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Advocacy, Childhood, Community, Nature Kindergarten, Nature Play, Outdoors, Pedagogy, Play, Professionalism, Risk


I sat watching the children.

They were restless and destructive. I know the deconstruction schema is a ‘thing’ so that didn’t phase me.


We went for our weekly walk to the library. The children always gravitated towards the park. Why weren’t they as excited about ‘Story Time’ at the Library? I wasn’t allowed to take them to the park. It was too risky. Something just wasn’t making sense and I was so dissatisfied with my work. There had to be more. I really felt the need to break out of this safe mould I was in.

I did some research and realised nature based early childhood education was where I wanted to go. It made sense and I was certain that it would make sense for the children too.

It took me 12 months of searching before I started to find a model that fit Family Day Care. It was scary but I knew this is where I needed to be both for the children and for myself too. It would take a change of practise and a change in what I was taught Early Childhood should be.
I had started to develop my nature based Pedagogy.
 
I believed that children should be free to climb trees if they felt capable; splash in the river if they wanted to.
There were so many untouched nature spots where we live – it seemed a shame for the children not to be outside burning off energy and directing their own discovery.

And how better to have children care about the environment than them being emotionally invested?
During my research phase I heard the words risky/risky play, children’s work, child directed.
 
Risky play to me once I understood it wasn’t about danger but about trust in the children to know how to keep themselves safe. How to show them how to be safe. It’s about the adults in their lives managing the danger and them managing the risk. Rarely have I seen or heard of a child placing themselves in a risky situation and becoming injured injured. Bumps, scapes and close calls are all extremely valuable learning experiences. Bumps and scrapes teach resilience. Close calls help us to understand consequences. 


‘Children’s work is play and play is children’s work’
is a phrase I hear often and they are one and the same. The work/play a child does is so incredibly important for their development and is exciting to watch.
One day I was sitting by the river with a child who was so deeply into what he was doing. He was lugging massive branches from one part of the river to another. I mean these branches were probably 8 times his weight and easily 15 times his length. Some would say he was ‘just playing’’ It is more than just playing. It’s understanding how the brain works, ideas, body movements and how they see themselves.

Can I make this happen?

How do I?

What happens if?

How does it work in relation to… and so many more powerful questions. It’s any wonder children are exhausted at the end of the day. They work so hard navigating their way through childhood!
 
Child directed has been a buzz word for as long as I can remember. With invitations to play so thoughtfully set out that Miss 2 had spoken about last week were knocked down in 2 seconds and not revisited again .
To me child directed is where you sit and listen and watch. I don’t mean supervise but really watch what the child/ren are doing. If you are really lucky you may even hear what they are talking about. I tend to follow up a serious interest as soon as possible; if I can. I give them the tools to move on with their current fascination. Otherwise I’ll gather the resources and next time that line of development appears I’ll introduce it. Having said all that being out in nature more often than not offers the children the next path from their interest.
 
These aspects all are integral parts of nature play but not all parts. Nature play is a living, growing, evolving concept. Not even the children know where it may take them. This is the beauty of nature play. You never know what’s around the corner and nether did I as I stepped forward into nature play based Family Day Care.


I really hadn’t seen any Family Day Care based services when I first realised my path and I certainly had no one to ask. So as I always do I put it out into the world to see what came back. Within a few months I’d found out about a Scheme called Inspired Family Day Care. They were new, but from what I’d read about their philosophy it was the direction I wanted to take. I emailed them and followed up with a couple of phone calls. We talked for a long time. After years of feeling disillusioned I had found my new home. Within 6 months I was registered and had signed up.
Sunshine and Puddles Family Day Care was born.

 
Saying that leaving what I’d known for 10 years was scary was an understatement. It was safe and predictable. And that kept the children safe. It took me time to find my feet and at first I felt like I was drowning. So many decisions to make. So much had to change in my thinking too. It’s not like all the answers are all laid out for you. It’s different for everyone. You have to find your own path. So for the first 6 months I started working on my service environment.
Sold my softfall mats.
Slowly got rid of a lot of my plastic resources.
I started gathering what I saw as authentic resources that were sustainable or of the very best quality. I wanted things that not only looked good but felt good and had many uses. Who know that these were open ended resources! It really wasn’t a big thing in country New South Wales then so I felt quite revolutionary. Later on I was also to discover loose parts! Well, that was the real game changer! All the things I’d always been told were dangerous and risky for children to have access to. Not to mention tools!

As I became more confident in offering these things, the children became more confident in wanting to use them. It didn’t take long until there were nails in just about every surface available. As their confidence grew so did their need to discover more. It was about this time that a wonderful Nature Pedagogue by the name of Niki Buchan came to Bega and took the children and myself down to the river one icy cold winter morning. Surely the children wouldn’t go in the water right which would mean I’d have to go in with them? It was freezing and I don’t mean cold. I actually remember there having been a frost that morning. But as you know children being children they were in the water in no time. Bright red noses and enthusiasm in tow they were in. And would you know it they had the best time. Exploring, climbing and experiencing. I was stunned. I’d never seen these children so engaged and happy. There was so much told about the waters movement, how big the sticks were and barely a mention about the cold water – it was almost like it was irrelevant! It was my epiphany. This was what I wanted for the children. This is what I wanted for me too. It felt right. It felt like we belonged here.
 

