Walk to the Park with the Kids Turns into Four-Hour Nature Day Marathon

The kids take a break from walking to analyze a babbling brook.

The kids take a break from walking to analyze a babbling brook.

Kids are amazing explorers. Their drive for exploration and play can overpower their desires for sleep, food, and general grumpiness.

This past Monday we had a sitter sick day, and I was in charge of the kids. To get them out of the house we took a four hour round-trip hike down to the park near our house. This park is more like a nature preserve, with a trail that follows a quick drop down from street level into a canyon where a small creek that still supports a salmon run every year slowly meanders down to a mostly sandy beach and the Puget Sound, where local families dig their plastic shovels in the gravely soil and watch sail boats, freight ships, and the occasional harbor seal, bald eagle, or osprey fishing off the shore.

My daughter loved walking over the wooden bridges, stomping her feet to make the boom boom echo noise that only comes from wooden bridges. We went at her pace, taking as much time as she wanted at each spot, stopping at every bridge to look over its edge into the babbling brook or stream below, stopping to touch a cool tree, as well as the fire trucks that happened to be at the park. A few times I got bored and suggested we move on, and if she said yes we went and if not we stayed. Even towards the end of our adventures, although she was simultaneously starting to complain about being hungry and thirsty, she was the one demanding that we go down to the beach to at least sit on a log for awhile and touch the sand. She also wanted to go swimming in the creek and the sound, but we skipped those activities mostly because I did not feel like adding “wet” to the description of things I had to lug back out of the canyon, and she didn’t protest too much.

She balanced, climbed, slid, see-sawed, and ran up and down hills, falling and tripping a couple of times but brushing herself off each time and only needing one kiss to make a finger better before moving on to the next activity. She got to try an apple that fell off the park’s apple orchard, picked up leaves, and analyzed different rocks strewn on the beach. She walked more than half of the time down and around the canyon and park, and returning walked all the way down the hill from the beach cliff and towards the lower parking lot. She had an amazing time and had lots of things to share with her dad when we got back from our adventure.

But my son, my son enjoyed the day on an entirely different level. My son was so happy during our walk through the woods he looked like an animal released from its cage and realizing it has been returned into its home forest.

He would just lean over, reaching down over the edge of his stroller trying to touch the ground as it whizzed by him, feeling any dirt kick up off the path with those pudgy little hands that an instant later were reaching up up up into the sky, trying to touch the leaves high above and sunlight sparkling through them.

He was always sitting literally at the edge of his seat, at times riding his stroller like a chariot, bracing his feet against the step and grabbing the guard rail, standing straight up and wiggling his body to urge his rickety chariot to go faster. He would lean back into his chair, arching his back to look up at the tops of the trees, and look back at me as if to say “Mom, this is so cool!”

He wanted to taste and experience everything, and although he tired much more quickly than his sister he still grabbed for various sticks, rocks, and chunks of wood to taste as we sat on the beach. He would understand when I told him no and take the rock out of his mouth, but would then start searching for another one, thinking, “maybe this cracker shaped piece of wood is okay.” When he found an apple on the ground in the orchard, He was so proud and protective of it he struggled with wanting to show me but wanting to keep it for himself. He actually tried to pick up all the apples while holding on to his tiny little apple, but I tossed the rotten ones further into the field and tried to get him to focus on his precious little apple that he had already started chewing. He spent a long time nibbling at it, getting it about half eaten, and when I finally snuck it away from him to bite away a wormy spot I found that in fact it was pretty good, better than the one I picked off the tree for my daughter.

He had exhausted himself by the time we walked through the woods again and looked dazedly up into the sparking tree canopy before he drifted to sleep about half way up the canyon trail. My daughter rested in her seat, chatting here and there but was overall surprisingly quiet for a two year old.

After I made us a very late lunch and we sat around the kitchen table hungrily munching our pasta and sausages, I was still, and am still, blown away by just how long the kids both wanted to be out there in the park, playing, exploring, and just how happy they were to be out experiencing nature. I try to let the kids explore on their own at their own pace, but this day took that experience to a whole new level for me, one I will try to remember as we continue to explore and learn about our world together.

Play is cheap!

toys

Kids don’t need a mountain of toys to stay entertained; in fact fewer turns out to be better (Photo credit: red5standingby)

I came across an interesting commentary from the Telegraph in the UK anecdotally supporting a new study that claims it only costs 6 pounds (about $10) to keep kids entertained.

A study by child development experts has concluded that the average family forks out £10,000 on toys and gadgets before their offspring turns 18. That’s a potential £20,000 on my two girls – cue a Munchian scream of Lebensangst.

