Nature Play in Early Childhood

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Children learn best while playing. The best place for them to play is the outdoors, where there are no physical, mental or emotional restrictions. Children can be left to their own devices as the adults supervise from afar, or participate in child-led play.

Nature play will reap many benefits. It will significantly improve all aspects of childhood development — including physical, cognitive, social, and emotional. It will also allow your child to build the necessary life-skills that will be extremely useful in the long-term.1

Benefits of nature play2

  1. Risk assessment

Playing in nature will teach your child how to assess and negotiate the risks that are involved. Whether they are climbing on trees or other objects, or playing with sticks and stones, they will learn how to protect themselves and also problem-solve if they are stuck. Even if they sustain a minor injury, they learn to brush it off and pick themselves up again. Building resilience is an important part of childhood development!

  1. Building social skills

When your child heads outside to play, chances are they will meet other and interact with other playmates. You child will learn to collaborate with others, problem-solve, and be a team-player. They will learn to listen to their peers, to come to a compromise and negotiate when there is a need to. They might find a friend to reach out to console themselves in times of need.

  1. Physical health benefits

Children who engage in regular outdoor play benefit from increased flexibility and gross motor skills. Because your child is exposed to nature more often, they are more likely to build a strong and healthy immune system that will enable them to combat illness better. It will also improve their vision as they are not overexposed to electronic screens.

Children who care for plants or grow their own food are more likely to consume fruits and vegetables, reducing their risk of obesity. They are also more likely to continue healthy eating habits throughout their lives.

  1. Mental health benefits

Being in nature has been proven to improve mood and reduce depression and mental fatigue. It can help reduce feelings of anger and anxiety, and can also boost confidence and self-esteem.

  1. Academic benefits1

Nature play has shown great academic benefits including reduced stress and ADHD, while improving concentration and focus. This results in improved classroom behaviour and increased motivation and enthusiasm to learn. Playing outdoors also encourages creativity and experimentation. Overall, it results in higher scores in standardised tests.

Nature play ideas

At home nature play3

  1. Sensory Potpourri from the Garden

This activity can be done at home, in a park, or when you’re camping!

  • Give your child a basket and get them to collect leaves and flowers — anything they think that smells nice, or has an interesting colour or texture
  • Let the children run around to find their items and get them to share why they have chosen their items
  • Using a bowl, mix the potpourri items together
  • Spread the mix over a flat surface, which can be easily stored in a dry location for a few weeks. Leave it to dry out.
  • After the mixture is dried, fill a dry glass jar and cover it with a cloth. Use a ribbon to secure it.

This activity is very good at building your child’s awareness of the smells of nature that is around us.

  1. Pressing flowers

This is a very good activity to fuel your child’s creativity. You can use this opportunity to start scrapbooking, or even create a bookmark out of the pressed flowers.

This activity can be done at home, or in a park. Make sure to only pick flowers that have fallen on the ground, and not pluck them from the tree itself.

  • Carefully choose the flowers you want to press
  • Cut several flowers from their stems and arrange them on a blank paper
  • Lay the sheet of paper with flowers between two paper towels
  • Lay a heavy book over the top of the sheet, and use place several bricks or books over top of the original book
  • The weight will press and flatten the flowers. Wait for at least 6 weeks for the flowers to dry out
  1. Worm Farm Wrangler

Worms are nature’s greatest recyclers. Instead of throwing away our vegetable or kitchen scraps, it is a good idea to turn to composting, and use worms to turn our scraps into fertiliser.

  • If you can find a polystyrene box, use a screwdriver to make 8 small holes at the bottom.
  • Line newspaper shreds at the bottom of the box with the holes.
  • Add several large handfuls of soil or compost. Lightly moisten the soil with some water from a watering can.
  • Add a handful of worms to the soil along with some vegetable or kitchen scraps.
  • Cover the soil with hessian or newspaper to keep it moist and dark.
  • Place a brick in another box and place the soil-filled box on top.
  • Let the worms settle in for a week before adding more scraps.
  • Always keep the soil moist and don’t overfeed the worms.
  • Excess moisture and useful fertiliser will seep through the holes at the bottom of the box.

