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Environments, Nature Play, Outdoors, Parenting, Play


Early in a child’s life, parents safety-proof their homes to ensure that the most common injuries do not happen to their child by covering outlets, setting up gates, placing locks on cabinets and drawers, and padding edges of furniture. However, parents with children on the autism spectrum have additional and numerous safety concerns, stemming from common autistic behaviours that can result in minimal to far more serious injuries. These safety concerns can last beyond the first couple of years of their child’s life, well into adulthood. Often, behavioural traits resulting from autism cause an inability to understand and respond to environmental dangers and therefore pose an increased risk while outdoors. Providing a safe, accessible, and functional space for autistic children to run, explore, and play in is essential to providing them with a good quality of life, and gives peace of mind for their parents.

 

Creating Boundaries

Having a fun and beautiful backyard is the goal of most homeowners and parents, but autistic children benefit from a fence or similar barrier, in the event that the child is a wanderer, experiences sensory overload that results in anxiety, and/or is impulsive. It only takes one moment for a child to wander off, and a child with autism has increased chances of slipping away toward a place that perhaps has caught their attention in the past or is attractive to the eye. While a fence can’t completely prevent a child from venturing off, it is an obstacle to overcome, and it affords parents and caregivers the ability to glance away for one moment without worry. If you’re doing any work in your yard, make sure you have the proper equipment, including garden gloves.

 

Water Safety

Bodies of water are attractive to children with autism. Homes near natural bodies of water or that have a swimming pool pose a danger for children who do not possess the basic swimming skills. Parents should teach their children how to swim and water safety because basic water safety knowledge reduces the danger of accidents and drowning. In addition to swimming lessons and water safety, taking the extra precaution of installing a fence around the pool or before access to a lake reduces the chances of unsupervised access to water.

 

Signs, Alarms, Bells, and Whistles

While boundaries stop or slow down a wanderer and swim lessons and water safety can reduce risk, noise and visuals are useful tools to utilize with an autistic child. Children on the autism spectrum are typically sensitive to noise; therefore, installing an alarm on a gate or in a pool that sounds off whenever someone enters without warning will not only alert parents and caregivers of a potential dangerous situation, but may also deter the child from proceeding. Children on the autism spectrum have various degrees of difficulty with communication and may not be able to process verbal instructions. Visual displays that are posted around certain areas of the house are an effective tool to convey a message because they are repetitive and eye-catching reminders of what is expected. For instance, posting a red “stop” sign at a door, gate, or exit will remind a child with autism of what they need to do and that the area they are about to enter is either prohibited and/or unsafe. Additionally, the visual will remind them to pay attention.

 

Parents of children with autism have to take extra measures to ensure safety, practicality, accessibility, and functionality. While the task can seem daunting, there are many tools and resources available to parents to adapt their home to their child’s needs. Not every child on the autism spectrum is attracted to water in the same way or is prone to wandering to the same degree. Therefore, each family will need to assess risks and adapt using lessons, barriers, alarms, and visuals to their particular situation.

 

Written By Danny Knight – www.fixitdads.com

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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Art, Nature Play, Parenting, Play

Are you a playdough master? Or… perhaps you are like me and the thought of making playdough fills you with fear?! 

Too oily…

Too crumbly…

Too lumpy …

Too sticky …. 

I used to struggle to make playdough when I was working in a service and used to always find a way to offload that task to a much more capable educator! But, when I had my own children I quickly realised that unless I wanted to buy the chemical laden, smelly, expensive store bought playdough (all good if that’s for you… but it wasn’t for me!) I needed to learn how to make it and make it well. 

Luckily I stumbled across a simple “no cook” recipe and have since tweaked it and made it my own. This morning we made yet another batch of playdough, this time using BEETROOT to colour the dough. 

Ingredients:
2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup salt
2 Tablespoons of Cream of Tartar
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 cups of boiling water
Beetroot juice to colour

Directions:
Combine all dry ingredients and oil in a bowl
Add boiling water and stir until combined (it takes a little while and a good strong arm!) 
Add beetroot juice
Using your hands (be careful…it will be HOT) knead the dough to combine and smooth out any lumps

And the most important step…. PLAY!



 
 






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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.

 

 

 

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We are passionate about nature play. It is evident in what we write, what we share, the training we deliver, the playgrounds we develop and in the educators that are part of our family day care service. So when I hear someone say that nature play is a fad or “the thing right now” I take it pretty personally! 