Our first full visit was a couple of months later when it was a bit warmer and the children had shown they were ready for an extended visit. I also had provisioned my back pack. And I was ready for the apocalypse I was so organised. The back pack was so incredibly heavy that my back was sore for days afterwards. I can now travel to the river with my off road trolley or just the basics and we can still have an amazing time. I take no ‘toys’ just some twine, a pocket knife and a few other bit n pieces. The children do the rest with their hands, minds and bodies. Their imagination and sometimes even a good dose of boredom sees some of the most intense play.

When the children are in the zone I stay well out of the way. Its not my job to tell them what and how to do what they need to do. I can’t know what’s going on in their heads. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess. Each time an adult interferes in a child’s work/play session it changes it and probably not for the better. I try not to speak to the children. My job is to observe. If they choose to include me in their work then I’ll happily join in but I do try to make sure they are in charge of it. I’m happy to follow their direction. But mostly they are happy to periodically look and see where I am or come tell me something. I do listen attentively when they are talking to me, each other or themselves. I can gain an understanding of what’s happening at that moment in time.

I consider myself honoured to witness the children doing what nature intended them to. Be in nature.

By Linda Tandy


Hi, my name is Linda and I have been a Family Day Care Educator for approximately 15years. The last four years have seen a shift in my pedagogy and practice and I have delved deeply into nature based family day care. I am an educator with Inspired Family Day Care NSW. I believe children learn and flourish when they are given the time, freedom and space to be fully in the moment and lead their own learning. I have a strong interest in children having access to the outdoors in all seasons. I trust the children to know what they need and I am happy to observe them from a distance and facilitate their learning if they need assistance. 





























































































































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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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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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This past weekend our family headed away for a few days of camping. It was everything that I was craving – peaceful, dirty, fresh, we had time to just be. But something happened that I wasn’t prepared for, something that caused me to reflect on my approach to parenting. My five year old was so excited to be camping again and I was relieved to be away from the lure of TV and the Wii. From the moment we arrived he was keen to “go exploring.” Unfortunately drizzling rain and the need to set up camp meant that our opportunity to go exploring on that first afternoon was limited.

Thankfully we awoke the next morning to sunny skies and shortly after breakfast we were able to explore. We headed to the river and climbed over rocks, looked for stones, sailed sticks down the rapids, spotted spring blossoms and listened for birds. We no sooner returned to camp and the pestering began “can we go exploring again? Pleeeeaaasse?????” With a baby to feed and a toddler who was “hungry mumma!” I promised we would go again in a little while. This clearly wasn’t good enough and he continued to drive us crazy until we decided that he could play in the trees beside our camp site. That might not sound like much, but considering the trees were on a steep embankment that led down to the river, it felt like a big deal. He was out of sight and we found ourselves checking on him every minute or two, worrying about him falling in the river (though only about 30cm deep, it is cold and he would panic!) or wandering off.

After awhile he began playing with the two children in the campsite next to ours, one slightly older and one slightly younger. Suddenly I was reminded of my own childhood, having adventures in the paddock behind our street at a very similar age, the older children looking after the younger ones and all of us banding together and keeping safe. The three children spent hours over the course of the weekend, climbing up and down the embankment, hanging from the trees and playing incredibly imaginative games, games of dragons and fairies and pirates. The TV and Wii were long forgotten and new friendships were formed. Every now and then I had this moment of “eek… what if someone has kidnapped him” a thought that I wish wasn’t even a reality, but I realised that I needed to let him be (although I definitely did my share of peeking and eavesdropping)

When the amazing Peter Gray came and spoke at our annual Unwrapping Conference this year I was captivated by his stories of “free range” childhoods. I have always advocated for this concept, but now that the reality was actually here… it was hard to let go. But I did, I let go enough to still be able to hear him. I let go enough to still be able to peer through the trees at him. I let go enough to let him feel free to play in a way that children only do when they are on their own. I let go just enough to realise that in letting go I was giving him the same amazing childhood that I had.


By Nicole Halton
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This image and quote says it all… perhaps the real question is “Why not outdoors?”

Part of what we do at Inspired EC is to design outdoor play environments. We aim to create environments that are so rich and engaging that no equipment is actually necessary. This approach stems from the experiences of Tash and myself. Many years ago we found ourselves working in a centre that was clearly on a journey. The indoor environment was one of the most engaging that I had seen at that time, the documentation of learning and project/play based program was strong and meaningful. As for the outdoor space…not so great! A very large space, it was predominantly wet-pour rubber softfall. One day while playing a game of hide and seek it became abundantly clear just how much the space was lacking – there was nowhere to hide!

Over the next few years, with a lot of vision, passion and hard work that outdoor play space evolved into one that is now coveted by other services and educators. It became an environment that requires nothing more. If no toys or equipment were bought out each day the children would still be engaged. This is what is so amazing about the outdoors. By allowing nature (plants, trees, grass, rocks, dirt…) to exist in our outdoor play environments, we open ourselves up to endless opportunities for play and exploration. 

– Nicole
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