Things to do during a bush-walk4

  1. Use your ‘Super Eyes’

Use your super eyes and observe your surroundings. The goal is to look for a safe insect to observe, and then watch it carefully for a whole minute. Discuss what the insect was doing.

  1. Scrunch and sniff

Try to find a scent that will take you back to this bush trail when you smell it. Take a handful of fallen leaves or flowers and crush them in your hands. How do they smell? Which one is the best?

  1. Watch the birds

If you sit quietly, you will notice that birds begin to fly and perch closer to your group. Watch as they hunt for food, feed their babies, bathe, and sing. Observe the differences in the birds — their size, colour, shape, and behaviour. If you have a bird guide-book, bring it along so you can learn to identify the different species.

  1. Find national treasures

Decide on a theme — colours of the rainbow, alphabet, size, texture — and hunt down treasures that fit in the category. At the end of the bush-walk, take a photo of your treasures to capture the memories and then return them to nature.

  1. Sit silent and still

Different cultures, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, practice a type of sitting that requires complete silence and engagement of all the senses. Discuss how you felt, what you saw or heard.

Things to do at the beach5

  1. Coconut band

Find coconut, rocks, and sticks along the beach. Gather your friends and family and create a band!

  1. Sea Turtle race

Pretend that you’re a sea turtle! Crawl out of your sand nest and race down to the seashore.

(You can get the children to dig their own sand nest and hide in them.)

  1. Sea-shell museum

Walk along the beach and collect seashells that have washed up ashore. Create your own sea-shell museum. Visitors can only enter with one seashell or a sand dollar.

  1. Build a sand-castle

Make use of the wet sand and other safe objects available on the beach to create your very own castle!

Nature and pretend play

These are some basic ideas you can either do with your child, or encourage them to engage in by themselves (with supervision of course)! The best kind of play activities are ones where your child is unrestricted which allows their imagination to run wild!

You can bring them to a park or a playground and they will eventually form friendships and start running their own play-time. We hope this week’s blog post has given you some some fun activities to do with your child! If you need more ideas on how to get your child interested in nature play, you can check out this website.

 

References

  1. Whittle, I. Nature Play in Early Years Education. (Link)
  2. Wenzel, C. Ten benefits of playing in Nature. (Link)
  3. DIY Nature Play. (Link)
  4. 10 things to do as you go bushwalking. (Link)
  5. 10 things to do at your beach. (Link)

The Importance of Teaching Your Child Personal Hygiene

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Personal hygiene is an important form of self-care that will ensure that your child will lead a healthy life. Forming good hygiene practice from early childhood can have a positive effect on your child’s growth and development. Your child will also learn to be independent and boost their confidence and self-esteem.1

These tips can be very useful to ensure that your child is equipped with the best defence against all forms of bacteria and viruses.

For children, the basics of good personal hygiene include:2

  • Hand-washing
  • Covering their nose and/or mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Regular baths or showers
  • Brushing and flossing their teeth

Hand-washing is the best defence against any bacteria and viruses. You can teach your child good hygiene practices from home. Here are some ways you can explain and teach your child basic personal hygiene:

Hand-washing

One of the most important, and the easiest, hygiene practice your child should master is hand-washing. It is important to explain why your child needs to do this regularly. You can tell them that “we wash our hands to get rid of dirt and germs that make us sick”.3

Another way you can explain the importance of hand-washing is to show what happens to germs when we wash our hands. A recent viral video done by a pre-school teacher is a good way to demonstrate what happens when you wash your hands with soap:

