11/48 Oakdale Rd Gateshead, NSW 2290 02 (49478112)
Childhood, Parenting, Pedagogy

Each morning when I wake up, I feel like I have a few blissful moments before I remember the current state of the world. A wave of what I can only describe as a combination of dread, uncertainty, disappointment, and sadness washes over me as I remember that we are essentially in lockdown.

That I am now a homeschool mama.

That I am now working solely from home.

That I haven’t seen toilet paper on the shelves at our local supermarket for over four weeks.

That our weekly family get-togethers have been cancelled.

That we can’t just mosey off to the lake for a picnic.

That people are sick and dying.

That our world is so completely and utterly different from what we have known. 


That wave washes over me and I can almost guarantee that I will shed a few tears. And then I hear footsteps in my hallway. The small footsteps of my five year old (always the first child awake in our house) coming into my bedroom for a snuggle. She climbs onto my bed and snuggles in beside me.

She still smells the same as she always has.

Her hair is still wildly sticking up. 

She still wears a random combination of pyjamas or undies or socks that makes me smile. 

She still places her little hand inside mine. 

And, it’s these little things that take that wave back out to sea. These little moments of familiarity, these anchor points. 


I’ve been practicing gratitude for a long time. But let me be clear – it is far easier to be grateful in good times than in hard times. When you’ve had a lovely day at the beach watching your children play, it’s easy to think “I am so lucky.” When you’ve had success at work or been recognised for your effort, you can say to yourself “I am so grateful to have a job that I love.” But in hard times, it can be so much more challenging to find things to be grateful for, particularly when the world around feels negative and bleak. 

But this is why we need to practice gratitude right now – for ourselves and for our children and the children we care for! 

We have a set of Gratitude Cards at our house. They sit in the middle of our dining table and we usually do one (or three… because, you know – three children and they all have to pick one!!) each night after dinner. But lately, I have found us reaching for the cards more often. We select a card at random, read the prompt and then take turns at answering. Sometimes the answers are simple, and other times they lead to deeper, connected conversations. But every time, they leave me feeling better (plus my kids always have a laugh at my husbands’ answers!) 

Right now, children all over the world are struggling to make sense of this new “normal”. They may find it difficult to understand why they can’t just go to school, or the playground, or to see their friends. Even if you manage to shelter them from news coverage, they are picking up on conversational tidbits or the general vibes and anxiety of the adults around them. Taking time to stop and talk about what is good in the world, what they are grateful for, is more important now than perhaps ever before. 

So, how do we practice gratitude? 

There is no hard and fast way to practice gratitude, you need to find what works for you and your children. But, here are a few simple tips: 

1. Point out the wonderful things in the world. Lay on the grass in your backyard and watch the birds, talk about the different trees you see, be glad that the sun is shining… whatever! 

2. When children are frustrated, angry or sad, validate their feelings and support them to shift their perspective. Yesterday my ten-year-old was sad that he couldn’t see his friends and that we couldn’t just drop everything and go for a picnic with the family.  I responded that I understood and that I was feeling sad about it too. I then started to talk to him about how lucky we are to have a safe, comfortable house to stay isolated in. I didn’t dismiss his feelings but helped him to see the flip-side. 

3. Make gratitude a daily habit. As I say, we use our gratitude cards to prompt discussion and they really help. The children feel a sense of empowerment as they select a card and everyone takes a turn sharing. Perhaps at bedtime, you could encourage children to talk about one good thing from their day. 

4. Give extra thought to the language that we use around children. While much of our mental bandwidth is overloaded by COVID-19 right now, it is so vital that we keep a check on the way that we discuss this situation around children. Children are looking to us for guidance on how to feel, how to respond, how to make sense of the situation. Does this mean that we will keep it together all the time and should plaster a smile on our faces – Hell No! But, we do need to be mindful of what we say and how we say it. 

5. Start a gratitude journal or a gratitude jar. Each day, write down something that you are grateful for. Perhaps you might start a “lockdown jar” where you write down all of the good things, funny moments, etc. while in lockdown (we’re going to start this today – I’ll be sure to share it!)