Psychologists say that despite this casual largesse, youngsters are better off with colouring pencils and embroidery threads than computer consoles. While it might be hard to convince a surly 13 year-old that modelling clay and beads are more fun than a Wii, I couldn’t agree more. Are beads as thrilling as shooting baddies or crashing aeroplanes? Hardly, but it’s all about the social interaction, stupid.

It’s a rare and lovely feeling to be vindicated as a parent, so forgive me if I bask. You see, I am usually regarded (especially by my husband) as a bit of a skinflint who is too tight to buy the big one a Nintendo DS and the wee one, well, pretty much anything.

If my youngest asks for an ice lolly, we make them with apple juice. If they’re bored, I give them each a tray and send them outdoors to make a garden.

To the casual observer, this makes me a sickeningly virtuous hands-on mother. But it is merely the happy by-product of the fact that I am mean-fisted when it comes to frivolous expenditure. It goes against my grain to throw money at the children just to keep them amused and out of my hair. It feels wrong, and, worse, it feels lazy.

The truth that all parents know, deep down, is that what kids really crave is attention, not stuff. Stuff is a pretty good, if pricey opiate, but it never quite satiates, hence the ongoing clamour for more of it, except faster and louder to excite pleasure centres inured by computer-generated over-stimulation.

Read the whole article at the Telegraph.

Lots of parents have the old joke that at Christmas their kids spend more time playing with the box a toy came in than the toy itself. Now research is finding this to be more true than we realized.

It’s nice to hear that even in an age when children of younger generations appear to use advanced devices and technology as if it were second nature, nothing beats some old fashioned string and beads, or sticks and mud, for a good time. It can take a little bit more creativity on the parent’s end, but that can be a good thing, AND it also encourages more creativity and problem-solving in the child.

My personal favorites were pieces of wood and nails, and just hammering them together into odd art shapes, or just nailing them onto a tree. What were your favorite tools and environments for play when you were a kid? Let me know in the comments below.

Toddlers to tweens: relearning how to play

Español: Guiliana moreno Jugando en bogota

Free play is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Image via Wikipedia

Great article from the Christian Science Monitor about the value of play:

In recent years, child development experts, parents, and scientists have been sounding an increasingly urgent alarm about the decreasing amount of time that children – and adults, for that matter – spend playing. A combination of social forces, from a No Child Left Behind focus on test scores to the push for children to get ahead with programmed extracurricular activities, leaves less time for the roughhousing, fantasizing, and pretend worlds advocates say are crucial for development.

Meanwhile, technology and a wide-scale change in toys have shifted what happens when children do engage in leisure activity, in a way many experts say undermines long-term emotional and intellectual abilities. An 8-year-old today, for instance, is more likely to be playing with a toy that has a computer chip, or attending a tightly supervised soccer practice, than making up an imaginary game with friends in the backyard or street.

But play is making a comeback. Bolstered by a growing body of scientific research detailing the cognitive benefits of different types of play, parents such as Taylor are pressuring school administrations to bring back recess and are fighting against a trend to move standardized testing and increased academic instruction to kindergarten.

more at: Toddlers to tweens: relearning how to play.

Play is a crucial part of learning

Great article from The Atlantic about how squeezing recess and playtime out of education is a really bad idea:

Play is important for the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical development of children. In addition to being critical for general health and a preventative against overweight, play develops life skills for children and communication skills among peers and family members.

But because of over-scheduling, over-supervision, lack of appropriate play environments, and too many entertaining screens many children have less access to play time and play spaces than children in the past.

Children living in poverty experience these barriers and more, according to a recent clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Underprivileged children often have less access to recess and school-based creative arts, music, and physical education programs. Additionally, the socioeconomic stressors on poor families often conspire against parents having the time, energy, or skills to engage in play with their children.

Poor children’s access to outdoor play spaces may be compromised by the safety of their neighborhoods and the decrease in parks and open spaces in urban areas. Children who are unable to play outside tend to spend more time on screen-based activities such as watching TV or playing video games. Excessive screen time takes a huge toll on mental and physical health and academic achievement

Many urban schools have replaced recess and purely recreational after-school activities with academic enrichment activities to help close the academic achievement gaps between lower-income children and their more privileged peers. While improved academics is an important goal, the report emphasizes that the developmental role of play should not be forgotten and the benefits of play should not be traded off in favor of academics.

According to the report, play’s benefits extend to psychological well-being. Play provides an opportunity for a student to shine in areas that are not strictly academic and thus contributes to the child’s personal sense of pride and belonging in her school environment. This has the potential to discourage truancy and encourage children to remain in school to complete their education

Twenty-eight percent of schools with children in the highest poverty levels have no recess at all. This impacts a population of children who already have limited opportunities for creative experiences and social play, especially since research that has shown that physical education periods and recess enhance a child’s readiness for academic pursuits during the school day. They suggest that the elimination of these pace-changing opportunities may in fact be counterproductive for academic success.

