07.04.11 Thursday 025

Tony blog post #7- 8.04.13

Natural environments and sustainability in early childhood has become a very popular and passionate topic for people in my profession. It has links back to the early 70’s when people began to give greater notice to protecting the environment and sustainable living. We have come a long way in the past 40 years. I wonder how many people out there have been inspired to bring children back to nature. I certainly don’t think it is a new trend but I do think it is a popular trend at the moment. This is the topic of this post.

Note: With some time on my hands today I am going to add a few new posts to catch up to Alana’s baby countdown!

Most children are drawn to the outdoors. There is fresh air, room to move, things to see, chase, climb and collect! I remember a study that highlighted that involved adults drawing their favourite memories of early childhood. A large number of these pictures included trees, water and no adults!

There is a huge body of research regarding children and nature (See this link to ‘Study Nature, Not Books’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_study). My biggest influences recently include people like Tim Gill, Steve Biddulph, Claire Warden, Sue Palmer and Richard Louv. If you don’t know who they are I encourage you to do a little research of your own and find out (but I have also added some links to their pages in the references section below!). I love hearing stories about children getting back to nature and enjoying the great outdoors. In Australia our attitude of accountability and following regulations has been great at setting good standards of care and safe practice but educators have often felt trapped or ‘unsafe’ to explore nature and natural risk taking activities. I have a huge list of friends and childcare centres that have been affected by local council and state regulations that have resulted in children missing out on opportunities to play outdoors (“because they are being sunsmart- ie. inside play between 11am and 3pm”), have access to animals (“because they are unhygienic”), climb trees (“because children might fall”) or even have swings or monkey bars! Please share this post if you agree! And add your experiences in the comments below!

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Do I think it’s important to be sunsmart? Yes. Australians have the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Does this mean we have to be ‘inside’ for four hours at preschool each day? No.

Do I think animals are unhygienic? Yes. Do I think children can get hurt falling out of trees? Yes. Does this mean we need to avoid both and eliminate the trees and animals from our centres, playgrounds and backyards? NO!

There is evidence to suggest that soft fall play areas create more harm than good. If you want to see a ‘safe’ playground. Check out any of the former ABC childcare centres in Australia. They met ALL the regulations but were they good for children?? I’ll let you answer for yourselves.

My parents have been a huge influence on my life and we have shared many of the same experiences. We have nearly always lived near the beach. The beach must be the most sustainable natural outdoor playspace available to children in the world! Agree? My parents have a bush block (dad’s hangliding mountain!) near Beechwood, NSW where we go walking, fishing, camping, swimming, etc. My family often discuss and reminisce some of the amazing outdoor experiences we have had in our lives including camping trips, bush walks and my great grandmother’s garden. Nana Coulton’s garden in Wonthaggi was a treasure trove for all of us as children (including dad!) In fact dad often quotes nan’s garden as one of his major influencers in his current role as childcare service playspace designer. My parents experience in childcare has been that children learn through doing and were inspired to create their own ‘children’s gardens’. They have created some of the most amazing children’s service playspaces I have seen and I know many people who are inspired by their work. In 2011 their renovation of an entire former-ABC Learning outdoor playspace was published in Every Child magazine (“Creating outdoor play and learning environments: A case study”. Prof. Margaret Sims. Vol 17, No 4, 2011).

I did my own study on their playspace during my university study. Go straight to the final page to see the amazing transformation that took place outside! From barren to beautiful! TGs Childcare Armidale Workstudy

So I think some Australian childcare services and educators are moving in the right direction (towards nature). Last year a group of children at my after school and vacation care program were involved in a process of ‘getting back to nature’. It started through bug hunts and using some natural materials in our room (making craft and bird feeders, etc) but grew into ‘nature walks’ through our school setting and eventually resulted in the creation of a ‘bush village’ in a relatively small area of covered bushland. This was a great experience for our group and I am glad that my service and the children and families that were involved in the process. Sadly our ‘bush village’ was bulldozed last year to create an area for new classrooms!) I have seen some awesome examples of schools using natural materials at Primary schools in Australia but there are equally a lot of examples of schools banning things like running and cartwheels in the playgrounds. Westgarth Preschool in Victoria is an outdoor preschool (check out its link here: http://www.wgkg.vic.edu.au/bush-kinder) But we have some way yet to go to see the nature preschools of Scandinavia. If you have not heard about them please check them out online. There are articles, websites and youtube has some great videos to inspire you! (Nature preschool Norway, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIi1WkFhGvc )

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Please see Part 2 of this story, coming soon!

References

Tim Gill. 2009. “No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society”. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, London.
Claire Warden. 2010. “Nature Kindergartens”. Mindstretchers Ltd, Scotland.
Sue Palmer. 2007. “Toxic Childhood: How the modern world is damaging our children and what we can do about it.”Orion House, London.

Links

Tim Gill. http://rethinkingchildhood.com/
Steve Biddulph. http://www.stevebiddulph.com/Site_1/Home.html
Claire Warden. http://www.claire-warden.com/
Sue Palmer. http://www.suepalmer.co.uk/
Richard Louv. http://blog.childrenandnature.org/
Westgarth Bush Kinder. http://www.wgkg.vic.edu.au/bush-kinder

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