In addition to using these tips with children, it is so important to take care of your own mental health and wellbeing. Our Inspired EC team uses an online communication system called Slack. We have always used it to do more than just share work information and questions, we have always shared successes, celebrated one another and offered words of kindness and support. But in the past few weeks, this has been more important for us than ever. We are all working hard to stay connected, to stay calm and to stay positive. 

The world might feel like a vastly different place to the one we are used to, but when we draw on gratitude it really does help to send the wave back out to sea. 

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Advocacy, Childhood, Outdoors, Parenting, Play


A little while back, my youngest daughter and I popped into a local shopping centre to grab a few things. On our way in, she spotted a little playground area with some climbing equipment and a slide. The layout of the playground was actually pretty cool (especially for a shopping centre complex!) and she was delighted to have it all to herself. She climbed and swung and rolled her way around the playground while I watched. As I stood at the foot of the slide, watching her climb up, a sign on the wall grabbed my attention: 


While most of the “rules” on the sign seemed fairly logical, one about halfway down really jumped out at me. “Slides are for going down, not up!” 

Needless to say, I continued to watch my four-year-old climb the slide, content in the knowledge that there were no other children for her to impact and that she is an extremely competent climber, but the signage really bugged me. Now, I am by no means the first person to suggest that it is okay for children to go up the slide – a quick google search reveals several articles, and Heather Shumaker even titled a book “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide: Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids.” In recent years, I have become more and more aware of the great divide between parents (and parts of society such as schools, councils and other “rule makers”) around this issue. 

I have raised this issue with others before and frequently been met with furious debate. There are those that value the skills and strength required to climb up the slide, as well as the freedom afforded to children in their play; while others argue that it is dangerous and that the slide was designed for going down, not up. My response to that has always been – how do we know? Who says? Why? One particularly adamant educator insisted that it was just a well-known fact of history – they are only for going down. Always one to explore things that make me curious or try to find out more about “the facts” – I took to Google (of course… how else do we find stuff out?!) 

The following is from Wikipedia: 
Playground slides are found in parks, schools, playgrounds and backyards. The slide is an example of the simple machine known as the inclined plane,[1][circular reference] which makes moving objects up and down easier, or in this case more fun.

Do you know that expression that someone looks like the “cat that caught the canary”? Well… that’s me upon reading this!

In all seriousness though, children can get hurt going down a slide. Children can get hurt going up a slide. Children can get hurt walking to the bathroom! Going up the slide requires a different set of body skills, it requires a different focus. Some children will find it challenging to go up the slide. Some children will find it easy. There will be some negotiation required between children, but you know what? They usually just work it out. I can remember being at a playground once, watching my son climbing up the slide. I was sitting back on the grass, leaving him to his play. A child came to the top of the slide to slide down, so my son (who was then around 3.5years old) hopped off and let the child slide down, then began to climb again. He worked it out. This went on for a good twenty minutes or so, with other children coming and going, some going up and most going down. Suddenly, a parent stepped in and told the children who were going up “you are not allowed to do that. It’s dangerous. The slide is for going down.” The children who had been climbing up got off the slide and a few drifted away to play elsewhere, wistfully looking back at the slide. I stepped towards the slide and let my son know that he could keep going up if he wanted to and that I had seen how careful and considerate he had been. The glare I received from the other parent was intense, but it didn’t change my mind. I was simply advocating for the way that children (and not just my own) were playing. 

Signs like this one hurt my heart a little. I know that there are times we need to have rules and regulations to keep people safe. I know that there are insurance issues and fear of litigation. But I also know that children have the right to play… and sometimes that play looks different from what we might first expect! 



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Advocacy, Childhood, Environments, Nature Play, Outdoors, Professionalism


Last night it rained. It didn’t rain for long – perhaps ten minutes in total, but it rained. It has been so long since that pitter-patter sound was heard on our roof that my children cheered. 
“It’s finally raining!” they said. 

We are in a coastal area on level one water restrictions. Our “grass” resembles crunchy straw, and we took water play off the menu at home when our rainwater tank ran dry around two months ago. But we are not in the worst of it.  We have family out west who are running out of water. Our friends have a farm and have been hand feeding and selling off sheep for months, trucking in water to keep those that remain alive while their dam sits dry and cracked. 

