acepuppets

Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category


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Our world is precious and provides us with everything we need to live a healthy life.  Sadly we often reward it with total disrespect which damages ecosystems and the landscape.  Unless we start changing our attitude to nature, and set our children a good example, the earth is going to start looking like a dystopian movie set.  We all know that children learn through play and that the early years is when they are most open to learning habits that will grow with them.

When children are taught about the environment they don’t need to be bombarded with statistics about how much plastic is choking the earth and how the rain forests are being obliterated to make way for burgers.  Initially all they need to know is how to care for the world around them.  A child’s world is their garden, the school, playground and where ever they are at the time.  We know that they are in love with nature because walks with a toddler requires collecting treasures such as; sticks, stones and feathers.  At that age you can spend a fortune to go into a theme park and they will enjoy the puddles more than anything else.

A love of nature can be nurtured by going for walks, looking at plants, birds and keeping quiet in order to spot a bunny rabbit. The way we, as parents and carers, react to; rainbows, icicles, frogspawn, birds and clouds helps children to see the beauty around them.  If children see the world as beautiful, they are less likely to disrespect it as they get older.  By planting and nurturing seeds children can see the effort nature has to go to in order to grow.  If children know the best conditions in which to grow plants they are more likely to support measures to ensure that the health of the environment will allow this to happen.

Schools teach children about how plants grow and are increasingly setting up gardening clubs or investing in school playground planters gives children ownership of plants. School playground planters can also allows schools to teach children about how plants decompose.  The Better Health Channel has written an article about the benefits of gardening for children

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These days it would seem that the Nicky Morgan and Jeremy Hunt make policies without actually talking to each other.  We are given such mixed messages when it comes to developing our children’s minds and bodies.  On the one hand the Education Minister wants to increase the amount of academic work our children do, including dreaded homework. On the other hand,  the Health Minister keeps telling us we are too fat and children don’t get enough exercise.  The amount of opportunities children have to free play and therefore exercise is decreasing with every new target that is added to the OFSTED process.

Tracey Crouch, the Sports Minister, tried to convince us that the Olympic games would make athletes of us all.  There was a little increase in sports participation but nothing to get excited about.  Our medalists didn’t inspire us to exercise more, rather they encouraged us to; open new bank accounts, eat Quorn and watch, ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.  All of these activities could be done at home on the sofa and failed miserable to get anyone excited about sport. apparently there is no single reason why people don’t participate in exercise more.

School trim trails, climbing frames, climbing walls and many other pieces of playground equipment adorn our school playgrounds now, yet children are not getting as much time in the school day to play freely. In the late 70’s and early 80’s when I was at school our playground equipment consisted of a dangerous climbing frame, a huge field, crystal draining stones in a filled in stream, grass cuttings and magnifying glasses.  Incidentally the exercise we got from the magnifying glasses was running away from the dinner ladies when we used them to melt black bin bags.  If it was sunny we would go out and play rounders or cricket on the field.  If it was snowing we took our sledges to the nearest hill and didn’t worry that we were missing English or Maths.

These days, unless an activity has got a significant number of learning outcomes and can be incorporated into a success criteria anything that doesn’t have a box to tick doesn’t count as learning.  The notion that exercise has to be formal and that you should achieve some sort of accolade for participating in it is suffocating our love of sport.  My brother and I spent one summer holiday playing in our grandparent’s empty coal bunker, it was great because the adults couldn’t get to us and we got filthy.  The amount of agility and strength required to get in and out of a coal bunker is quite a lot, we slept well at night and fat kids can’t fit into coal bunkers.

We all probably interfere far more in our children’s lives than our parents did in ours.  For some reason we treat children like they are made of fine china and neither their feelings or their bodies should be hurt.  I had bruises and scuffed knees for most of my childhood – I didn’t get upset about it and our parents were caring but accepted that it was part of childhood.  Now I am terrified of my son getting bruised and scuffed simply because I am afraid of being judge as a bad parent.

Play is definitely the secret to getting children to exercise more because it is so flexible and the imagination takes away the boredom of training.  When I watch my son and puppy playing together they are both exercising but because they are playing then don’t realize it.


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This year nature seems to have provided us with a bountiful supply of mud.  Whether we have liked it or not country dwellers have been forced to contend with muddy feet and huge puddles on a daily basis.  Children have found having impromptu mud baths fun and washing machines have been working double shifts during this constant wet season.  If we think that sending our little darlings to school will prevent them from getting dirty then we are going to be disappointed.

Mud kitchens are all the rage in schools now, whether a DIY plucky Governor version or bought one, your children will spend some of their school day in mud kitchens.  This article from Playdale Playgrounds explains why mud kitchens are such great fun. At home children can pester Mum and Dad for old utensils, cupboards and buckets so that they can enjoy the glory of mud.  As with all aspects of play, a mud kitchen provides a rich learning experience that we just assumed was mucking about.

If learning objectives and opportunities are what floats your boat then this chart produced by blogger Worms Eye View applies EYFS Learning Opportunities to playing in mud kitchens.

Learning opportunities sheet Outdoor Kitchen

All children can enjoy playing in mud kitchens, as the activity provides learning experiences for children of all abilities.  Aspiring artists and those who like to touch and feel the world have wonderful opportunities to explore texture, consistency and the possibility of shaping mud.  Scientists will totally enjoy experimenting with water quantities and soil types. All children enjoy copying their home life and a kitchen environment is where a lot of the action happens.