More at Recreational Play Can Be Far More Important Than Academics

How To Help Your Child’s Brain Grow Up Strong : NPR

A lot of parents freak out about how to provide enriching environments for their children and help them grow, from music lessons to early reading to math flash cards.

In one of those “well duh” books, two neuroscientists, Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang remind us it doesn’t take all that much…

Babies may look helpless, but as soon as they come into the world, they’re able to do a number of important things. They can recognize faces and moving objects. They’re attracted to language. And from very early on, they can differentiate their mother from other humans.

“They really come equipped to learn about the world in a way that wasn’t appreciated until recently,” says neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt. “It took scientists a long time to realize that their brains are doing some very complicated things.”

Aamodt and fellow neuroscientist Sam Wang explain how the human brain develops from infancy to adolescence in their new book, Welcome to Your Child’s Brain. The two researchers also offer tips for parents to help their children eat their spinach, learn their ABCs and navigate elementary school.

more via How To Help Your Child’s Brain Grow Up Strong : NPR, on Fresh Air.

They talk with Terry Gross about complicated concepts like self control, abstract thought, and things that are even hard for some grown-ups, and how to create an environment that makes kids want to practice these things.

Understanding numbers, quanity early key to later educational success

Cover of "Numbers (Step Ahead)"

Playing with Flashcards as a kid could give you a step up in your future. Cover of Numbers (Step Ahead)

I’m crunching numbers this morning, and after reading this I wish I’d paid more attention to Math in first grade; at least I got to study addition twice thanks to moving to a new school half way through the school year!

A long-term psychology study indicates that beginning first graders that understand numbers, the quantities those numbers represent, and low-level arithmetic will have better success in learning mathematics through the end of fifth grade, and other studies suggest throughout the rest of their lives.

“Math is critical for success in many fields, and the United States is not doing a great job of teaching math,” said David Geary, Curator’s Professor of Psychological Sciences. “Once students fall behind, it’s almost impossible to get them back on track. We wanted to identify the beginning of school knowledge needed to learn math over the next five years. We found that understanding numbers and quantity is a necessary foundation for success as the student progresses to more complex math topics. In order to improve basic instruction, we have to know what to instruct.

more via Key early skills for later math learning discovered.

I also remember loving Math until about middle school when I had the Algebra teacher from hell! What are your Math memories? Are they good, traumatic, mediocre? Share in the comments.

Study: Common Pesticides Linked to ADHD | Discover Magazine

Exploring

Image via Wikipedia

Pesticides used in industrial farming, lawns, and other urban greenery have been linked to all sorts of child development health issues, and now a study is suggesting one more. A study released in the May issue of Pediatrics Journal argues that there’s a connection between high exposure to common pesticides and increased risk for children developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Maryse Bouchard and colleagues looked at more than 1,100 children aged between 8 and 15. All of them had been sampled by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2000 and 2004, and 119 had been diagnosed with ADHD. Bouchard’s team studied their urine samples for chemicals called dialkyl phosphates, which result from the breakdown of organophosphate pesticides used to protect fruits and vegetables.

For a 10-fold increase in one class of those compounds, the odds of ADHD increased by more than half. And for the most common breakdown product, called dimethyl triophosphate, the odds of ADHD almost doubled in kids with above-average levels compared to those without detectable levels [Reuters].

more at via Study: Common Pesticides Linked to Attention Deficit Disorder | 80beats | Discover Magazine.

The End of the Best Friend – NYTimes.com

Florida Atlantic students celebrating a basket...

Humans are social creatures, and need close bonds and feelings of belonging. (Image via Wikipedia)

As the new school year begins, I wanted to mention this article from the New York Times about how schools are discouraging kids from making best friends.

Ahem. Let me repeat that. Schools are discouraging children from having a best friend.

That is just stupid.

Or, put more professionally…

“…such an attitude worries some psychologists who fear that children will be denied the strong emotional support and security that comes with intimate friendships.

“Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? Is that how we really want to rear our children?” asked Brett Laursen, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University whose specialty is peer relationships. “Imagine the implication for romantic relationships. We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.”

read the full article via The End of the Best Friend – NYTimes.com.

This is where political correctness and “fairness” go waaaaay too far and ignore human nature and the absolute NEED to have a confidante in life, someone you can rely on, particularly someone outside of your family of origin. Will those people hurt you from time to time? Absolutely. But it’s part of learning how to work within a society and be a social animal.

Studies keep showing how adults today have less and less close friends, and would LIKE to have more. Discouraging kids from learning how to make close bonds with people is just setting them up for this trend to get worse when they become adults.

Now go call your best friend.