And now, just when we thought that our country couldn’t take anymore, we have been ravaged by fire. There are currently over 130 fires burning in New South Wales alone and there is no real end in sight. The images being shown across the world are heartbreaking – lives lost, families fleeing and wildlife decimated. For those not directly in the fire zones, there may be a feeling of helplessness. What do we do? How do we help? How do we support those affected? 

There have been amazing stories of kindness and hope emerging during this horrific time. There are fundraising campaigns, food and supply collections, and people sewing pouches for joeys, and mittens for Koalas. 

What can we do as an early childhood community?
There is no escaping the stories, images and general sense of sadness that is sweeping our country. Children in fire-affected areas are experiencing trauma – let’s not downplay that. Some of them will have seen, heard and felt the unimaginable in the last few weeks.
They may have lost their homes.
They may have seen their parents weep. 
They may have sheltered on a beach, or in a hall, or in the homes of relatives, not really understanding why they were there. 
They may have lost their pets. 
They may have lost a loved one. 

As for the children in areas not directly affected, while they may not be faced with these immediate experiences, they are no doubt impacted by what they are seeing in the news, or hearing in their community. 

While we can advocate for limited access to the twenty-four-hour news cycle (which many experts recommend for children), it is impossible to truly escape what is happening to our country.
There is no doubt that children will want to talk about the bushfires.
There is no doubt that these themes will appear in their play. ‘
There is no doubt that some children will feel worry or fear more strongly than others. 

There have been some wonderful posts online and articles sharing ways in which we can support children and families. As early childhood services, we are in a position to make a difference. Here are just a few things that we can do: 


– Provide a safe space (and your full attention) for children (and families) to share their worries, experiences, and understandings
– Provide materials for children to represent these (e.g. art materials, loose parts, small world play) 
– Assist children to help in the ways that they want to. Many children will have suggestions for how to help – embrace these and bring their ideas to fruition where possible.
– Set up an initiative like a “community pantry” or clothing exchange to allow families to support one another.
– Act as a collection point for donations of supplies to send to those affected. 
– For families who have been directly affected by fire – support them to access the Temporary Financial Hardship Subsidy. 

There are many things we can do. Creating a strong sense of community within our services is vital for strengthening relationships and for ensuring that children and families feel loved, supported and safe.
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Advocacy, Childhood, Community, Pedagogy, Play, Professional Development, Professionalism, Risk


Episode 4 of our podcast “The Inspired Educator” is now available and ready for your listening pleasure!
Our brilliant buddy Jeff A Johnson, over at Explorations Early Learning/Playvolution HQ is producing our podcasts for us (for which we are incredibly grateful!) and you can listen on your favourite podcast app under the Child Care Bar and Grill podcast feed. Here is a link to episode 004


EPISODE 004 – Social Justice with Alistair Gibbs
Here we are with episode 004 and this one is super interesting! For some educators, the term social justice conjures up all sorts of ‘scary’ topics and questions and may evoke imagery of picket lines and protests. This chat with Alistair, really breaks down some of the misconceptions about social justice and offers some great advice for how educators can get started in their service!


WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU! 

If you have any comments or questions about the episode, we would love to hear them. Perhaps there is something that we talked about that you would like more information on, or you have a topic you would like to hear explored in an upcoming episode? Maybe YOU would like to be interviewed! Our aim is to talk to educators all around the country (and overseas!) about their everyday practice with children. 
Feel free to comment below or email nicole@inspiredec.com
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It’s official. There is only a month until Christmas, and whether you celebrate or not, this time of year becomes absolutely manic in many households, schools, early childhood services, and workplaces. The whole community has a buzz about it. Our calendars demand so much from us – end of year parties, graduations, the finishing of assessments and paperwork, school assemblies, work functions… the list goes on. 

So many adults often lament the busy-ness of this time of year, yet most are able to keep calm and carry on. But what about children? What impact does this time of year have on their wellbeing, on their time to play? 

Think about what might be going on for the young children in our lives right now: 
– End of year parties/celebrations/graduations
– Orientations for those going off to “big school”
– Transitions – from and to new classes or rooms and school (includes new people, places, routines, expectations) 
– Christmas stuff (for those who celebrate!) – parties, Santa visits, photos, extended family visiting, the general buzz of the festive season. 