  1. Fill a plate with water and black pepper
  2. Dip your child’s finger into the water and hold it there
  3. When they remove their finger, there will be bits of black pepper stuck to it
  4. Dip the same finger into a plate of soap and swish it around to ensure that the soap coats their finger
  5. When they dip the same finger into the plate of black pepper water, the black pepper should repel away from the soap-coated finger

By visualising what happens to germs and viruses, your child will most likely understand why they should be washing their hands regularly. Encourage your child to wash their hands with soap and water:

  • When their hands look dirty
  • Before and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating
  • After going to the toilet
  • After blowing their nose, sneezing, or coughing
  • After touching animals
  • After playing outside

Now that they understand why it is important to keep their hands clean, it is time to teach your child the proper hand-washing techniques:

  1. Teach your child how to wash their hands. Ensure that they wash:
  • Their palms and fingers
  • The back of their hands
  • Their fingers and knuckles
  • Their thumbs
  • Their fingertips and wrists
  1. Make sure that they are washing with soap for at least 20 seconds. You can make this fun by singing some songs together:
  • Happy Birthday
  • The Alphabet Song
  • Wash Your Hands (to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat)4

     “Wash, wash, wash my hands

      Make them nice and clean.

      Rub the bottoms, and the tops

      And fingers in between.”

  1. Ensure that they wipe their hands dry after washing them.

The best way to teach your child is to lead by example. Remember to wash your hands after doing any of the above activities and your child will follow suit. By teaching your child to wash their hands and keep themselves clean, it also teaches them to practice social responsibility.

Coughing and sneezing etiquette

Coughing and sneezing is a common way for germs to spread. You can explain this to your child by showing them how a sneeze or cough travels.

  • Take a spray bottle and coloured water (e.g. food dye in water)
  • Pretend that the water is a sneeze/cough
  • Spray it on a blank paper or tissue to see how far and wide the coloured water ‘germs’ can reach5

This will teach them that it is important to cover their mouth and/or nose when they cough or sneeze to prevent the germs from spreading. It is crucial that they cover their nose and/or mouth with a tissue or cough/sneeze into their elbow to prevent the ‘spray’.

Leading by example

The easiest way to develop good hygiene habits is to keep practicing and lead by example. By washing their hands regularly, your child will lower their risk of contracting COVID-19 and also prevent the spread of any other virus or bacteria to their peers.

As long as your child is able to do the 2 basic hygiene practices, they have mastered the best defence against many types of bacteria and viruses, while developing self-help skills and learning about social responsibility.

 

References

  1. Ivy Prep Team. Developing Good Personal Hygiene Practices in Children. (Link)
  2. Health Direct. Personal hygiene for children. (Link)
  3. Reece, T. Teaching Toddlers About Hygiene. (Link)
  4. Columbus Public Health. Teaching Handwashing. (Link)
  5. Understanding Germs for Kids: 20 Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids about Germs. (Link)
  6. Proper Hand washing for kids and parents. (Image Link)
  7. Teaching children social responsibility (Link)

Loving-Kindness Meditation for Mindfulness

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Mindfulness teaches your child to not look at what they would like, but to focus on what is already there. It is very easy to look at someone else and be envious or jealous of something they have.

Loving-kindness meditation can develop goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards others and themselves. It has tremendous benefits — ranging from healthy well-being to improving emotional intelligence — benefits that can help your child grow into a kind, loving, and well-rounded individual.1 Read more

Energise Your Child with Mindfulness Exercises

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It is important to balance periods of movement with time spent sitting still during the day for you and your child. Engaging in light, physical meditation is just as beneficial as a calm, sit-down meditation. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that acute physical activities enhance executive function.1

Executive function is a set of mental skills — memory, flexible thinking, and self-control — that we use every day to learn, work, and manage daily life. We start developing executive function in early childhood and this development can last all the way till our mid-20s. Trouble with executive function can impede your child’s focus, as well as their ability to follow directions and handle emotions.2 Read more

Guiding Mindfulness Exercises – Breathing

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We all know how much of a challenge it can be to get a bright, bubbly and energetic child to sit still for longer than a few minutes. At certain stages of their development, the importance of ‘slowing down’ and reflecting should be emphasised. The exercises outlined below will assist you and your child in becoming more mindful of yourselves and others.