Nature play can mean different things to different people, but to me it is the opportunity for children (and adults!) to engage in authentic, meaningful ways with the natural environment. That natural environment will look different depending on your context. It does not necessarily equate to a “forest school”! If you are in a coastal area your natural environment may be the beach, dunes and grasslands. If you live rurally it may be dirt, scrub and gum trees.

This morning I spent a few hours in the backyard with my 5year old, 2year old and 8 month old. We spend a lot of time outdoors and I find that all three (and me!) are much more content outdoors. This morning we found a small moth on the side of our table and I helped Bodhi place his hand out, encouraging it to climb on. We watched as it fluttered on his hand. “His wings are so delicate”, he said. And I wondered how, at five, he knew what delicate was. Yet as I watched him for the next hour with this tiny moth crawling up his arms, on his back and in his hair, it became clear. He knows what delicate is because of moments like these. Moments of quiet, authentic engagement with the natural world. And it was then that I was certain, nature play is no fad, no “approach”, it simply is and always should be, for all children.

So why is it still considered a fad? Particularly in a country where no matter where you live there are natural environments. Our country has bush, beach, lake, creek, dirt, desert, rainforests, fields, gardens, mangroves, wetlands, mountains and more. And even if venturing into wild spaces is not an option for you (although it easily can be!) you can ensure that your immediate physical environment encourages children to engage with the natural world, 

The benefits of nature play and connectedness are undeniable and this morning as I watched my 5year old engage with a moth, my 2 year old follow a snail and my 8 month old playing with bark, rubbing her tiny fingers across it, it was just so clear how important nature is. 
Supporting nature play doesn’t mean that every thing needs to be made of wood or stones, it is about real connections. So, here are 7 ways to authentically engage in nature play:
  1. ​Go BAREFOOT - Otherwise known as Earthing, the practice of being barefoot has many health benefits and also enables children to get “feedback” from the ground, supporting motor development. Dirt and grass also feel great between your toes!
  2. Look for WILDLIFE – Even the most urban areas have wildlife such as snails, spiders, ants and birds. Look for wildlife together, ask questions and hypothesise 
  3. CLOUD watch - Lay on the grass on your back and watch the clouds. Many children love to describe what the clouds look like, conjuring up images of bunnies and dragons, while others may want to know what the clouds are made of. Cloud watching discussions are often magical
  4. Pick FLOWERS – my kids love picking flowers to put in a glass on our dining table before meals. It is becoming somewhat of a tradition, despite the fact that we are not green thumbs and don’t really have gardens! They still manage to find “flowers” and watching them find the beauty in what we adults call weeds, is enough to make me smile
  5. LISTEN - simply spending time outdoors with your eyes closed will uncover a range of natural sounds. We have done this and heard birds, bugs and even the trees
  6. COLLECT – My toddler is often referred to as “the collector” – she loves filling bags, boxes, baskets and trolleys with all sorts of treasures. In an attempt to harness this, we make collections of stones and shells and leaves. These are often used in games and play for weeks after! (reminder – teach children to only collect items that have fallen on the ground, not to remove from trees etc and to be mindful of creatures)
  7. Use TECHNOLOGY – Most nature based articles will encourage you to ditch technology in favour of nature, yet it is possible to use the two together in meaningful ways. As I heard Peter Gray put it once – digital technology is simply a tool of this generation, much like the bow and arrow would have been for early man. My son is fascinated with photography at the moment, so has taken a liking to using my digital SLR camera to photograph trees, leaves, birds and anything that takes his fancy. 

I would love to hear some of your favourite ways of engaging with the natural world!

By Nicole Halton
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Earlier this week one of our amazing educators bought in a stack of branches that had recently been cut down. Perfectly straight and smooth, these quickly attracted interest from the children. On the first day they used them to create structures in the sandpit, the next day to make a large cubby in the yard. At various times, children were observed carrying them around the yard, picking up different branches (appearing to compare the weights of them!)It really reminded me what I love about our yard. We have created a space that really doesn’t require any equipment to be put out. It encourages the children to explore the natural environment and to be creative with resources. Just this week I have loved watching a group of girls creating “cakes” with dirt from the garden and water from our rainwater tanks, watched a little one make a “fire” on our herb hill (as he scooped up rocks and bark and piled them up, it created dust clouds which he likened to smoke! I also love watching the kids climb and just hang out in the trees! It was particularly exciting to see an art book up a tree today – evidence of some creative little being using the natural environment to their advantage…it just makes me smile!
A little tricky to see – but evidence of creativity up a tree!

If you didn’t get any equipment out in the outdoor environment…what would the children do? Do you have open ended, natural materials for them to explore? How do they use them?
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