At this time of the year, children (and often adults!) are hot (summer is upon us here in Australia), tired and busy. School-aged children might jump in the car at 3 pm and commence whining, fighting and crying. Toddlers might protest at the constant go-go-go, by plonking down on the floor of aisle three at Woolworths and refusing to budge. Preschoolers may suddenly not want to separate from mum at drop off. However this manifests in our children, it’s our job as educators, parents, and carers to support them to slow down, to connect and to PLAY. 

So, how do we do that? There are a lot of things we can do to help… but here are a couple. 
  1. Make our spaces (services, homes) calm spaces. Turn off the loud Wiggles music, avoid lots of “activities” and transitions. Just allow children to play
  2. Listen – really listen. Take time to have a conversation with children, and really listen to what they have to say
  3. Spend more time outdoors. Many indoor places (shops, homes, centres etc) are decorated at this time of year. This can be overstimulating for some children. Reconnecting with nature can help to restore a sense of calm. 
  4. Say no. Not to the children! Say no to all of the extra, unnecessary things that simply add to our workload and subtract from children’s play. Say no to “Christmas craft” (you know the old “everybody come and make a Christmas tree from a handprint” thing that I wish wasn’t still around, but one look at Facebook and Pinterest tells me it is!) Say no to graduation ceremonies and performances that put children on show. Say no to things that don’t respect the child’s right to play. 
  5. Just BE with children. Lay on the grass and look for shapes in the clouds, read books together, build with lego, dig in the sand, have a cuddle, go for a bushwalk. Ensure that children have long, uninterrupted blocks of time to just play. 
  6. Meet their basic needs. Sometimes, in the peak of this busy-ness, old Maslow can be forgotten! Tune in to children and assess their needs for sleep, food, comfort, safety. 

So there you have it. A few simple things we can do for children at this busy time of the year. And you can almost guarantee that slowing down and creating calm, with a focus on connection will not just benefit the children, but us adults too!
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Advocacy, Childhood, Environments, Nature Kindergarten, Nature Play, Outdoors, Pedagogy, Play, Professional Development, Professionalism, Risk


Episode 3 of our podcast “The Inspired Educator” is now available and ready for your listening pleasure!
Our brilliant buddy Jeff A Johnson, over at Explorations Early Learning/Playvolution HQ is producing our podcasts for us (for which we are incredibly grateful!) and you can listen on your favourite podcast app under the Child Care Bar and Grill podcast feed. Here is a link to episode 003


EPISODE 003 – Nature Play with Jen and Narell from Birdwings
Here we are with episode 003 and it is a great one! Nic had a delightful chat with both Jen and Narell from Birdwings. These two took some time out from their adventuring in beautiful QLD with some very lucky children, to talk about why they do what they do, why nature play is so very important and what inspires them. 

If you are wanting to venture out into some wild natural spaces with children… this is the episode for you. Jen and Narell will have you wanting to get out, slow down and just be with children in nature. 

– You can see some of the beautiful images, story sharing and insights from Birdwings on Facebook
– We have some great resources available in our online store that support nature play in all its glory, including: Deep Nature Play 
How to Raise a Wild Child
Learning with Nature
And many more!


WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU! 

If you have any comments or questions about the episode, we would love to hear them. Perhaps there is something that we talked about that you would like more information on, or you have a topic you would like to hear explored in an upcoming episode? Maybe YOU would like to be interviewed! Our aim is to talk to educators all around the country (and overseas!) about their everyday practice with children. 
Feel free to comment below or email nicole@inspiredec.com
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Episode 2 of our brand new podcast “The Inspired Educator” is now available and we are pretty excited! 
Our brilliant buddy Jeff A Johnson, over at Explorations Early Learning/Playvolution HQ is producing our podcasts for us (for which we are incredibly grateful!) and you can listen on your favourite podcast app under the Child Care Bar and Grill podcast feed. Here is a link to episode 002!


EPISODE 002 – RISK with Kate Higginbottom 

We are super excited to release our second podcast episode where Nic chats to Kate Higginbottom of Adamstown Community Early Learning and Preschool. The service was involved in a brilliant research project with the University of Newcastle and in this episode, Kate shares the learning that took place for her team as they explored risky play in their setting. 

Perhaps you are trying to take a more risk friendly approach in your service? Maybe you want to step outside of your comfort zone? This is definitely the episode for you! 

