loving relationship with her, you have to wonder about the relationships in the lives of those who bullied her so relentlessly. How did these children (and sadly, adults) ever decide that it is okay to be so unkind and hurtful? Would these same people have acted the same way had they met at the local shops or park? Has our “super-connected” society made children, adults and families more disconnected than ever? 

We need to put less emphasis on test scores and more on kindness

We need to put more effort into building relationships 

We need to spend more time together – talking, laughing, reading body language and cues. 

While cyber bullying may be a little off the radar for most early childhood settings, there is plenty that we can do in the early years to address what has become a scary societal issue:

– Support families to build strong relationships with their children
– Realise that we don’t all need to be “friends” but that we can still be respectful and kind
– Hug (be sure to ask for consent!)
– Familiarise yourself with the UN convention on the rights of the child. Advocate for these!
– Listen… not just nod and smile and “mm-hmm”, but really listen. Listen to what children say and what they don’t say
– Encourage open conversations: let children know they can talk to you about anything
– Model positive language, kindness and compassion
– Use resources that encourage kindness, caring and empathy
– Play! Have fun with children, laugh with them, share in the joy of life!

We know that the first five years are so incredibly important – the brain is making connections and laying down neural pathways that form the foundation of the brain. When children are given the gift of loving relationships, this becomes what the brain knows and as the child grows into an adult, this will be their point of reference when interacting with others.

What we do matters. 

Relationships matter. 

Perhaps you are currently thinking about goals for 2018… why not make relationships one of your goals? Time spent on people is never wasted!




Advocacy, Childhood, Community, Pedagogy, Professionalism

This weekend I was standing in line at a store with two of my little ones. I was distracted with the endless questions and the giggling that seems to be a permanent fixture of children aged 2 and 4, but I got the sense that someone was looking at me. I turned and came face to face with a woman who I instantly recognised. She was the parent of two little boys I had the pleasure of educating and caring for when they were in preschool. Their faces instantly sprang to my mind, as well as fond memories of their time at the service. We chatted for a few moments, exchanging pleasantries, before she told me that one of her boys was now 15 and taller than her. The images in my mind of this little boy seem so fresh, yet that little boy doesn’t exist anymore. Just like that, he grew up! 

I often think about what a privilege it is to be involved in the life of a child, particularly in the early years. We share milestones with them and see them grow and develop for a few years, if we are lucky. And then the time comes for them to leave us and move on to “big school” and this is where we “lose” them. Depending on our community we may still see them from time to time, at the local school or shops, but often they slip away, off experiencing new and exciting adventures with new friends and educators in their lives. 

One  of my favourite training sessions to deliver is on Positive School Transitions, it’s one of those things that gets me all worked up and talking with my hands! At the end of the session I often read out a beautiful poem from Let The Children Play and it never fails to get me a little teary… in fact, there may or may not have been several occasions where I have bawled like a baby! Why does it have this effect on me? I think it is that little reminder of just how fortunate we are to spend our days with these small humans, supporting them to become amazing citizens of the world. It conjures up a feeling in me that the time spent playing and laughing and hugging and listening and daydreaming and wondering and inspiring is time well spent. These children leave us knowing that they are loved and that they are competent. Sometimes they don’t want to leave (we had one little boy who cried his heart out, causing us educators to do the same, because he loved preschool so much and never wanted to leave) but when they do, we can be proud of who they are, of their love of learning.

When you run into a parent who tells you their child is now a teenager, or who shows you school formal pictures, it is amazing. When their face lights up as they tell you about their child and how they have grown, there is a definite sense of pride and gratitude. When they tell you that their child still talks about their preschool days with fondness, your heart swells. When they come to work for you (yes, that has seriously happened to us – we have been delighted to have Macayla working with us over the past few months after having her at preschool when she was 4, although it may make us feel a tad old!!) you marvel at what competent, knowledgeable adults they have become. 

What we do matters. 

So, today as you mix paint for eager little hands to paint with or read the same story for the thousandth time or rock a baby off to sleep, remember that it all matters. These moments matter.

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