Talk to them beforehand to explain the exercises and why they are good for them. Play some quiet background music to help them focus. Don’t force your child to participate in these exercises if they don’t want to. Learning to listen to yourself is one important learning aspect of mindfulness. Read more

What can your child learn from mindfulness?

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Children process a lot of information in one day. They deal with all kinds of stimuli and often change their attention from one stimulus to another. With so much information to take in, it can be overwhelming for your child.

Mindfulness is a good exercise to take the time to focus on yourself, be in the present, and acknowledge your feelings1. When you pay attention to your feelings for long enough, you can control how you feel by changing your thoughts and choosing to let go of the negative feelings. Read more

The Importance of Breakfast for a Child

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Whether or not your child eats breakfast can determine how they will fare for the rest of the day — will they be happy and energetic, or grumpy and tired? Breakfast is important because:

  1. It helps maintain a healthy weight for your child
  2. It provides energy and stamina for the rest of the day
  3. It improves mood and concentration
  4. It can affect your child’s education

However, more and more children are skipping breakfast before going to school. This can cause a huge impact on their growth and development. But, don’t worry! Here are 3 tricks you can use to encourage your child to eat breakfast:

  1. Model the behaviour you want your child to learn
  2. Keep breakfast light
  3. Give them options

Check to see if your child’s school offers a breakfast program if they can’t have breakfast at home!

Read more about this topic here.

Fine Motor Skills Development in Children

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The development of fine motor skills in early childhood will affect the physical and mental development of your child. Fine motor development allows them to become increasingly independent. This can build confidence and increase self-esteem and will, in turn, have a positive influence on their social interactions and school success.

Your child will go through 3 stages of development before acquiring fine motor skills:

  1. Whole arm development
  2. Whole hand development
  3. Pincer and pincher grasp

There are many fun activities that you can do with your child at home to help train their fine motor skills.

Check out our blog post here for some ideas!

The Importance of Sleep to Children’s Development

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We go through two states of sleep each night:

Non-rapid eye movement or quiet sleep — Your body physically repairs itself during this state.

Rapid eye movement or active sleep — This state is responsible for cognitive development.

Young children (0–5 years) sleep for more than half the day as a huge part of their physical and cognitive development takes place during sleep. Sleep deprivation in children can cause a significant impact on their behaviour, development, and mental & physical health.

If your child is having some trouble going to sleep, here are 3 tips you can use to help your little ones go to bed on time:

  1. Create a regular sleep routine
  2. Remove any external distractions
  3. Ensure a conducive sleep environment

These 3 tips are guaranteed to help your child get a good night’s sleep! It is also important for you to be aware of their sleep patterns and note any problems if there are any.

Read here to find out more about how sleep deprivation can affect your child’s development.

Keeping Your Child Active During the Holidays

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The holidays can be stressful for parents. It can be challenging to come up with ideas to help release your child’s high energy when there are no set schedules.

Here are some ideas you can follow to keep your child active while retaining the skills they learnt at school:

  1. Family bonding activities can be simple. A family trip to the museum or family game night will be exciting!
  2. Sporting and adventure can be a good outlet to release your child’s high-energy. A good outdoor playtime will be good for their physical health!
  3. Nature experience can be educational and beneficial for their mental wellbeing in the long-term. Take them out on a hike or organise a family camp-out!
  4. Helping them find their hobbies can help them build interests that can turn into careers and facilitate skill development.
  5. Relaxing days are also good for your child to take a break. That’s what holidays are for, after all!

Make sure to balance both high-energy activities — to keep them active — and low-energy, relaxing activities to allow you and your child to recharge.

Read here to find out more about the activities you can do with your child during the holidays.