Learning objectives aside playing with mud and soil is really pleasurable.  I remember my mud kitchen in the corner of the garden, consisting of an old pan, buckets and a sieve.  One very warm summer holidays 35 years ago was spent sieving dry mud to make a sandy dust – I can’t remember the expensive activities we did that year but playing in my mud kitchen is firmly fixed in my mind.

To make lasting memories kit your kids up with clothes that can withstand mud and frequent washing, old spoons and pans. These are the ingredients of happy childhood memories.


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Daily Mail

Natural play equipment has become a necessary feature in playgrounds to create a more natural setting.  As wasteland and fields are being consumed by housing estates,  opportunities for children to participate in natural play has significantly decreased.   Local playgrounds have never been more important than they are today, simply because they are much safer places to play.  Natural play equipment gives children the opportunity to go, ‘off piste’, and create imaginative games based on the landscape of the playground.

Changes In Play Places

An extensive study by Nature England into the changing play behaviour between generations, found that children do not enjoy the same freedom their parents and grand parents enjoyed.  ‘The favourite places to play have changed over time. In the past these were in the streets, near home (29%), indoors (16%) and in some natural places (15%) whereas nowadays children like playing indoors best (41%) and, to a lesser extent, in the garden (17%)’. (Nature England)

Unsupervised Play

Children do not participate in unsupervised play like their ancestors this could be due to; increase in traffic, the use of technology, decrease in natural places to play and over protective parenting.  Gone are the days that children would go out all day and return when their tummy rumbled at tea time.  It is probably unfair to include over protective parenting because 85% of the parents questioned in the Nature England study did want their children to have more freedom.

Natural Landscaping

Playgrounds today are quite different to playgrounds in the past because they have been designed with the importance of play in mind.  Many playground equipment companies started off in either the wood industry like Playdale Playgrounds Ltd or the family entertainment industry like Charles Wicksteed. Often children’s playgrounds were stark places with only the traditional swings, slide and roundabout to play on. These days playgrounds are landscaped and have natural play equipment to increase the play value of the space available.

Natural Play Equipment

Natural play equipment is essentially naturally occurring objects such as; stones, plants, tunnels and mounds that have been made safe for children to play on.  Children benefit from such additions to the playground because they can let their imagination run wild and explore nature first hand.  Children are fascinated by natural shapes and the opportunity to sit on huge smooth stones is too great to miss.

Really the ideal playground would be a safe environment for children to play in with a coffee shop for parents to meet up and keep a watchful eye on their children.

 


#nowhere2play

The Association Of Play Industries (API) have become greatly concerned with the lack of play facilities for children, particularly in urban areas, and are conducting a survey to find out from parents the state of play facilities in their area.  The campaign is called #nowhere2play and is supported by Playdale Playgrounds Ltd who are experts in designing play equipment and installing it all over the world.

Do your children have public spaces to play in?  Even in the countryside we are seeing green patches of land being swallowed up by housing estates and school playgrounds sold off to building companies.  Is your local playground somewhere where you and your children like to meet friends and have fun or has it become dilapidated and rarely used.  The Association Of Play Industries (API) have become greatly concerned with the lack of play facilities for children, particularly in urban areas, and are conducting a survey to find out from parents the state of play facilities in their area.  The campaign is called #nowhere2play and is supported by Playdale Playgrounds Ltd who are experts in designing play equipment and installing it all over the world.

We are pretty lucky in this part of Cumbria, as there are plenty of places for children to play, and the majority of playgrounds are well resourced and maintained by committees. In Carlisle funding cuts meant that the council considered bulldozing unused playgrounds down, leaving spaces for imaginative play.  This article in metro.co.uk explains their intentions. I am not sure if they followed through with this plan or were stopped in their tracks.  To be fair the council were only considering removing playgrounds that were rarely used anyway as opposed to ones that were the meeting place of children in particular areas.

Are playgrounds used less these days because we are reluctant to let our children wander from our sight when they are playground age? There are significantly more cars than there used to be, causing us to be more overprotective than we may have been in the past. We are in an age where we fear strangers hanging around our children and allowing them to go and play out of our sight in a playground where there is no one to protect them scary.  Children don’t really gain independence until they are in the upper juniors or starting secondary school, depending on how sensible they are.

As the population of the UK increases we find our selves in a space paradox, we will have more families so we need more houses, we will have more children so we need play areas but the houses have been built on the land that was once a playground.  If children don’t get the opportunity to play outside they become obese and cost the NHS milions so what do we do?


Spring has finally sprung the sun is shining and finally the rain is holding off long enough for us to enjoy the great outdoors.  When I pick my son up from school we will be spending time in the playground with all of the other parents and children.  Having a wonderful playground so close to the school is wonderful because it allows the children to expel the pent up energy they have saved while working hard at school.  My son and his friends are definitely ready to spend after school running around outside climbing on the playground equipment and digging holes in the mud.  Hopefully being able to play in a more open and freer environment will help him and his best friend to stop bossing each other about and getting each other’s backs up.

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Play England have devoted a whole section on the benefits of outdoor play because they believe that it is important that children learn skills that cannot be learned easily in the classroom.  Apart from the obvious health benefits of climbing on playground equipment and getting lots of exercise, children also learn how to interact with others and deal with conflict.  Playground equipment also offers the opportunity to conquer fears about height and balance.  Children also enjoy the freedom to abandon the playground equipment and find parts of the playground where they can hide and play imaginative games.

Visiting the playground as a parent can either be a sociable occasion where you chat to other parents or you find a quiet place to catch up on some work you need to do on your mobile phone.  Leaving the playground generally involves lots of time warnings and watching your reluctant child clamber on every piece of playground equipment before they reach the gate, only to forget their shoe and spend the next ten minutes looking for it.