– Adamstown Community Early Learning and Preschool is on Facebook and Instagram
– You can join us in November 2019 for a professional development session which incorporates a visit to Adamstown Community Early Learning and Preschool  (while the children are there playing!) so you can see the practice happening! Visit our professional development bookings page to find out more and register!


WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU! 

If you have any comments or questions about the episode, we would love to hear them. Perhaps there is something that we talked about that you would like more information on, or you have a topic you would like to hear explored in an upcoming episode? Maybe YOU would like to be interviewed! Our aim is to talk to educators all around the country (and overseas!) about their everyday practice with children. 
Feel free to comment below or email nicole@inspiredec.com
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We are so excited to launch our brand new podcast “The Inspired Educator”. Our brilliant buddy Jeff A Johnson, over at Explorations Early Learning/Playvolution HQ is producing our podcasts for us (for which we are incredibly grateful!) and you can listen on your favourite podcast app under the Child Care Bar and Grill podcast feed. Here is a link to the very first episode 


EPISODE 001 – PHYSICAL PLAY WITH BELINDA TURNER

For our very first episode, Nic interviewed Belinda Turner. Belinda is the nominated supervisor of Woodrising Natural Learning Centre, a community based long daycare service in Lake Macquarie NSW (which also happens to be where Nic and Tash met and worked together for many years!) 

During this episode, Belinda shares the work that the team are doing with children in relation to physical play. Lots of talk about risk-taking, occupational therapy, outdoor play, brain development and SO MUCH MORE. This was such a great chat and we hope it inspires you. 

Below you will find some resources and references that connect to the episode and can further develop your skills and understanding in this area. 

– Woodrising Natural Learning Centre is on Facebook and Instagram
– You can find out more about Angela Hanscom and the TimberNook Program here
– You can see the work we are doing as a TimberNook provider at TimberNook Newcastle over on Instagram and Facebook
– Angela Hanscoms book Balanced and Barefoot (which is a HUGE personal favourite of ours), is available to order on our website by clicking on the image below


– You can join us in November 2019 for a professional development session which incorporates a visit to Woodrising Natural Learning Centre (while the children are there playing!) so you can see the practice happening! Click on the image below for more details and to register. 


WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU! 

If you have any comments or questions about the episode, we would love to hear them. Perhaps there is something that we talked about that you would like more information on, or you have a topic you would like to hear explored in an upcoming episode? Maybe YOU would like to be interviewed! Our aim is to talk to educators all around the country (and overseas!) about their everyday practice with children. 
Feel free to comment below or email nicole@inspiredec.com 
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Today, (19th September 2019) it is Australian Reading Hour day! Now, I know I am probably biased – given that I am a writer, but I truly love this initiative. I will definitely be taking time to read a good book this afternoon (luckily for me I am in the middle of a brilliant Australian novel that I have a hard time putting down!). I also plan on doing some reading with my children today. We read together a lot, we always have. I still remember purchasing countless books during my first pregnancy and our bookshelves are now heaving with many well-loved favourites. As an educator, I could often be found curled up on a lounge or a cushion reading books to children. 

I strongly believe in the power of a book to transport us to another time or place, to inspire wonder and creativity, to make us laugh (or in the case of one of my personal favourites Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge – make me cry!). 

I have to admit though, that in my role now as a trainer and consultant, who has the pleasure of visiting many early childhood services, it saddens me when I see dispassionate reading with/to children. What do I mean by dispassionate? Well – it’s a monotone voice, an obvious lack of enthusiasm, hurrying through the pages to get to the end. It’s comments like “oh, not this one again!” when a child hands you The Hungry Caterpillar for the fifth time that day. 

