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)

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.

How can you Help Your Child Settle into a New Environment?

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It can be stressful for both you and your child when they are introduced to a new environment. It could be their first day of school, a new classroom, or a new childcare. It can be emotionally challenging for children to be separated from their parents, even just for a little while. Settling into a new environment for young ones is a huge step and it is normal if they are having trouble with it.

Here are 6 tips you can use to help your child manage separation anxiety and settle into a new space:

  1. Familiarise your child with their educators and classmates
  2. Ask if they want to bring a comfort object with them
  3. Establish a goodbye routine to prepare them for the separation
  4. Empathise with them
  5. Stay connected with your child
  6. Create a routine — a fixed sleep/wake-up time

With these 6 tips, your child will be ready to step into a new social environment and learn how to manage their anxieties and worries!

Read here to find out how you can use these tips to help your child.

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.

3 Ways to Help Your Child Break Out of Their Shell

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Building Social Interaction Skills

It can be tough to see your child struggling to interact with others in social situations. There are two components that should be met before they are comfortable interacting with others — understanding social concepts and using those concepts.

It is easy for children to understand the meaning and importance of social concepts. But most children struggle with putting those concepts into action. There are exercises you can do with your child at home to help feel more comfortable in social situations. These include:

  1. Coaching social behaviours
  2. Role-play
  3. Positive reinforcement

Going through these 3 exercises will equip your child with the necessary skills for them to interact with their peers at childcare or at school!

Read here to find out how you can use those exercises to help your child.

How Children Play and Learn Without Technology

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Our Children

Children are natural learners. By observing how the world around them operates, they instinctively become curious about cause and effect. As they progress through to adolescence from childhood, their minds are constantly analysing and concluding on what they observe(1). Our job as parents and educators is to provide children with the best possible tools and skills to kick-start their own individual life-long journey of learning. The 5 generally accepted learning domains are Science, Mathematics, Language, Health and Creativity. However, the challenge that parents are facing nowadays isn’t a lack of knowledge – it’s a lack of time.

Read more

Introduction to Mindfulness

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What is mindfulness?

Webster’s dictionary defines it as the quality or state of being mindful; the practice of maintaining a non-judgemental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.

While a good explanation, this definition doesn’t capture the true essence of what we believe mindfulness is, especially in the context of caring for children.

Mindfulness is our ability to attend to the present moment, with curiosity and kindness. It is our ability to pause, assess what is happening right in front of us, and respond with clarity, as opposed to reacting based on our (often unhelpful) habitual patterns. It is a willingness to be present, and to allow what is here to be here… because it’s already here! Extensive research has been done on this topic, and the overwhelming conclusion is that we are happier when we are present.

The problem that we are facing today is that most people have not been exposed to these skills earlier in life, and therefore wish that they had learned about it sooner. Teaching mindfulness to children from a young age is an invaluable skill that will help them navigate the challenges of childhood and adolescence.

How can mindfulness be taught?

The question then becomes, ‘what actual techniques can we practice and teach to children to help them develop mindfulness?’ Mindfulness can be practiced in a lot of different ways – there is no catch-all method or solution to achieving it. The key message behind this practice is to live in the present more. There is a tendency among people to go about their day on ‘auto-pilot’. This can be changed by paying attention to the smaller things and letting yourself feel how each unique situation affects you. Another key principle is to focus on what you are experiencing and feeling. Too often people only focus on the external things in life, rather than turning inward and reflecting on how the external things make you feel.

Some key outcomes that can be learned through practicing mindfulness:

  • Non-judging: Become an impartial witness of your own attention
  • Patience: Give yourself the space to have whatever experience occurs
  • Trust: Trust yourself
  • Letting go: Not letting yourself get caught up by emotions

In conclusion…

These principles are vital to imprint onto children from as early as possible, to help prepare them for a life that will be filled with challenges and obstacles that will have to be confronted. By practicing mindfulness from an early age, future generations will be better prepared for dealing with those challenges without losing sight of what’s important.

Want to learn new techniques that will help to develop mindfulness in you and your child? Keep an eye on our Facebook page – We will continue to post articles and tips in the coming weeks!

 


References:

  1. Smegen, I. (2018). Mindful at School.
  2. Killingsworth, M; Gilbert, D. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

Preparing for a New Child

“I’m pregnant…”

Becoming a parent can be a frightening experience when you’re uncertain of what to expect. But it needn’t be with the right amount of preparation and enhancing your own knowledge. Having your new child will change your lifestyle beyond belief, but you will experience things like no other when getting to know your child! Having children is a natural process and you should not be afraid of it, in fact, embrace the challenge ahead.   Read more