Look – I get it. We are not all “readers”. I struggle to hold the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and feel awkward or self-concious when singing to children… but they love me doing it, so I do it anyway. I know there are many educators (and parents) who lack the confidence to read aloud with children. But I urge them not to give up. Reading with children has copious benefits, including:

So, the benefits are clear. This might then make it easier to say “just push through the discomfort – do it for the children!” But I don’t believe that is fair.  We can’t simply insist that people push through their discomfort, but what we can do is support educators to develop their skills and comfort levels. Some key tips to support educators in developing their skills for reading with children: 
  1. Read familiar stories – get comfortable with some stories and you will get used to the rhyme, the language, the tone and build more confidence. 
  2. Practice, practice, practice. 
  3. Slow down. Often we rush through stories and miss vital opportunities to really support children to connect with the story (and with us!) 
  4. Observe colleagues. If you have a colleague who is a great reader/storyteller – watch them, listen to them. Take note of how they draw children into the story. 
And perhaps the top tip – is to join our brand new 5 Day “Read it like you mean it!” E-Course (yep… there’s a shameless plug right there!) 
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Two boys arrive at our TimberNook program full of stories of online gaming – stories that seem somewhat older than their 8-9 years. They argue (playfully) about who does what in Fortnite and how to get through certain challenges  or something to that effect (let’s be honest – I have no idea what Fortnite is all about!) As we settle into the morning, the group of children disperse on our bushland site and begin working on cubbies and hanging out on the tyre swing. After awhile, I venture into a small patch of bushland where there is a tiny trickle of a creek after recent rainfall. It is here that I spot them. These two boys, immersed in mud pie making. I watch and listen as they PLAY. They are truly back to basics in their play. There is no computer game, no organised challenges, no programmed characters. There is just them and their desire to make mud pies, their plan to “sell” them, their creativity as they work out how to collect the mud and their connection as they play. If I am honest – the sight of these two boys engaged in imaginative play outdoors actually brought a tear to my eye. 


I shared this story recently during a training session I was delivering. There was something so simple and pure in the way that these children were playing, something that reminded me of my own (and no doubt others of my vintage!) childhood. When we discussed how we liked to play as children, many of the same themes came up – mud play, building cubbies outside, making up games, making our own potions, playing with sticks and natural materials. Nobody said “gee I loved to watch TV” or “playing the Atari (really showing my age now) was my favourite thing.” Instead, there was so much reverence for this back to basics, imaginative play outdoors. Why?

Children are wired to play. They are designed to imagine, to create, to wonder, to experiment. And yet – for many school aged children, those opportunities are becoming increasing limited. Angela Hanscom speaks of the rise in children being “shuffled” from one activity or program to the next throughout their day, both at school and before and after school. There are also reports that indicate that homework expectations have increased over time, leading to children simply not having the opportunity to play after school.

What happened to the days of coming home at 3pm and riding your bike or playing outside with neighbourhood children until dinner was ready? Sure, there will be people who will cite safety concerns, fears of abduction and stranger danger. But are these fears really warranted? In an article for the courier mail, Kylie Lang says “Kids are more at risk of predators on their computers than on our streets, yet many parents have let fear compromise the basic freedoms of childhood.”

Wow. What an interesting way to look at it! Many reports suggest that the safety risk to children playing outdoors in neighbourhoods has not actually increased, however the media (and social media) coverage has, with our world operating a 24 hour news cycle. When we hear about awful things happening to children, it is only natural that we want to keep them close, to protect them. Yet, in our attempts to protect children, we may in fact be depriving them of the simple childhood pleasure of outdoor play. 

Children (and adults) who play outdoors experience many benefits, including: 
  • Increased levels of wellbeing
  • Strengthening of muscles and physical skills
  • Reduced risk of vision issues such as Myopia
  • Development of social skills
  • Increased independence
  • Improved health

Additionally, imaginative play enables children to practice social skills, develop language/communication skills and explore ideas about the world in creative ways. 

When we give school aged children long, uninterrupted blocks of play (screen-free and outdoors!) they thrive. Sure – if they are not used to it, they might say “I’m bored”, but boredom breeds creativity. Children who are bored will create, they will imagine, they will adventure, they will explore. Now, perhaps more than ever, in a world that is so connected, so “on” all the time, it is vital that school aged children are  encouraged to disconnect, to slow down and to get outside. 

Here are 3 Things that Parents and Educators can do to support outdoor, imaginative play for school aged children: 

  1. Clear the schedule – have days of nothing! Limit the number of after school or weekend activities. 
  2. Take it outside – if you are a teacher, why not take lessons outdoors? If you are a parent, send them out to play after school
  3. Limit screen time – many schools incorporate screen time as part of the curriculum, so it is important that schools and parents communicate about this, enabling parents to set reasonable limits at home. 
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